This past week, the Vatican – and specifically the Vatican’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi – issued a statement on “Supporting the Human Rights of Christians and Other Communities, particularly in the Middle East” at the 28th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.
For the most part, the statement is boilerplate, which is to say that it contains much the same type of language as we’ve heard from the Vatican for at least the last year, e.g.:
The situation of Christians in the Middle East, a land on which they are living for centuries and have the right to remain, raises deep concerns. There are more and more reasons to fear seriously for the future of the Christian communities that have more than two thousand years of existence in this region, where Christianity has its full place, and began its long history.
Despite its general ordinariness, the statement nonetheless caught our eye for at least a couple of reasons. The first of these was the fact that it was not issued by the Vatican alone, but as a joint statement, circulated in conjunction with the Russian Federation and Lebanon. In particular, Lebanon’s participation in the statement is of great interest to us and lends it great, if otherwise unnoticed, urgency. Lebanon is, at present, the country most affected by the flow of persecuted religious minorities from Syria and Iraq. Additionally, and more to the point, Lebanon is at great and presumably imminent risk from the Islamic State and its allies, which could render this present bloody conflagration far bloodier and far more destructive to the Christian populations of the Middle East.
As you likely know, Lebanon is, by far, the most Christian nation in the Middle East. As recently as the 1930s, Lebanon was more than 80% Christian, making it almost precisely as “Christian” in its demographic makeup as the United States is presently. Even today, Christians comprise more than 40% of the Lebanese population, meaning that this culturally liberal and most enigmatic of Arab nations is home to nearly two million Christian men, women and children who are overtly and explicitly threatened by the Islamic State.
You see, the Islamic State is not satisfied with the caliphate it has already built and is genuinely anxious to expand its territory and its reach. And according to reports from the Middle East, Lebanon – and its massive Christian population – is next on its list. Michael Totten, the highly-regarded journalist and author who has covered the Middle East for years, put it this way recently.
ISIS has announced that Lebanon will be the next state to fall under the sway of its “caliphate.” According to Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper, the only reason ISIS hasn’t attacked yet in force is because they haven’t decided on the mission’s commander.
The Lebanese army is one of the least effective in the Middle East — and that’s saying something in a region where the far more capable Syrian and Iraqi armies are utterly failing to safeguard what should be their own sovereign territory.
So France is going to send a three billion dollar package of weapons to Lebanon and the Saudis are going to pay for it. It won’t solve the problem any more than a full-body cast will cure cancer, but it beats standing around and not even trying.
Up to now, when ISIS has slaughtered infidels, it has, by necessity, done so in rather limited numbers. Iraq’s Christian population was, at most, 400,000 before ISIS began its campaign to rid the “caliphate” of its “people of the book.” Lebanon’s Christian population is more than ten times that, not including probably at least a half-million Christian refugees from Syria. And as Totten points out, unlike their Iraqi brethren, the Lebanese are not protected by a large, American-trained, American-equipped army. They are, essentially, on their own.
Add in the fact that Lebanon’s Shiites and Druze comprise another, roughly one-third of the population, and are defended by the Iranian-armed and trained Hezbollah, and one can expect an Islamic State attack on Lebanon to turn messy quickly. As Totten put it, “[a] serious invasion of Lebanon by ISIS could unleash a bloodbath that makes the civil war in Syria look like a bar fight with pool sticks and beer mugs.”
The other thing that caught our eye about the Vatican’s joint statement was a bit of text that strikes us as both exaggeratedly diplomatic and hopelessly naïve. “We are confident,” the statement’s issuers declare, “that Governments, all civic and religious leaders in the Middle East, will join us in addressing this alarming situation by building together a culture of peaceful coexistence.”
That’s a nice sentiment, we suppose, but it is also patently and demonstrably false. In many – if not most – cases, the governments and civic and religious leaders in the Middle East are, at the very least, complicit in the slaughter of innocent Christians, Jews or even Muslims in the region. The religious leaders in the most powerful Sunni and Shiite nations on earth – Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively – actively advocate the slaughter of innocents. Indeed, the religious leaders of Iran – also known as the Islamic Republic of Iran – are also that nation’s government leaders, which is to say that they are responsible in large part for perpetuating the violence and civil war in Iraq and Syria that gave rise to the Islamic State. Ironically – and tragically – the Vatican’s co-signer of this statement, the Russian Federation, is itself a supporter of both the Iranian and Syrian governments that have actively and aggressively waged war against religious minorities in the region, most notably the Sunni minority in Iraq, thereby fostering both immeasurable human tragedy, and the current Sunni backlash that has taken form in the murderous Islamic State.
The problem for the Vatican, we’re afraid, is that the issue that concerns it most, namely the slaughter of innocents and especially ethnic and religious minorities, is not a real priority of any government on earth. Indeed, the most powerful man on earth, which is to say the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, is unwilling to identify properly the religious victims of terrorist attacks, for fear of having to identify the religion of their attackers. Governments and politicians play word games and jockey for power and position as innocents are murdered by the thousands. Meanwhile, the Vatican, which as Stalin rightly noted, has no military divisions of its own, is forced to plead with those who seem unwilling to hear those pleas in the hope of averting future atrocities.
The same day that the Vatican released its joint statement, Archbishop Tomasi also gave an interview to Crux.com, a Catholic news and opinion web site owned by the Boston Globe, in which he made the Vatican’s anguish with the global status quo plain. John Allen, Jr., an associate editor at Crux reported on the interview as follows:
In an unusually blunt endorsement of military action, the Vatican’s top diplomat at the United Nations in Geneva has called for a coordinated international force to stop the “so-called Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq from further assaults on Christians and other minority groups.
“We have to stop this kind of genocide,” said Italian Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative in Geneva. “Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t do something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.” . . .
Beyond that, Tomasi said, the crisis requires “more coordinated protection, including the use of force to stop the hands of an aggressor.” “It will be up the United Nations and its member states, especially the Security Council, to determine the exact form of intervention necessary,” he said, “but some responsibility [to act] is clear.”
Allen is right. This is an “unusually blunt” statement. Is also a powerful one, a proverbial wake-up call to the responsible global leaders who have thus far done very little to stop the Islamic State’s viciousness.
We only wish we could be as confident as the Vatican that “responsible” leaders exist and that they will do what is necessary to stop the slaughter in the Middle East.