September 1, 2017
In this issue of the newsletter
New: State Department: My first worthwhile meeting at State in over eight years.
New: “Aid to victims of genocide” bill passes House, held up in Senate by petty feud
New: Christian refugees returning to Syria, but not to Iraq
New: Islamic State loses ground in some places but gains in others
State Department Meeting
Some access under Trump: On August 2nd I met with Pam Pryor who was recently appointed to a position in the State Department. Her official title is Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. As of right now she has no boss. Six of the nine “senior” appointments at the State Department have not been confirmed. As of now the senior position in Pam Pryor’s department is not filled.
Pam Pryor was the Trump campaign’s leader of “faith and freedom outreach.” Translated, that means Pam was the liaison for the Trump election team with evangelicals. Previously she worked on Sara Palin’s campaign in communications and Christian outreach.
I have known Pam Pryor for many years. We first met decades ago here in Washington when she was the chief of staff for Congressman J.C. Watts. Watts was in Speaker Newt Gingrich’s leadership team during the “Gingrich revolution” that brought Republicans to power in the 1990’s.
My meeting with Pam Pryor: Because of her high position at State, Pam Pryor received an office on the 7th floor of the main building on C Street in Washington. It is the only office in the building that has non-working air conditioning. This was probably not a mistake!
In general, believing Christians are hated at the State Department, which has a staggeringly high number of homosexuals. Of all the Ambassadors I have met in various nations, only one was married — and he was a political appointment. I have had run-ins with several gay ambassadors, particularly in the Middle East, who refused to even meet with Christian leaders on the issue of refugees.
A source has told me that this year the State Department spent $1.4 billion dollars to promote “gay pride month” around the world. You may recall that a “rainbow” flag was raised at the US embassy in Israel, and other nations had spot lights on public buildings that lit it up as a rainbow. This was also done at the White House under Barack Obama.
I do not dare mention the names of career State Department officials I have contacts with if they are believing Christians, because it could adversely affect them in State’s overwhelmingly socially liberal, gay atmosphere. Please pray for Pam Pryor as she deals with these conditions.
I shared my experiences in Iraq with Pam Pryor and we discussed the situation with Christians. One of the topics we discussed was the lack of action on HR-390, which passed the House and is now stalled in the Senate.
Sadly, the delay in the Senate is over a personal grudge!
HR- 390 held in Senate over personal grudge?
One Senator may be holding up the bill: On June 6th, HR-390, The Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, passed on a voice vote in the House. The bill had been taken to the floor under the “suspension rule” by leadership, which means it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. This shows the bill had broad support. Earlier, it had passed out of the Judiciary Committee with the unanimous support of Republicans and Democrats. HR- 390 was sent to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, where it has just been sitting.
Postcard Campaign changed immediately: Our very successful “Postcards to Congress campaign” in support of the bill changed immedialty. Up until the passage in the House, we were sending three custom postcards to individuals to mail to Congress, one to mail to their congressman and two to mail to their two Senators.
The new postcard campaign still contained three postcards but one was addressed the Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the other two to the Senators representing the states of the individual the card was mailed to. Tens of thousands of cards were sent to Senators during June, July and August – yet the bill did not move.
I worked diligently in contacting Senators and members of the staff about the bill. One Chief of Staff to a Senator who is a friend of mine made calls to the Senate Leadership office to no avail. No one could figure out who was stalling or why there would be a hold on the bill.
Then a Senate staffer reminded me that there was an old feud between the House author of the bill, Chris Smith, and one of the Senators. I cannot publicly state the name of this Senator at this time, as I am working with his office to release the hold on HR-390.
What is surprising is the childish nature of the feud. Years ago, Chris Smith and this Senator jointly worked to pass an important piece of legislation. The Senator believed that Chis Smith “stole” the credit for the bill, and has hindered legislation written by Smith ever since.
I had known of the grudge held against Smith for some time, and I knew of other legislation the Senator had slowed down on account of Smith, but I was shocked to hear this was still going on and that a bill to help the victims of genocide could become a part of this. I refuse to assume this is the only reason HR-390 did not move forward and I am continuing to work all angles to get it passed including our continued postcard campaign!
Christians returning to Syria but not to Iraq
Christians voting with their feet: With all that our government officials and the news media have said to condemn the secular government of Syria, no one should want to return there with the civil war seemingly winding down in favor of President Assad. But that is not the case.
So far this year more than 600,000 Syrians have returned to their homes in Syria, as the Islamic State and the Sunni Muslim “rebels” supported by Saudi Arabia and the United States have been driven back. More importantly, Christians who fled their homes are returning from Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Wealthier Christians who fled the civil war are returning from Europe as well.
Unlike Iraq and other majority Muslim nations, Syria has a secular constitution and Sharia law is not enforced as the law of the land. Christians have their own court system for family issues, separate from the sharia court system of Muslims. Christian religious leaders in Syria call the several decades of rule by the Assad family a “golden era for Christians.”
It is no wonder then that Syrian Christians are returning to their homes in large numbers.
But why aren’t Christians returning to Iraq where the United States and other Western nations have established a “democracy?” Probably because the new constitution of Iraq written in a “democratic assembly” after the fall of Saddam Hussein states that “Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation.” To reinforce this, a second clause states: “No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.”
How does this affect Christians? Here is an example: No child can have a name on their birth certificate that does not appear in the Koran. Christians may not officially name their children Peter or Paul, as an example. Many Christian children in Iraq are named Yusef (Joseph) or Maryam (Mary) because those two names do appear in the Koran.
A Heritage Foundation report found that Syrian Christians made up tiny percentages of asylum seekers registered with the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt – 1.5 per cent, 0.2 per cent, 0.3 per cent, and 0.1 per cent, respectively. However, the report found that over 16 per cent of registered asylum-seeking Iraqi refugees were Christians. The report is very clear that Christian refugees from Syria planned to go back if the government won, while Christian refugees from Iraq don’t want to go back even to an American supported government in Iraq.
In a World Watch Monitor article, human rights lawyer and genocide expert Ewelina Ochab, made this conclusion after interviewing Christians from Iraq who have fled to Kurdistan or become refugees in Jordan. She stated that Iraqi Christians have faced persecution since the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003. Christians were blamed for the invasion, and in the chaos various Islamic extremists destroyed their churches, stole their homes and drove them out of the nation to either northern Iraq (Kurdistan) or Jordan or Lebanon.
Many of the Christians I work with in the Kurdish region are in fact from Baghdad, including the head of the ministry which administers our projects in Erbil. He fled southern Iraq with his family because of the threats of violence.
In the article, Ochab was quoted as saying that the reality for Syria is different, as “Assad is perceived as the defender of Christian minorities.” She went on to say that, “Many Syrian Christians worry that once Assad is gone, they will face the same fate as Iraqi Christians suffered after Saddam Hussein’s fall.”
Overall, the number of Syrians returning to their homes in Syria as the secular government makes gains is staggering. According to the International Organization for Migration almost 67% of the over 600,000 who went back in the first seven months of this year returned to Aleppo province, which was won back from U.S. backed Sunni rebels and various jihadist groups working with them. In December, 2016 the government recovered the section of Aleppo city that had been held by rebels. This stopped the almost constant mortar and sniper fire into the 80% of the city that rebels never held, and allowed many to move back.
Those moving back to homes in Syria are not just Christians. Even Sunni Muslims who did not want the Sunni uprising supported by Saudi Arabia and the United States are moving back from Turkey and other places to claim their property and resettle.
Turkey, which supported the overthrow of the Assad government, benefited from the looting of Aleppo and other areas. Billions of dollars’ worth of looted goods from factories, stores, homes and even museums were carted off to Turkey. After the jihadist snake they feed thanked the Turks with terror attacks on the Istanbul airport, the Turks finally stopped the overt support. Now many of the families are returning to looted homes. The trauma will take many years to overcome, with expected sanctions and boycotts from Western nations to continue.
The Islamic State is far from defeated
Worldwide the Islamic State is increasing in size: The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has stepped up terrorist attacks in the swath of north Africa known as the Sahel. The Sahel is a semi-arid region that stretches from the western states of Mali and Nigeria, through Niger. In Nigeria, the much-feared Boko Haram declared allegiance to the Islamic State last year.
In Indonesia the top commander, General Gatot Nurmantyo, this month said that cells linked to the Islamic State are now “in almost every province” of the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. The number of terror attacks has increased drastically.
In the Philippines, the army has been battling for two months to retake the city of Marawi from the Islamic State. The city of Marawi, with a population of 250,000 was captured by the Islamic State in May. It is now August and the Philippine army, even with the help of the United States, is unable to recapture the city.
We have a problem! The Western news media has declared the Islamic State defeated, and that is somewhat true. The Islamic State was driven from Mosul, Iraq which was the largest city they held. But sections of Iraq and Syria are still under the control of the Islamic State, and recently the Lebanese Army has been working with the Syrian Army in trying to dislodge the Islamic State from border areas.
The fight is not over, and for Christians it is not safe to go back to Mosul or many of the other areas that have been “liberated.” The fact is that sleeper cells of the Islamic State remain in those areas and have conducted terror attacks, one inside Baghdad just a week ago.
Camps of displaced Christian families are just as full as they were a year ago and our diaper, Christmas and other programs are very important to those families.
Christmas for Refugees
Program to expand: Two years ago, the Christmas for Refugees program expanded into Iraq after thousands of Christian families were forced out of their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. The program has been expanding in Iraq to accommodate thousands of children. All the children in Iraq that RFC provided a real Christmas to were in the Erbil area. At the time, it was not safe to take the program into the Nineveh Plain villages to the north, from which many families had fled to Erbil. It is now safe to reach out to those children in Dohuc Province.
In June I went to camps for displaced Christian families in Dohuc Province. Up to seven family members live in a “caravan” that is equivalent to one-third of a mobile home. There is one room that serves as a bedroom, dining area and living room, and is about ten feet by ten feet.
I want to take the hope of Christmas, the hope that comes through the birth of the Savior to these children, to remind them of Christmas past and to give them hope for a Christmas future.
To take the hope of Christmas to these children in Iraq I need more help than I have. I need your prayers and I am asking you to please tell your friends and relatives about Christmas for Refugees. Help is really needed.
William J. Murray, Chairman