(Photo: The Christian Post/ Sonny Hong)
Washington – A religious freedom-themed panel organized by a liberal group stated Monday that the American left should focus more on the issue of persecution of Middle Eastern Christians.
Experts brought together by the Center for American Progress spoke of the need to spread awareness on the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East. Marwan Kreidie, professor at Villanova University's Center for Arab & Islamic Studies, told The Christian Post that "progressive organizations" have not effectively grasped the religious component of the Middle East.
"The Middle East is all based on sectarianism, so religion is going to be a way of life," said Kreidie, adding that Americans should play "a more dynamic and more thoughtful role" in the region.
"The Christians in the Middle East have kind of been the invisible victims. Not many people know about them," said Kreidie. "We don't understand what the impact of America does to Christians over there and we need to play a more dynamic and more thoughtful role."
Kreidie was part of a panel brought together for an event titled "The Impact of Middle East Transitions on Christian Communities" held at the CAP office.
"The Middle East uprisings and political transitions that began in 2011 have raised questions about political pluralism and support for religious freedom," reads the event's online description in part. "Over the past several years in the region, some of the oldest Christian communities in the world have faced new challenges resulting from changes in the security, political, legal, and social environment."
While believing that progressive groups in the United States have not properly understood the religious component of current Middle Eastern issues, Kreidie also spoke of concern regarding the political right.
Kreidie told CP that he believes the right often blames "Islam in general" for the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, which he found "problematic."
"The future of Middle Eastern Christianity is always going to be in an Islamic-dominated Middle East," said Kreidie, stressing that by dominated he meant regarding population numbers.
In addition to Kreidie, other panel members included Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, and Hisham Melhem, the Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief for Al Arabiya News Channel.
Arab American Institute President James Zogby was originally scheduled to be part of the panel, but was replaced by Kreidie due to a last minute change of plans on Zogby's part.
Brian Katulis, senior fellow with CAP, provided the opening remarks and moderated the panel during the question and answer session.
"We've been working quite a lot for years on political change in the Middle East from the Iraq War to the recent changes of the Arab uprisings," said Katulis. "This issue of religious freedom and the issue of political pluralism has come up quite a lot in the course of that research."
Marshall spoke about the growing problem of religious intolerance abroad, especially in the Middle East and used recent examples of attacks on Christian communities in Egypt and Syria.
"In the Middle East we are seeing a downturn," said Marshall, adding that "the pattern I am describing affects pretty well all non-Muslim religious minorities."
In an interview with CP, Marshall explained how he became involved in the panel because Katulis had contacted him and wanted to explore an issue not often talked about in progressive circles.
"[Katulis] was interested in this issue and says 'people on the left are not paying attention, they should be and I would like to call attention to it,'" said Marshall.
Marshall contrasted this with leftwing publications and political parties in Europe, who have frequently devoted attention to the contemporary issue.
"People in the American left tend to see it as a right wing issue," said Marshall. "In Europe, you don't get that."
"What's interesting right now is that the French, the German, the Italian governments have raised this as an issue, Chancellor Merkel several times, the current Socialist government in France."
A similarly-themed event focusing on the issue of the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East will be held Tuesday at Villanova University.
Titled "Middle East Christian Communities at a Time of Change," the conference will have multiple panels, including one moderated by Kreidie.