Yet once again the world is presented with the horrific specter of human butchery and barbaric savagery perpetrated by radical Islamist jihadists. A Somali terrorist group, al-Shabaab, attacked the Garissa University campus in Kenya last Thursday, slaughtering nearly 150 students, executing many of them specifically because of their Christian faith. Eyewitnesses said that when the captive students could not recite an Islamic creed they were summarily executed.
This savage attack is merely the latest in a series of such violent attacks perpetrated by the al-Shabaab terrorist group. They have murdered hundreds of Kenyans in churches, on public transport, and perhaps most infamously, in the terrible 2013 massacre at the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
Perhaps even more chilling was the news that one of the terrorist killers, Abdirahim Mohammed Abdullahi, 24, killed by security forces along with three other attackers, was the son of a prominent Kenyan government official and "a brilliant upcoming lawyer."
Taken together with the targeting and killing of Christians by Islamist militants in countries such as Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria, the world is witnessing a slow- motion genocide of Christians in the Middle East. The April 3rd edition of Newsweek's cover declares, "Targeting Christians In The Middle East, Believers are Fleeing or Being Killed." The accompanying article, titled "The New Exodus. After Years of Slow But Steady Decline, Christians are Being Driven from the Middle East by ISIS," tells the sad, tragic story of ancient Christian communities being brutalized and extinguished by ISIS militants.
As a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) from 2001-2004 (presidential appointee) and 2005-2011 (senatorial appointee), I witnessed the disturbing and rapid increases in religious persecution around the world, much of it focused on Christians.
One reason for the fact that more Christians have been martyred for their faith in the last one hundred years than in any previous century has been the rapid, unprecedented expansion of Christianity in the Second and Third Worlds. This has generated significant numbers of Christians in places where historically there have been far fewer believers. Philip Jenkins has documented this unparalleled expansion in his seminal book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (2011). For example, more than 80 percent of Kenyans are now Christians, while only 11 percent are Muslims.
However, the vast majority of ISIS's victims have come from relatively stable, and often ancient Christian communities and traditions such as the Coptics in Egypt, the Nestorians and the Assyrian Christians in Syria and Chaldeans and Assyrians in Iraq.
So what is the civilized world to do when faced with such stark and repetitive acts of barbarism and savagery?
The civilized world must respond. If not, such barbarism will metastasize and the human family will descend into a new abyss of religiously fueled crimes against humanity. The people perpetrating these atrocities must be held accountable and be brought to justice.
In the light of the genocidal atrocities in Rwanda in 1994 and later atrocities in Sudan and Darfur, on September 10, 2011 (the event was blown off the diplomatic radar by the events of 9/11 the next day) the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) produced The Responsibility to Protect at the conclusion of a conference in Canada. This document brought a new obligation into the international vocabulary – "the responsibility to protect." This "responsibility to protect" has now been adopted by the United Nation's General Assembly and Security Council.
The "responsibility to protect" involves two essential foundational elements. First, governments are told, "don't do genocide." Second, the rest of the world is obligated to respond when a government either perpetrates, or allows genocidal atrocities within its borders. The U.N.'s General Assembly elaborated on this responsibility in some detail:
The international community, through the United Nations, also has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action in a timely and decisive manner through the Security Council in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war games, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. (U.N. General Assembly, Sixtieth Session, 2005)
The civilized world community must look itself in the mirror and ask itself the question, "Are we willing to allow this barbarism to continue and to spread?"
William Wilberforce, the great British statesman who led the ultimately successful fight to end the powerful and highly lucrative slave trade in the British Empire, gave a substantial speech on the evils of that trade early in his anti-slave trade campaign. In that speech he challenged the House of Commons by saying the following: "Having heard all this, you may choose to look the other way. . .but you can never again say that you did not know."
The civilized world cannot say that it does not know of the atrocities being committed against members of the human family. If we know and we continue to do nothing, we are morally culpable.
As a matter of conscience and conviction, we must all activate our personal circle of influence and seek to raise the awareness of all we can reach to the horrific suffering of our fellow human beings. We must insist that our elected officials and the world community act to stop this tidal wave of barbarism. And above all, we must pray for our brothers and sisters as though we shared in their sufferings (Heb. 13:3).