It's been one year since 21 Christians were executed on Feb. 15, 2015, by Islamic State militants in Libya, their deaths broadcast to the world in a YouTube video titled "A Message Signed in Blood to the Nations of the Cross," Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
Each of the men in the video, when asked to affirm their religious affiliation, declared their faith in Jesus and were beheaded, Demetrios wrote.
Christian denominations around the world are marking the anniversary, and Demetrios is part of a group of Christian leaders calling on the U.S. government to formally recognize the genocide of Middle Eastern Christians — something the European Union did earlier this month but that the Obama White House has resisted, according to CBN News.
"Clearly, the genocide against Christians in the Middle East meets (the conditions established for international intervention), yet it is lost in the fog of diplomatic inertia and military half-measures," Demetrios wrote, adding that past inaction has led to "great regret after crimes against humanity have been allowed to unfold without intervention."
Many Americans are unaware of the Christian genocide in the Middle East, according to Demetrios.
Terry Mattingly at GetReligion wrote this week that mainstream news outlets often discount or overlook the role of religion in the events unfolding in Syria. A historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Moscow and All Russia, took place Feb. 12 "for the expressed purpose of voicing support for persecuted Christians facing genocide in parts of the Middle East," according to Mattingly, yet most coverage of the meeting ignored that issue and instead focused on political angles.
Christians in ISIS-controlled territory have been executed by the thousands, wrote Nina Shea, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, in the National Review in November. She listed atrocities including the sexual enslavement of Christian women and girls; the assassination of Christian clergy and demolishing of ancient monasteries; the "convert or die" policy enforced on Christians; and the continuing kidnapping and execution of Christian leaders and followers.
Shea blames U.S. refusal to categorize the abuses as genocide on "a familiar pattern within the administration of a politically correct bias that views Christians — even non-Western congregations such as those in Iraq and Syria — never as victims but always as Inquisition-style oppressors." She wrote that if the State Department issues a declaration condemning ISIS for genocide and does not include Christians, as has been rumored, it would be a "grave injustice."
Another reason the government has hesitated to protect Christians in the Middle East is that Muslims are also being executed by ISIS, and President Obama said the U.S. cannot give preferential treatment to one religion over another, the Deseret News reported in December.
Shea and others respond that not giving Christians preferential aid could mean the end of a Christian presence in the Middle East. Christians fear refugee camps, where they can also be subject to violence, according to the Deseret News.
Johnnie Moore, the author of "Defying Isis" who is leading an effort to rescue Christians from Iraq, told the Deseret News all of the Christians he spoke to in Iraq in 2014 told him they felt "forgotten."
“We are literally watching the total eradication of Christianity in the place of its birth," he said.