Christians in the West should be more outspoken about the suffering endured by their sisters and brothers facing persecution, a Chicago gathering of Middle Eastern Christians and supporters has said.
The message came from a one-day conference that took place in the US on 12 March 2011, examining the plight of "Christian Believers in Peril in the Middle East".
The gathering was organised by more than a dozen bodies - including local churches, proponents of religious freedom and Middle Eastern Christian groups in the US that promote the rights of believers in the region.
"This is a historic event," said Walid Phares, author of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, a keynote speaker.
"The gathering of representatives of Copts, Assyrian-Chaldeans, Lebanese Christians and other Middle East Christians in Chicago, along with Christian and secular American groups, all advocating for the rights of indigenous populations in the Middle East from all ethnic and religious background, is a game changer in how we view human rights in the region. I call this event, the ‘Chicago Initiative,' and wish to see it happening across the nation," he declared.
Attendees of the conference said that hostility toward Christians is an undeniable fact of life in many Muslim-majority countries and that governments in the Middle East have failed to protect the lives of indigenous Christians in the region.
This problem has been ignored in the West because of a failure on the part of the media to cover the story, said Phares said.
"I would like to see two hours on C-Span dedicated the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt," he said.
Juliana Taimoorazy, director of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, headquartered in Chicago, detailed the horrific attacks against Christians in Iraq and stated people should no longer refer to Christians in the region as minorities because it obscures that they are living in their homelands.
"We are the indigenous people of Iraq," she said.
Better media coverage in the US and other countries will put leaders in the region on notice that they must do a better job of protecting their Christian citizens from attacks, said Dexter Van Zile said, a Christian media analyst.
"Christians in the Middle East do not have the money to hire PR experts and lobbyists," he said. "They must pay with their lives and blood to get their hearing. We must not break faith with [them] by ignoring their story."
A Middle East expert speaking to Ekklesia this morning said that more publicity for the plight of Christians and other minority groups was important.
But he also stressed: "We also need to beware making the Christian communities in the Middle East look like the preserve of 'the West' and its interests. They are indigenous, and need to be recognised and valued as such. Global solidarity is vital, but we must beware the political games it can get tangled up with - including those involving Israel-Palestine."
Meanwhile, in Britain, a report from the Catholic agency Aid to the Church in Need says that 70 per cent of religious persecution across the globe is targetted at Christians - and a Catholic archbishop has criticised UK aid to Pakistan, suggesting that it may be supporting groups hostile to Christians. Other human rights activists have disputed this claim.