(RNS) Christians are being raped, tortured, burned, beheaded and even crucified. It is a Christian genocide — not an excuse to attack Israel.
But that’s what James Zogby did, after he watched the important new documentary film "Faithkeepers," about the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. Instead of placing the blame squarely on the victimizers, he attacked Israel, with false charges of “ethnic cleansing.”
It is with great sadness and disappointment that I must reply to this attack by Zogby, a well-known policy researcher and author, on a film about persecuted and long-suffering Christians who have already been attacked enough.
"Faithkeepers" is the powerful documentary film that features the personal, heart-wrenching stories of people who stood up to vicious attacks by radical Islamists and kept their faith.
Now, they must face a new kind of attack; this time, from Zogby — who reduced their personal suffering down to a personal screed against the filmmakers who told their inspirational stories.
Last year, then-Secretary of State John Kerry called the Christian genocide by name, acknowledging that ISIS “is responsible for genocide against groups in territory under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims,” and he called their actions “crimes against humanity” and “ethnic cleansing.”
Even Kerry — who rarely missed an opportunity to criticize Israel — kept his comments to the Christian genocide when the topic of Christian genocide came up.
Sadly, James Zogby failed to show the same restraint and respect.
He also had the audacity to refer to the “Jewish state” in quotations, as if to say that Israel is a “fiction” that does not exist.
Israel was not a fiction when one of the Christians in the film — the Rev. Majed El Shafie — was sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity, and he escaped to the only country he knew would take him — Israel — where he “became a free man in Jerusalem.”
Unfortunately Zogby — who has called the anti-Semitic BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement “profoundly moral” — was still not done twisting a film about persecuted Christians into a platform to attack anyone but the perpetrators.
He actually blamed the exodus of Christian refugees from the Middle East on George W. Bush’s “invasion of Iraq,” while absolving blame for the actual butchery and murder from those who actually did the butchery and murder — radical Islamists — and the reasons they said they did it.
Zogby joins a long line of condescending Westerners who infantilize Islamists by claiming that they didn’t mean what they said, and what they did was not their fault — they couldn’t help themselves. After all, according to his logic, it was George Bush’s fault with his foreign policy.
This is not just Western condescension. It is flatly untrue.
Here are the words of ISIS, in the 15th issue of the magazine Dabiq, in an article entitled “Why We Hate You and Why We Fight You”:
“What’s important to understand here is that although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred, this particular reason for hating you is secondary…The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam.”
It was El Shafie’s refusal to abandon his faith and embrace Islam that got him crucified by Islamists.
It was Joanna’s (whose real identity cannot be revealed) refusal to abandon her faith and embrace Islam that got her raped and tortured by Islamists.
It was a Coptic priest’s refusal to abandon his faith and embrace Islam that found his ancient church burned to the ground by Islamists.
All of their stories and more are in "Faithkeepers." Their true and uplifting stories of suffering and redemption — of keeping the faith — are an inspiration to millions of faithful around the world.
And, on a personal note, Mr. Zogby: When you repeated the false charges of Islamophobia and hate groups and called Clarion Project a purveyor of “anti-Muslim propaganda” and said this film’s “central purpose is to demonize Islam,” I feel you owe me an apology personally. Because I am a Pakistani-born practicing Muslim woman and a proud advisory board member of the Clarion Project.
I encourage Mr. Zogby to watch "Faithkeepers" again with open eyes, an open mind, and an open heart — and to see the truly uplifting stories for what they are.
(Raheel Raza is a Pakistani-born human rights activist, president of Muslims Facing Tomorrow, founding member of the Muslim Reform Movement, and board member of the Clarion Project)