What Arab Church Leaders Think of Trump Prioritizing Persecuted Christian Refugees
Image: Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Preparation for Qaraqosh's first Sunday mass since the Iraqi Christian town was recaptured from ISIS (October 30, 2016).

Married in December to a Syrian woman with American citizenship, Fadi Hallisso went to Beirut to apply for a green card.

A Syrian Christian, Hallisso has worked with refugees in Lebanon since 2012. Funded by different American agencies, he was no stranger to the US government. He even testified about the situation in Syria to the US State Department and to Harvard Divinity School.

But this week, Hallisso was told he was no longer welcome to apply. The new US administration said so.

“It is very humiliating to be put in the category of potential terrorist,” said Hallisso. “Just because I carry a certain passport.”

As more details of President Donald Trump’s new security policies emerge—including a promise to prioritize Christian refugees for resettlement in America—much appears lost in translation.

“This executive order has created a new atmosphere very hostile to people in the region,” said Chawkat Moucarry, World Vision’s director for interfaith relations—and Hallisso’s uncle. “Unwritten rules seem to be implemented as a result.”

Is Trump’s executive order on refugees a de facto “Muslim ban”? Is it not? Is it prudent? Is it overdue? As American Christians debate these questions from the small towns of Middle America to the nation’s major airports, so also Arab Christians are trying to figure out what is going on.

“I read the executive order,” said Adeeb Awad, chief editor of al-Nashra, the monthly magazine of the Presbyterian Synod of Syria and Lebanon. He remarked upon its temporary nature and—in his estimation—its reasonable restrictions and its actual improvement upon the upper limits of refugee acceptance. He particularly appreciated that the order did not contain discriminatory religious language.

Instead, Awad lashed out at the actions of President Barack Obama and previous US presidents, and the damage they did to the region. “It was the policies before Trump which hurt Middle Eastern Christians and other minorities more than anything else,” he said. “Especially in Iraq and Syria.”

Moucarry, born and raised in Syria and author of several InterVarsity Press books that help evangelicals engage Islam, is also critical of the region’s wars. But also of the potential outcome of Trump’s executive order.

“This policy will encourage Christians to migrate,” he said, “which is exactly what Christian leaders in Syria are fighting against.

“It is important for Christians to live in Muslim countries,” he said. “Because through them, Muslims will learn to accept the other. We must learn this principle in order to have a democratic society.

“Extremists say there is only one way to think or believe,” Moucarry continued. “So keeping Christians in the area is an indirect way to counter extremism and learn that diversity is good.”

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, primate of the Eastern Catholic Church, went further. In remarks to Agenzia Fides, the news agency of the Vatican, he criticized Trump’s orders harshly.

“Every reception policy that discriminates the persecuted and suffering on religious grounds ultimately harms the Christians of the East,” said Sako.

Such rhetoric feeds into tensions with Muslims, and paints Christians as lackeys of the West. “[It is] a trap,” he told Fides. “We do not want privileges.”

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