Christianity, whose presence in the Middle East predates Islam’s by 600 years, is about to be cleansed from the Middle East. Egyptian Copts might have found some respite under Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, but after their persecution under the previous Muslim Brotherhood government, they know how precarious their existence in 90 percent Muslim Egypt remains. Elsewhere, it’s much worse. Twenty-one Copts were beheaded by the Islamic State affiliate in Libya for the crime of being Christian. In those large swaths of Syria and Iraq where the Islamic State rules, the consequences for Christians are terrible – enslavement, exile, torture, massacre, crucifixion.
Meanwhile, on a more limited scale, there are things that can be done. Three weeks ago, for example, 150 Syrian Christians were airlifted to refuge in Poland.
That’s the work of the Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund. It provided the flight and will support the refugees for as long as 18 months as they try to remake their lives.
The person behind all this is Lord George Weidenfeld: life peer, philanthropist, publisher, Europeanist (founder of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue to promote classically liberal European values), proud public Jew (honorary vice president of the World Jewish Congress), lifelong Zionist (once served as the chief of Cabinet to Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann) and, as he will delightedly tell you, the last person to fight a duel at the University of Vienna – with sabers, against a Nazi. (No one died.)
In context, the scale of the initial rescue is tragically small. The objective is to rescue 2,000 families. Compared with the carnage in Syria wrought by the pitiless combatants – 230,000 dead, half the 22 million population driven from their homes – it’s a paltry sum. But these are real people who will be saved. And for Weidenfeld, that counts.
Yet he has been criticized for rescuing just Christians. In fact, the U.S. government will not participate because the rescue doesn’t extend to Yazidis, Druze or Shiites.
And for him, it’s personal. In 1938, still a teenager, he was taken from Vienna to London where the Plymouth Brethren took him in and provided for him. He is trying to return the kindness, he explains, to repay the good that Christians did for him 77 years ago. In doing so, he is not just giving new life to 150 souls, soon to be thousands. He has struck a blow for something exceedingly rare: simple, willful righteousness.
The Washington Post Writers Group