Nebraska Student Columnist: News Media Ignoring Christian Genocide in Middle East
“Christians are being murdered all over the world, and no one seems to be talking about it.”
Faced with what she considers a startling related silence, University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior Tegan Colton is trying to start the conversation. In a new column for The Daily Nebraskan, Colton argues the news media and general public are ignoring a Christian genocide taking place amid the violence propagated by the terrorist group ISIS.
According to Colton, millions of Christians have died or been forced out of their homes in the Middle East during the conflicts — all under the unconscionably blind eye of the journalism establishment.
“The lack of coverage on Christian persecution in the U.S., supposedly the largest Christian nation in the world, probably stems from a prejudice we didn’t know we had,” Colton contends. “The pressure to remain unbiased, assuming Christians are the majority power, influences us to cover the suffering of other groups first. If we are to stop this Christian genocide, whatever prejudice that’s keeping the world from covering the suffering needs to be overcome and replaced with truth.”
In a recent chat with CMM correspondent Leigh Anne Tiffany — part of our esteemed College Media Geeks interview series — Colton further discusses her column’s aims and explains the connection between flagging Christian persecution coverage and “dead white male imperialism.”
What motivated you to write this column?
Mostly it was because I had no idea this was going on. It was earlier, only a few months ago, that I found out this was happening, and it wasn’t because of any official news media report. Somebody had a link to an article on Facebook, and I clicked on it thinking, “OK, it’s on Facebook. It’s not going to be true.” And I found out it was true and I was absolutely shocked because I hadn’t heard anything about it. I did some more research and found out how appalling it was. I went around telling people and realized I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know this was happening. I was just more and more shocked as I looked at what the official reports were saying: There was some kind of mention of it, but not a whole lot of focus on the Christians who were being killed. There was some mention of the Shia Muslims and the Yazidis, but very little mention of the Christians. So I felt I needed to make an article about it, [to] let everybody know.
Have you come across any news media covering this genocide?
Not official ones. There are official reports that kind of mention that Christians are being killed, but that’s about it. When I look at the information out there, it’s more like people writing in opinion sections saying, “Hey, here are the actual numbers,” and they link to a study or a report and then talk about it and talk about eyewitness reports.
But as far as what the president is saying, what news media are saying, there’s not a whole lot of coverage about it. Probably the closest thing I found was a CNN report on the people who were being killed in Mosul. And it was good they did that, but when I looked on the CNN website I didn’t find much else that was being talked about. They had a report talking about children being beheaded and there really wasn’t much else following up on that. We do have solid evidence this is happening, solid eyewitness reports, people are talking about it, but [news media] just don’t seem to be concerned.
In your column, you attribute the lack of coverage in part to a stereotype that links Christianity with “dead white male imperialism.” Can you explain how this lasting perception of Christians being the persecutors, not the persecuted, might be influencing reports?
I think people, at least in the United States, when they hear the word Christian, they think of a fat, white, male preacher who hates gays. I think that’s mostly what they [Americans] get when they look at the media saying, you know, “Oh, male preacher says something terrible about gay people or does something horrible in the media and other people are rising up against it.”
I think Christianity has become the bad guy, at least in the United States and in the media. When you hear the word Christian, people don’t really seem to think it is important or relevant to their lives. It’s kind of like, “Oh, that’s that ancient religion nobody cares about.” I think maybe it is a prejudice, maybe not necessarily rooted in hatred, but just that we don’t need to think about it anymore. … A lot of people just think when they hear about Christian genocide, they might think Christians are overreacting or something — and that mindset is reflected in the media.
You also argue Christians are a presumed “majority” group in society. Do you think that might compel media to avoid or minimize covering this topic — in order to appear or actually remain unbiased?
I think that’s absolutely correct. In the United States, there is a general assumption that Christians are in the majority around the world [and] Christians are the ones going out and oppressing other groups. … I think we don’t want to appear biased just because we think Christians are the majority and we are only covering Christians. It’s kind of like if there were a few Anglo-Saxon people being killed and we only focused on them instead of the genocide in Rwanda or some other equally horrible event. I think people might tie Christianity with the powerful white majority and tend to believe if they show any signs of caring toward Christianity they will appear biased. But the facts are that despite Christianity being the largest religion, it’s also the most persecuted. So it’s [not really truthful] that by not covering the Christian genocide we then somehow become open-minded.
Christianity, by all accounts, is the world’s largest religion. Do Christians need to be recognized by the media as often as smaller groups — groups which might not have the same number of resources or voices behind them?
I think we should cover anybody who is being persecuted. I don’t think we should stop covering any particular group. Honestly, I think some people aren’t covered enough. There was a genocide in Sudan a few years ago. I haven’t heard anything about it since, and I know it is still going on. People apparently just stopped talking about it. Those things do need to be covered as well.
My point is that I think people are not covering a very serious subject because they believe Christians have more resources — and that is only really true in the United States. If you go outside the United States, you aren’t going to see that, and you are going to see Christians are persecuted pretty much everywhere. I mean, in the West they have rights, but the truth is they aren’t a powerful majority and their voices do need to be heard. But the voices of other groups like the Yazidis and the Shia Muslims and any other group being killed should have the same amount of coverage. Honestly, I think any kind of genocide happening anywhere needs to be covered with a very serious intent.
“I think we should cover anybody who is being persecuted. … There was a genocide in Sudan a few years ago. I haven’t heard anything about it since, and I know it is still going on. People apparently just stopped talking about it.”
How do you think the media should be approaching this topic?
I think we should be approaching the topic … just equally. If we look at the facts and we see what’s happening and then we just talk about what’s happening. I’m completely against having any kind of bias in the media. I don’t think we should focus more on one group and less on another group, which is basically why I wrote this article. I think when we talk about ISIS and what’s happening with ISIS we shouldn’t just focus on the three journalists who have been executed. And obviously their deaths are important and terrible, but we need to focus on exactly what ISIS is doing in the Middle East, which is creating absolute havoc and terror on Nazi-regime levels.
When you listen to the people who have gone through this and survived, the things they mention are very reminiscent of the Holocaust. For instance, they [ISIS] go into [the homes of Christians and other survivors] and take all their jewelry and tell them they are going to live — then they [ISIS] come back to kill them. That’s very Nazi-like. And the media just isn’t touching upon this as much as they should. …
I think millions of people being displaced from their homes should be talked about. We should also talk about the Yazidis and the Shia Muslims, definitely, but I think we should be talking more than we have been about the Christians as well. We need to talk about the atrocities that have been happening, look at the facts and look at the numbers and be honest and truthful about what is happening without any slant to it.
Any last thoughts for student readers or reporters?
I would encourage people to pay more attention to what is happening. I think a lot of people, when you ask them, will say, “Well, yeah, the media is biased,” but they won’t actually look into the facts and see what exactly they are being biased about. I think there’s too many people here in the United States who take what they see and just kind of assume “this is fact, this is what’s going on,” and talk about these things as though they definitely know what is happening in the world. And unfortunately, the media are pretty slanted and biased when you look at the facts being reported elsewhere. … I would encourage college students and really anybody: When you see something on the news, do not just take it as, “This is what’s happening.” Delve further into the fact. Delve further into what’s happening. And get a better-informed opinion of what is happening in your world.