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My great-grandparents came to Egypt in the early twentieth century, narrowly escaping the systematic genocide of the 1.5 million Armenians and other minorities by the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. The international apathy to the massacres was a galvanizing data point for Hitler in planning his own holocaust against the Jews during the Second World War. Who remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?

When Egypt attacked Israel on October 6, 1973, in what became known as the Yom Kippur War, my grandmother was told by a grocer whom she had known for thirty years, “First we'll get them, then we'll get you.”

I've known this story of my grandmother since I was a child. With the recent pro-Hamas and anti-Semitic protests occurring around the country and on our college campuses, it seems a fitting time to share it. Any child of immigrants will probably relate to the hesitation and difficulty of sharing stories like these, which grate against the “politically correct” culture of the West and defy the lessons of our generational trauma born from centuries of living in dhimmitude. 

I am grateful to my parents for emigrating to the United States in the 1970s so that I might enjoy the freedom to speak and write as an equal citizen and the possibility of economic prosperity. Spiritually and culturally, however, it was a loss. 

At my Catholic high school, I was shocked to observe the religious apathy of my fellow students. Unsurprisingly, my best friends were a Muslim Indian, two Hindu Indians, and a Lebanese Christian. I wasn't intentionally seeking out children of religious immigrants. Still, the thought crossed my mind that once you have a religiously free climate, coupled with economic wealth, matters of the divine become taken for granted.

At my Lutheran college, the climate shifted from apathy to downright hostility. On Good Friday, the students protested the placement of crosses from the Christian club around the campus. The editor of the college newspaper wrote an article calling Christianity intolerant. My mother used to tell me how if my grandfather wanted to express a diverse political opinion, he'd close the apartment's curtains in Cairo. He'd tell my mother to do her anti-Israel homework but not to believe what they were teaching her about the Jewish people. A Christian university that allowed anti-Christian articles to be freely written and published hardly seemed intolerant to me. 

The hostility became worse when I started to open up about my concerns surrounding the rise of Islamism. I remember talking to a friend about her decision to attend one of the top Ivy League schools and warning her not to compromise uncomfortable truth, especially when it came to Islamic ideologies and their rise in popularity in both the East and West. I was called “a paranoid child of immigrants” a month before the 9/11 attacks after I told her not to be surprised when they attacked us on our soil. 

Something that privilege does not afford you is a prophetic impulse. History rhymed again in 2023 when 120,000 Armenians (30,000 of them children) were starved and displaced from the Nagorno-Karabakh region by the descendants of the Ottomans; the president of Turkey boasted that it was the fulfillment of “the mission of our grandfathers.” Once again, the world was apathetic. 

Ironically, Israel, who ought to be Armenia’s closest ally in terms of faith and culture in the Near East, instead supports Azerbaijan and Turkey out of geopolitical necessity. And Armenia, abandoned by the West, maintains cordial relations with Iran, an Islamic Republic that does not share her Western values. The price of Western apathy is spiritual and cultural loss. 

Now, the threat is once again on our turf, arising within the places that exist because of and for the sake of the dignity and rights of the human person; pro-Hamas students have physically intimidated Jewish students and threatened global intifada. It is a special kind of irony to observe faculty and students use their freedom, born from the Western tradition, for the sake of a movement that would crush it in one day. As they did on October 7. 

Today the Jews, tomorrow you.

Simone Rizkallah is Deputy Director of Education at the Philos Project.

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