Iraq’s Christians Still Under Siege
Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, wrote to me that “since Iraq has no government, we are calling for the international community to intervene in protecting and saving the indigenous people of Iraq , the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Community.” He emphasizes, “Things are deteriorating very fast in Iraq , our people are left with no choice but to flee because they are losing hope and there is no serious actions taken to protect them as of today.”
Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Church of the East, another persecuted Christian church with an ancient presence in Iraq , sent a report as well. Apart from the widely covered information that the terrorists demanded prison releases, he documents (with two links) another, directly religious motive that enraged al-Qaeda: the conversion of Muslim girls into another Christian denomination in another country.
Christians remain the largest non-Muslim minority in Iraq , but church leaders express a real fear that the light of the faith in Iraq — which is said to have been kindled personally by Thomas, one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles — could soon be extinguished. Iraq ’s Christian population has been reduced by as much as half; adherents have been driven out by brutal terrorist attacks and government marginalization. Iraq ’s other non-Muslim religions — the much smaller groups of Mandeans (followers of John the Baptist), Yizidis (an ancient angel-centered religion), Bahai’s, and Jews — are also being forced out, and in some cases, their unique languages and cultures may not survive in exile.
Religious persecution in Iraq is so “egregious” that the country has now been included by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on a recommended short list of “Countries of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act, alongside the likes of Iran and China . No group in Iraq, Muslim or non-Muslim, has been spared massive and appalling religiously motivated violence; however, as the independent federal commission found, the one-two punch of extremist ruthlessness and deep governmental discrimination now threatens the “very existence” of Iraq’s Christian churches (some of whom still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus of Nazareth) and Iraq’s communities of Mandeans and Yizidis, which are even older. As last night’s attack again shows, these smallest minorities are not simply caught in the middle. They are being fiercely targeted for their faith.
As I have written before, this raises an urgent question for the West: Without the experience of living alongside Christians and other non-Muslims at home, what would prepare the Muslim Middle East to peacefully coexist with the West?