The New Phase of Christian Persecutions in Iraq: Does Anyone Care?
The US government has recently expressed its satisfaction with the military victory reported on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, despite the militants maintaining a small presence in the Syrian territory. Nevertheless, President Donald Trump said: “Thanks to the US armed forces and our cooperation with many of your nations, I am pleased to announce that bloodthirsty killers known as ISIS have been driven from their territory once detained in Iraq and in Syria.”
The impression of many in the West is that, following the defeat of the Islamic “caliphate,” religious minorities in Iraq, especially Christians, are no longer persecuted. At least this is the thesis of the mainstream media — this is very far from reality. The persecutions, in fact, have taken on a new form, for example, former ISIS members taking key positions in local government and the Shi‘ite militias controlling cities and villages where Christians live adding to their burdens.
The most serious political problem is the absence, at least on the Iraqi side, of an authority able to operate, with clear and objective initiatives, so as to make a change that can guarantee security and stability for Christians. This vacuum of political authority, however, has not just left our brethren in a state of political anarchy, but has kept them from coming back to their homeland. Part of the problem also comes from a lack of support from various Roman Catholic members of the hierarchy, who also sustain the dialogue will eventually resolve the persecutions. It suffices to see the attitude, for example of the US Catholic bishops, who have not only absolved Islam of crimes committed in the name of religion but, in the face of the genocide of Christians inspired by Islamic texts, along with many progressive politicians, have promoted or supported the campaign against Islamophobia, i.e., the criminalization of any reasonable criticism. And perhaps even more discouraging is the result of a survey conducted by Aid to the Church in Need in the USA, McLaughlin & Associates: American Catholics are more concerned with global warming than with persecution against Christians.
Having recently visited the war-torn town of Mosul—one of the first regions of the world to accept the message of Christ—I had the opportunity to speak with a number of Christians living in the Niniveh sector: the other towns and villages surrounding Mosul. They agree that the drastic reduction of the Christian population, and I would say almost an abandonment in post-ISIS Iraq is substantially due to the lack of the United States and other Western countries to provide any concrete and constant program to reconstruct the terrains once inhabited by Christians. There are also refugees living in desperate conditions in crowded and unhealthy camps, a plan which, if implemented, would allow them to return and resume a life as free citizens. I limit myself to an example, but I could bring many others: in Karamless today only about three hundred Christian families live—it used to have more than eight hundred before the occupation of ISIS—the Shi‘ite groups, like the Shabak, have appropriated for themselves the places vacated by Christians, which allows them to impose their Islamic law and culture. They also try to shortcut Christians of government funding for the reconstruction of houses and employment opportunities. A Nineveh priest told me that it is an ongoing struggle with the government to try to preserve or regain housing and all that was relevant to them.
Another problem, as already mentioned, is the exercise of the rule of law, which both Shi‘ite and Kurdish militias have taken the initiative to ensure in those predominantly Christian cities before ISIS. Instead of working towards peace and stability, they allow Christians to be harassed for purely religious reasons, without granting them any chance to appeal to the central Iraqi government. The mayor of the city of Telkef, Bassim Bello, who is a Christian, explained to me that aside trying to have the central government recognize Christians as equals as Iraqi Muslims and Kurds, Christians face threats just to rebuild and reopen their churches. And even in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, which is autonomous from the Iraqi central government and which is perhaps the safest region in all of Iraq, many Christians suffer abuse of various kinds: Christian women are harassed because they do not wear hijab (the scarf that covers the head) and the drunken Kurds at night fire their weapons to late at night to reaffirm their supremacy: and these are just two examples, and not the most serious, of how precarious the situation is in a city in a square in which there is a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Iraqi Christians, young people in particular, and those Westerners working in Iraq to restore stability, have expressed to me all their distrust in politicians. They are convinced that the heads of state are more interested in petrodollars than in human rights.
There is a bright spot to all of this. Christians retain a strong will and continue fight for their faith and their rights, with the hope that their example will bring other Iraqis, regardless of religion and ethnicity, to a constant mutual respect. Some churches destroyed during the war with ISIS have been reopened to worship, despite the discouraging threats and obstacles set by their fellow Muslims. In fact, the Catholic Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Basar Warda, founded the Catholic University of Erbil a few years ago. His hope is that in providing the opportunity to Iraqi Christians a higher education they can be not only inspired to stay in Iraq but build a brighter future. If the United States and other nations, and some members of the Catholic hierarchy followed this phase of Iraqi reconstruction, and not just provide money to government officials that end up in their back pockets, then there would be a real possibility of establishing a new era not only on the political-economic level but also a religious plan that can guarantee the right of existence, of practice and of diffusion to the Christian faith.
Mario Alexis Portella is author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up
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