Thursday, April 21, 2011

Iraqi Christians follow the Way of the Cross this Holy Week

"The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service" (Jn 16:2).

The great scholar and observer of Islam, Raymond Ibrahim, has just posted a sorrowful survey of the sufferings of Christians in Iraq, documenting their own personal 'via dolorosa' this Holy Week.  Though Ibrahim's article concentrates on Iraq, we see the plight of Christians throughout not only the Middle East, but in any and every Muslim country, including supposedly 'moderate' Islamic countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, is dire indeed, and rapidly growing worse. Iraq is a case study, a 'canary in the coal mine', if you will. And the threat against Christians in the Muslim world (the dar al-Islam) is not random, not limited to sporadic outbreaks. It is urged and abetted by Muslim imams and scholars, leaders and interpreters of Islam, who base their preaching and teaching on the Koran, the hadiths (the sayings and traditions about Muhammad), and the Sira (the example of Muhammad).

As Mr. Ibrahim puts it in the intro to his article:

Last week an Iraqi Muslim scholar issued a fatwa that, among other barbarities, asserts that "it is permissible to spill the blood of Iraqi Christians."  Inciting as the fatwa is, it is also redundant.  While last October's Baghdad church attack which killed some sixty Christians is widely known—actually receiving some MSM coverage—the fact is, Christian life in Iraq has been a living hell ever since U.S. forces ousted the late Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Among other atrocities, beheading and crucifying Christians are not irregular occurrences; messages saying "you Christian dogs, leave or die," are typical.  Islamists see the church as an "obscene nest of pagans" and threaten to "exterminate Iraqi Christians."

This threat of extermination is real and immanent, as Ibrahim documents:

 John Eibner, CEO of Christian Solidarity International, summarized the situation well in a recent letter to President Obama:

Iraqi man grieves at the funeral of his two brothers, slain for being Christian.
The threat of extermination is not empty. Since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, more than half the country's Christian population has been forced by targeted violence to seek refuge abroad or to live away from their homes as internally displaced people. According to the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, over 700 Christians, including bishops and priests, have been killed and 61 churches have been bombed. Seven years after the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk reports: "He who is not a Muslim in Iraq is a second-class citizen. Often it is necessary to convert or emigrate, otherwise one risks being killed." This anti-Christian violence is sustained by a widespread culture of Muslim supremacism that extends far beyond those who pull the triggers and detonate the bombs.

Just as happened from the late 19th through the mid-20th century to Orthodox Christians in Armenia, Pontus, Thrace, Greece, and elsewhere in the Balkans—systematic genocide (4.5 million killed) and forced exile at the hands of the Turkish Muslims—the Christian population in the Middle East is suffering beyond anything we can imagine:

Another indicator that empowering Muslim masses equates Christian suffering is the fact that, though Iraqi Christians amount to a mere 5% of the population, they make up nearly 40% of the refugees fleeing Iraq.  It is now the same in Egypt: "A growing number of Egypt's 8-10 million Coptic Christians are looking for a way to get out as Islamists increasingly take advantage of the nationalist revolution that toppled long-standing dictator Hosni Mubarak in February."

These photos of profaned and destroyed Iraqi churches recall to mind the scenes from Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, newsreels depicting the dynamiting of churches, the toppling of spires and domes, and the throwing down of bells from church towers. We are witnessing an emboldened, full scale Islamic assault against our brothers and sisters. Let us open our hearts in prayer, and hope that as many as possible can flee to the safety of the United States. We may also be able to exert a charitable influence on our elected representatives to intervene on behalf of the Iraqi Christians, to invite them to safe haven here.

This new Golgotha being manifested right before our eyes is a sobering reminder of Christ's many warnings to us that as His followers, we are certain to face persecution. As we journey with our Lord through His Passion Week, let us recommit ourselves to remain faithful to Him regardless of the cost. As my priest, Fr. Steven Kostoff, wrote in a meditation this week, let us not be  "more intent on eating lamb than partaking of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world."   The "great cloud of witnesses" which surrounds, encourages and intercedes for us has been added to by the tens of millions over the last century, and is being added to daily. Let us be found worthy of being numbered with them, at the very least by our faithfulness to our crucified, risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ.