Sunday, July 10, 2011

Canaries in the Coalmine Pt 2: Iraqi Christians

Aftermath of 2010 Baghdad Church
Massacre, in which dozens of
worshipers were killed by
extremist Muslims.
In this, our second in the 'Canaries in the Coalmine' series (the first looked at the worsening situation of the Coptic Christians in Egypt as the Muslim Brotherhood continues its acquisition of power and its push for an Islamic republic based on the shariah), we consider the heartrending and dire situation of Christians in Iraq.  Some on the ground in Mosul and elsewhere are already referring to Muslim persecution of Christians as "ethnic cleansing," and point to the hundreds of thousands of Christians fleeing Iraq as further proof of the horrendous conditions there.

Some of the stories below also refer to the horrific persecution of Christians in Iran, and the collapse of Christianity in the Holy Land in general as Islam continues its renewed, belligerent ascendancy.

It must be emphasized that these attacks on Christian communities are not "sectarian" or political in nature; as can be discerned from the accounts of survivors of the Baghdad church massacre, the Muslims who perpetrate these atrocities are basing their actions on Islamic teachings as found in the Koran and the life and example of Muhammad. Dr Mark Durie relates the nature of these attacks as follows:

It is good to note well the testimony of these survivors, because there is a view, widespread among the secular professional terrorism analysts of Western nations, that contemporary terrorism is not essentially religious in nature, but is a political movement which exploits the religion of Islam to serve what are in reality political goals.

One of the dangers of this rhetoric is that it causes the Western media to overlook or 'filter out' incidents of terrorists attacking indigenous Christians (and other religious minorities), because these attacks cannot be accommodated in the category of 'political violence'.

However there was no political advantage to be gained by killing unarmed Christian worshippers in Baghdad.  It was a purely religious act.  Thus, according to the survivors, their attackers:

  1. Cried out Allahu Akbar 'Allah is greater' each time they shot Christians.
  2. Called the Christians kafir 'infidel'.
  3. Witnessed to the Christians that Allah is one.
  4. Said it was halal (religiously permitted in Islam) to kill them, because they were Christians.
  5. Rebuked their victims for 'worshipping' the cross and Christ and told them not to do so, e.g. they said, 'Don't worship the cross'.
  6. Selectively targeted young men for killing: one of the attackers said 'Don't leave a young man alive.'  This is in accordance with the laws of jihad, which stipulate that male captives can be killed. Authentic hadiths (traditions) of Muhammad report that when he eliminated the  Jews from Medina, he had the men executed.  (A Jewish boy called Atiyyah later reported that when an examination revealed he had not yet begun to grow pubic hair, he was allowed to live).
  7. Declared that they themselves would go to paradise but their Christian victims would go to hell.  They seemed to presume that they would be killed as an outcome of the seizure.
  8. Refused to put a wounded victim out of her misery, by ending her life, although she was begging for this, on the grounds that it was fitting for her to suffer in this life because she was on her way to hell anyway.
  9. Deliberately targeted Christian symbols for destruction, e.g. destroying crosses and a statue of Christ. (It was a tradition reported by Waqidi that Muhammad would destroy anything he saw which had a cross on it: W. Muir, The life of Muhammad.Volume 3, p.61, note 47.)

Here are just a few highlights of Muslim persecutions of Iraqi Christians from the past couple of years. Click on source links for the full stories:

December 2009 - Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - A policy of "ethnic and religious cleansing" is underway in Mosul; in fact, it has worsened as Christmas approaches, Mgr Louis Sako told AsiaNews. For the archbishop of Kirkuk, this means that "security measures must be strengthened or the holiday season". Meanwhile, tensions and fear are palpable in the city, made worse by a new attack against two places of worship, killing one person and wounding 40 more. A Christian source, anonymous for security reasons, said that the "community is destined to die".

March 2010 - Mosul (BBC News) - Hundreds of Iraqi Christians have taken part in protests calling for government action after a spate of killings. At least eight Christians have been killed in the past two weeks in the volatile northern city of Mosul. The killings prompted an appeal by Pope Benedict on Sunday for Iraqi authorities to protect vulnerable religious minorities. The UN says more than 680 Christian families have fled Mosul since the recent attacks.

October 2010 - Iraq (AINA) - As US forces continue to withdraw from Iraq, many fear a return to sectarian violence once they've gone. Iraqi Christians are particularly fearful of the removal of the main barrier between them and their persecutors. Their churches are burnt-out husks and heaps of rubble. Their businesses are targeted by extremists. Their leaders are kidnapped and assassinated. The Christian minority in Iraq, once a community left in peace to prosper, continues to be under threat from a campaign of persecution which has forced as many as 500,000 Christians to flee the country.

October 2010 - (AINA) - BISHOPS WARN OF CAMPAIGN TO DRIVE CHRISTIANITY FROM IRAQ - Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue were the focus Friday morning during the 8th General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. Pope Benedict XVI was present for the session which saw interventions from auditors and special delegates, as well as greetings from the World Council of Churches....
Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran of the Vatican's council for inter-religious dialogue said "let us not be shy in reclaiming not only freedom of worship, but also religious freedom". In this context one suggestion was the developing of a UN resolution on religious freedom that protects from discrimination, while condemning the use of religion to justify wars, or political and economic interests....
Discussions then widened out to the horrible tragedy of Christians in Iraq: bishops from the nation warned that there is a deliberate campaign to drive them out of the country and called on the international community not to remain silent. The difficult situation of the Church in Turkey was also touched on, a reality that is sometimes overlooked but one which is at risk of survival. Its story, concluded the Synod Fathers, was written with the blood of victims such as Mgr. Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, who was murdered in June.

November 2010 - (Foreign Policy) - ...The [October 2010] massacre in Baghdad is only the most spectacular example of mounting discrimination and persecution of the native Christian communities of Iraq and Iran, which are now in the middle of a massive exodus unprecedented in modern times as they confront a rising tide of Islamic militancy and religious chauvinism sweeping the region.

Christians are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in both Iraq and Iran, with roots in the Middle East that date back to the earliest days of the faith. Some follow the Apostolic Orthodox Armenian Church. Others subscribe to the 2,000-year-old Syriac tradition represented mainly by the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq and by Aramaic speakers widely known as Assyrians in both Iraq and Iran.

In Iraq, Chaldean and Assyrian Christian communities have witnessed increasing violence by militant Muslims against their neighborhoods, children, and religious sites since the U.S. invasion. Even pastors are not safe -- two died in the recent Baghdad bombing; many have been killed by Sunni and Shiite Iraqis since 2003. In Iran, other clergymen, including members of the Armenian, Protestant, and Catholic churches, have been arrested, kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, or even summarily executed, over the past three decades.

"Many Christians from Mosul have been systematically targeted and are no longer safe there," said Laurens Jolles, a UNHCR representative, in 2008, after Chaldean women were raped while their men, including Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, were tortured and killed in warnings to Christians to abandon their homes and livelihoods...
But the roots of Christian decline in the Middle East actually date back centuries. In Iran, intolerance toward all non-Muslim minorities took a sharply negative turn from the 16th century onward with the forced Shiification of Iran by the Safavid dynasty. The early 20th century saw pogroms against Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Christians in the Ottoman Empire and northwestern Iran. Under the Pahlavi shahs, Assyrians, Armenians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Baha'is regained some of their rights and came to represent the modernizing elements of 20th century society. But the Islamic Revolution of 1979 undercut all those advances. Prejudice and oppression now occurs with impunity.
The numbers speak for themselves: The population of non-Muslims in Iran has dropped by two-thirds or more since 1979. From Iran, these groups flee to Turkey and India -- often at risk to life and limb through the violence-ridden border regions of Iraq and Pakistan. The number of Assyrian Christians in Iran has dwindled from about 100,000 in the mid-1970s to approximately 15,000 today, even as the overall population of the country has swelled from 38 million to 72 million people over the same period. In Iraq, Christians are fleeing in droves. U.N. statistics indicate that 15 percent of all Iraqi refugees in Syria are of Christian background, although they represented only 3 percent of the population when U.S. troops entered in 2003. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that between 300,000 to 400,000 Christians have been forced out of Iraq since 2003. And Christians have left because the message from Sunni militants and Shiite ayatollahs is crystal clear: You have no future here.

There is now an alarming possibility that there will be no significant Christian communities in Iraq or Iran by century's end. Christian schools, communal halls, historical sites, and churches are being appropriated by national and provincial governments, government-sponsored Muslim organizations, and radical Islamist groups. Economic and personal incentives are offered to those who adopt Islam. 

November 2010 - London (BBC) - A senior Iraqi Christian has called on believers to quit the country, after gunmen targeted a church in Baghdad. Archbishop Athanasios Dawood, who is based in the UK, made his appeal during a service at the Syrian Orthodox Church in London. The archbishop said Christians had been without protection since the US-led invasion in 2003. At least 52 people died as security forces stormed a Catholic Church in Baghdad to free dozens of hostages.

December 2010 - KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) - Iraqi Christians on Wednesday called off Christmas festivities in three cities across the country as al-Qaida insurgents threatened more attacks on a beleaguered community still terrified from a bloody siege on a Baghdad church. Church officials in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul along with the southern city of Basra said they will not put up Christmas decorations, have canceled evening Mass and urged worshippers to refrain from decorating their homes...  "Nobody can ignore the threats of al-Qaida against Iraqi Christians," said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako in Kirkuk. "We cannot find a single source of joy that makes us celebrate. The situation of the Christians is bleak."  Christians across Iraq have been living in fear since a Baghdad church attack in October that left 68 people dead. Days later insurgents targeted Christian homes and neighborhoods across the capital with a series of bombs.

December 2010 - World Blind to Christianity's Evaporating Roots in Holy Land (Vatopaedi Friend/Calgary Herald) - One of the staples of television news over the Christmas holiday is coverage of celebrations in the Holy Land, providing a familiar and comforting nod to the ancient roots of Western civilization. Even in our increasingly secular society, images of Christians worshipping in Nazareth and Bethlehem provide welcome confirmation that we have a long and substantial history — even if we’re fuzzy on the details. It all looks so traditional and Christmassy.
Unfortunately this comforting image depends to a large extent on a dwindling number of embattled Christian communities. We are, in fact, witnessing the twilight of Christianity across much of the Middle East.
Not so long ago Bethlehem was a majority Christian town — about 80 per cent — and now is down to less than a third. Nazareth, too, has seen its Christian population almost halved in recent decades, and in Jerusalem itself the Christian community has fallen from a slight majority 80 years ago to below two per cent today. Christians are leaving the West Bank, in particular, to escape the instability and a long-standing Muslim boycott of Christian businesses that has ravaged the community’s economic foundations.
Thankfully this modern day exodus is mostly peaceful, which puts it in marked contrast to much of the history of Christian depopulation in the Middle East.
This is history the West has largely forgotten and ignored. Your average European or North American will certainly be more familiar with the story of the Palestinians and the much-publicized grievances of the Arab world in general.
Yet we’re not talking ancient history here.
Many people will have heard something of the Armenian genocide in Turkey in the years following the First World War, but few would know it was part of a larger religious and ethnic cleansing that also saw the mass slaughter of Greek and Assyrian Christians.
Almost three million Armenian, Greek and Assyrian Christians perished in what are now Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. In the first quarter of the 20th century Christians represented about one-third of the Syrian population, but now they account for less than 10 per cent. In Turkey there were about two million Christians in 1920, now reduced to just a few thousand.
Even more recently, the campaign of violence and persecution against Iraqi Christians is surely one of the most under-reported stories since the invasion of 2003. Iraq’s Christians once made up three per cent of its population, and now account for half of its refugees. About 500,000 Iraqi Christians have fled that country over the past seven years, and it’s not hard to see why. As recently as the end of October, 52 people were killed when security forces tried to free more than 100 Catholics taken hostage during a Sunday mass in Baghdad.