Posted By: Canon Andrew White Posted in: Faithbook ,
The Christians of Iraq are some of the oldest and long standing Christians in the world. Here among these wonderful people is still spoken the language of our Lord. Ninety-eight per cent of my people at St George’s, Baghdad originate from “Niniwah” (Nineveh) and are the result of the most miserable evangelist ever, who arrived by submarine transportation 2,700 years ago – Jonah. Another miserable person turned up 700 years later called doubting Thomas. He was on his way to India. He told the people that their Messiah had come. They believed him and, to this day, the Christians in Iraq revere Jonah and Mar Thoma.
Yet I look around our church and most of our members (over 2,000) are women and children because our men have been killed or kidnapped. All of our members apart from me are Iraqis and all have suffered terribly. Last year alone, 93 of my people were killed. This year already, five of my people have been killed. All of my original church leaders were killed in 2005 and all Christians in the country who had the means have left and gone to Jordan, Syria or Sweden so that those left behind tend to be the poorer members of the community.
Thus, we are still in the most dangerous place for Christians in the world. Security has slightly improved and some people have returned to places like Dora, but Christians in Iraq are still surrounded by great danger.
I am in a minority here in saying that the war had to happen and Saddam had to be removed, but I was here in Iraq before the last war. I saw the fear and debauchery of the regime. I still do not denounce the war, but what happened afterwards was worse than terrible. It was awful for all but particularly for those groups who are small in number. I do not call them minorities because they themselves object to that term. It does not matter if they are Mandeans, Yazidees, Turkman, Fali Kurds or Christians – they have all suffered, been marginalised and forgotten by the masses.
Proper thought did not take place about the needs or protection of these groups. The fact that these people would be persecuted was to be expected, yet the plans that were needed for their future did not exist. I spent many days in Washington DC and London beforehand and there was a total rejection of any possible religious component to the development of sectarianism. I was told that first water and electricity needed to be dealt with and at a far later date, religion. A few weeks later I was told they could not even deal with water and electricity because religion kept getting in the way.
Religious sectarianism has always potentially been a major issue in Iraq but under the previous regime it did not show its head. The minority Sunni were in control and their first enemy just happened to be the majority Shia. Therefore in previous days the Christians were treated relatively well and given certain freedoms as long as they totally complied.
Today things are different but still people often do not wake up and listen. Hundreds of Christians have been killed, forced to convert or made to pay jezerah tax. On the whole people have not even heard of these problems. I stand in church each week and look at the widows and children without parents. They are my people and I have to provide for them. There is no social security, they need food, clothes and healthcare. They have no money so we have to provide it. I thank G-d that by his grace through our supporters, I have always been able to do this. I might be an Anglican but we do not just give to our own we also give to the Assyrian, Armenian, Chaldean, Syrian Orthodox and to some of the Protestant groups. What we can give though is minuscule compared to the extent of the needs.
Other present solutions could be international political engagement and the support of the Iraqi Government. The International Political community has not done a huge amount to help the Christian community. In reality what it can do is limited. The coalition in Iraq has tried to increase security and protection for the Christians and has done so where possible. In recent months it tried to increase MNFI security around Niniveh when the attacks against Christians escalated and together with the Iraqi Government there was some success. But the Christians have had to be careful about the extent of help it receives from the coalition because many of the terrorist groups have wrongly thought that Christians of Iraq have Western links and are part of a Western religion.
The coalition in Iraq has also failed to understand the nature of Iraqi Christianity. At one stage I was asked by the coalition if it would be possible to establish groups of Christians like the ‘Sunni Awakening’ who would take up arms and would protect the others. This very statement may sound good but it is fundamentally flawed. At no point are Christians like the Sunni community. Very rarely do and would Christians take up arms. Neither do they usually live in communities where the majority are purely Christians and where it is easy to protect a specific area.
Regarding the Iraqi Government, at no point has it ever taken negative action towards Christians. The Iraqi Government does care about its Christians. Members of the Cabinet even regularly come to church. The council and the governor often see how they can help us. But whilst individuals and churches have helped us help the Christians of Iraq, never once has any Christian relief agency ever helped us. It is far too dangerous for them to send people in so they do not help us. It is this point that really frustrates me, that those in some of the greatest need cannot be helped because it is too dangerous to have a presence.
The fact is that it is in the most dangerous places that our fellow Christians need help. It is often said that I have the most dangerous parish in the world. Maybe I do but I will not leave them. Just the other day a famous American preacher said to me the problem is that people have not seen G-d enough like Job did. He said “you have seen G-d in the children of Iraq”. I agree I have, I will never leave these people they are indeed the most wonderful people in the world and they just happen to be Iraqi Christians.