Defend the Persecuted

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Nina Shea, the director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, paints a bleak picture for the future of non-Muslims in Iraq. She explains how some 60 years ago, Iraq’s Jewish population fled due to coordinated violent attacks against them. Very few Jews remain in Iraq today, though they had once made up one-third of Baghdad’s population. As Shea comments: “Unless Washington acts, the same fate awaits Iraq’s million or so Christians and other minorities. They are not simply caught in the crossfire of a Muslim power struggle; they are being targeted in a ruthless cleansing campaign by Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish militants.”

As I have told you before on The Christian Post, there are 600,000 to as many as one million Christians in Iraq. They are called the “Assyrians” or “Chaldeans”—as their names suggest, tracing to biblical times. Indeed, they are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. If any group has an historical claim to their part of Iraq, it is they.

Yet increasing numbers of Iraqi Christians have concluded that “there is no future for Christians” in Iraq. As one Christian put it, “We have no militia to defend us.”

That matters because, as the New Republic put it, “Sunni, Shia, and Kurd may agree on little else, but all have made sport of brutalizing their Christian neighbors.” Since neither Iraq nor American officials are willing to protect them, Christians are leaving their ancestral home. According to the UN High Commissioner of Refugees, Christians, who represent only 4 percent of the population in Iraq, make up 40 percent of its refugees.

Their flight is not only heart-breaking because of their ancient connections to the land, but also because of the loss of their stabilizing effect on the area. Shea cites Lebanese Christian scholar Habib Malik, who writes that the Middle East’s Christians and other minorities have historically served as moderating influences. As Shea says, “Their very presence highlights pluralism, and they are a bridge to the West and its values of individual rights.”

Yet, according to Shea, “the United States has no policies designed to protect or rescue” religious minorities. “Worse, it has carried out policies heedless of their effect on Iraq’s most vulnerable.”

I agree with Nina Shea: The United States needs to grant asylum to those religious minorities most at risk and to help those who choose to stay. Many Iraqi Christians, for example, are resettling in northern Iraq’s Ninevah plain, the traditional home of Assyrian Christians. It is prudent and right for the United States to protect these refugees.

Yes, the situation in Iraq is terribly difficult, but you and I need to let our representatives know, as they debate the issue this month, that they must not forget the minorities. They must work for a solution that includes protection for the Christians in Iraq.

While these minorities do not have a voice, we do. And we need to raise it in their defense.