Facing Extinction: Christians in Iraq

2010024858refugees1.jpgBy Sonja Corbitt
slamic extremists are pushing to eliminate ancient Christian communities in Islamic lands.
Iraqi Christians forced to flee.
BETHPAGE, TN (Catholic Online) – Across the Middle East where Christianity was born and where Christians have maintained a presence for 2000 years, Christianity is in decline, most dramatically in Iraq. Against the enduring beauty and attraction of the Gospel, this decline is due to an alarming rise in political, jihadist Islam that is systematically annihilating Christians all over the world.

It is a persecution few dare name, because to do so means confronting powerful religious and political realities that have defied resolution for millennia and rising, popular anti-Christian sentiment worldwide. Christians are simply not seen as victims at all.

Iraqi Christians are part of historic indigenous communities that have been in the area now known as Iraq since nearly the time of Christ; they predate Islam by several centuries. The Christian community took root there after the Apostle Thomas headed east in the year 35.

The majority are Chaldean Christians, the largest concentration of which remain in Baghdad, Iraq. There are ten Chaldean dioceses in Iraq, four in Iran, and four others in the Middle East. The Chaldean, (East Syrian), liturgy is in use there, along with a number of Latin customs, and their liturgical language is Syriac.

But now after nearly 2,000 years, Iraqi Christians are being hunted, murdered and forced to flee – persecuted on a biblical scale in Iraq’s religious civil war. These brothers and sisters in Christ who can trace their history in the region back some 2,000 years have fled to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and to northern Iraq by the hundreds of thousands to avoid certain martyrdom.

Neither Muslims nor Kurds, they are victimized for several reasons. Some of them aligned themselves with coalition forces; others are targeted because they do not follow Islamic laws that forbid alcohol and compel women to wear scarves on their heads. In addition, crimes against them are often motivated by money because the Christians there are often merchants.

But fundamentally, it is a religious war. Muhammad commanded, “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” The worst episodes have occurred in regions with diverse ethnic and religious groups, such as Baghdad and Mosul, where the majority of Iraq’s Christians live. The State Department reported last year that Muslim extremists warned Christians living in Baghdad’s Dora district to convert, leave or be killed.

Additionally, traditional Islamic law mandates that all non-Muslims who submit to Islamic rule pay a special jizya tax from which Muslims are exempt; that non-Muslims must not hold authority over Muslims; not build new churches or repair old ones; and that they submit to various other humiliating and discriminatory regulations that motivate the murder and persecution of Christians by Muslim jihadist gangs who knock on their doors to collect what Islam dictates is their religious “due.”

Christian students and men are kidnapped and never seen again. A 6-month-old baby was beheaded, roasted and then presented to his mother. A Syrian Orthodox priest was kidnapped, murdered and dismembered in Mosul, even though his parish submitted to ransom demands by a Muslim group for $40,000 and the public renunciation of Pope Benedict´s remarks in his address in Regensburg, Germany that caused rioting all over the Islamic world.

The traditional, discriminatory Islamic laws that have led recently to widespread and violent persecution of Christians have not been enforced in Iraq since it was an Ottoman province, because under Western pressure in the 1850´s the Ottoman Empire abolished the system. In Saddam Hussein´s Iraq, as well as Syria and other countries where relatively secular governments have been in power in recent decades, lawmakers took their cues in many areas more from Western law than Islamic law, and Christians enjoyed relative equality with Muslims.

But the invasion and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that removed Saddam Hussein have created political instability and an authority vacuum that has allowed a jihadist and supremacist power insurgence that preys on Christians in their midst with increasing brutality and boldness. In Iraq, half of the nation´s prewar 700,000 Christians have now fled the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Hundreds of thousands have been tortured and martyred.

In addition, the new, post-Taliban Afghani regime´s constitution stipulates that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Unfortunately the traditional Islamic classification of apostasy as a capital crime is often included in this stipulation, and Christians are executed with full protection of the law.

Now that President Obama is removing U.S. troops from Iraq, resurgent Islamic supremacism is only gaining momentum. His pledged support of Islamic nations emboldens attacks and Christians are the principal victims of this militant religious resurgence, while their pleas for protection fall on deaf ears.

Tragically, human rights groups and even Christians in the West remain strangely silent while Islamic extremists push to eliminate ancient Christian communities in Islamic lands, and to render Christianity extinct. These are our Catholic brothers and sisters in Iraq, and they are being uprooted and massacred. Unless the violence stops, it is thought there may be no Christians left in Iraq in a decade.