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The EditorsMarch 24, 2008
Christians had been fleeing Iraq for years before the U.S. invasion in 2003. The ancient Assyrian Church of the East saw four-fifths of its members emigrate before 2000 and its ancient patriarchate transferred to Chicago. The government of Saddam Hussein persecuted the Assyrians because of their resistance to Arabization and adherence to their traditional language, Syriac. Now other Christians who survived under Saddam have succumbed to the combined pressures of radical Islam and the chaos of war. More than half the remaining Christian population has fled Iraq since the U.S. invasion.

The vulnerability of Christians became more evident Feb. 29 with the kidnapping of the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Faraj Rahho. Despite the apparent decline in violence following an increase in U.S. troops with last years surge, there has been no letup in the pressures on Iraqi Christians. The depopulation of the churches continues; hundreds of thousands of Christians now live an uncertain existence as refugees in Jordan and elsewhere, with no path to a better future. In the last year, many of those who hoped to remain in Iraq had moved to the relative quiet of northern Iraq, where Mosul is the major population center. The high-profile disappearance of the archbishop may prove the fatal blow to the Christian presence in Iraq.

The churches of the Middle East are the inheritors of rich religious traditions in liturgy, theology, spirituality, language and culture. Prior to the U.S. invasion, Iraq was home to an array of Christian communities. Some Assyrians, members of the Church of the East, remained. The largest Christian church consisted of their Catholic cousins, the Chaldeans. In addition, there were Syrian and Greek Orthodox, Latin (Roman) as well as Melkite (Greek) Catholics and evangelicals. The disorder that followed the American occupation increasingly made Christians victims of violence. Their businesses were burned, their churches bombed, women harassed and priests murdered. Now they are deprived of their homeland, a disabling blow to the identity of people who take pride in their heritage. The loss of historic variety, as these eastern Christians either languish in exile or assimilate to foreign cultures, diminishes the world Christian community, including the Christian West.

In general, crimes against Christians have been perpetrated by jihadists and xenophobic criminals unleashed by wars chaos. In the long term, the surest route to security for the regions Christians lies in a peace that includes not only a political settlement but also the ascendancy of moderate Muslims and the taming of radicals. This is true not only of Iraq but also of other war-torn countries in the region, like Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.

In addition, a wiser, less bullying foreign and military policy on the part of the United States is in order. The invasion of Iraq, the U.S. backing for Israels war on Hezbollah and the U.S. failure to be an honest broker in the Middle East peace process have accelerated the flow of Christian emigration from the region. In Iraq, where domination by force had failed atrociously, the surge has had modest success because it combines a restrained show of force with on-the-ground diplomacy and civil-political initiatives.

The lessons of General Petraeuss counterinsurgency strategy need to be applied more broadly to U.S. policy in the region and to the U.S. alliance with Israel. The American public also needs to discourage politicians who posture about security. In moments of crisis, preserving an image of toughness inevitably increases pressure to do the wrong thing. Such falconlike thinking led to the Iraq war, the Israel-Hezbollah war and, predictably, to the crisis Christianity now faces across the region. What is needed instead is a sober realism that understands the place of justice and the perception of justice, as well as of the use of limited force, in securing a peaceful and stable world.

In the meantime, the United States owes a debt of honor to grant admission to Iraqi refugees who are unable to return to their country, Christians chief among them. Given the pool of two million refugees, the projected admission numbers (7,000 for 2007) have been paltry; and the low number of actual admissions (1,608) is a disgrace. In the wake of the Vietnam War, the United States was able to absorb 760,000 Vietnamese refugees. Where strategic interests are involved, as with concern for Soviet Jews during the cold war, admission is a high priority. Today the United States bears significant responsibility for the displacement of the Christian population from the Middle East. It can make amends for its offense by setting much higher admissions quotas for Iraqis to enter this country, by supporting countries like Jordan, which bear the burden of hospitality for the émigrés, and by working with other countries for their resettlement.

March 12, 2008

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16 years 1 month ago
The United States should look to strengthening the base of Assyrian (Chaldean) Christians in the Nineveh Plains in Northern Iraq to stave off any further immigration to surrounding countries or to the West. The creation of an administrative region for Iraq's minorities is the only logical and pragmatic solution for the long term. Anything else is tantamount to aiding the jihadists and xenophobes from ethnically cleansing Iraq of its original inhabitants, the Assyrian (Chaldean) Christians.
16 years 1 month ago
Thank you for your clear analysis of our American policy in the Middle East. We surely owe a debt to the people of Iraq. And as you continue to point out, our immigration quotas are a disgrace. Two Americans who are live in Damascus have formed a non-profit organization www.iraqistudentproject.org to assist qualified Iraqi student-refugees who wish to study in American colleges and universities. In Amman and in Damascus these students are prepared for the required language tests and guided through the maze of visa applications and regulations, etc. In the United States a number of institutions have agreed to waive tuition and other school-related fees. In these local communities, the Iraqi Student Project will develop support groups to assist with housing, health, books, etc., helping the young women and men to adjust to a very different environment. This is a small, but important act of reparation for the arrogance of U.S. policy.
16 years 1 month ago
No truer words have ever been written about the plight of the Christian Iraqi people. It is awful that we invaded Iraq with the Bible on our side and just look what our idea of the Bible did to our fellow Eastern Christians.
Daniel Murray, OFM
16 years 1 month ago
It is high time the U.S. get out of the middle east. We've been there too long and caused too much damage and suffering not only to the military of various nations but also to the people in these regions. As Christians we need to be peacemakers not warmongers.
16 years 1 month ago
The unnamed editor says "What is needed instead is a sober realism that understands...the use of limited force..." If i remember right, this is the idea that started the Iraq war, though John Paul II refers to humanitarian actions by a body such as the UN. I'd like to share the following: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Libertatis Conscientia, 1987: “…that which today is termed 'passive resistance' shows a way more conformable to moral principles and having no less prospects for success.” John Paul II to the General Assembly, U.N., 1996, on the non-violent revolutions of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe:"...solidarity was the moral core of the 'power of the powerless', a beacon of hope and an enduring reminder that it is possible for man's historical journey to follow a path which is true to the finest aspirations of the human spirit. John Paul II, Vatican City, March 17, 2003: "Violence and weapons can never resolve the problems of man." Cardinal Ratzinger, May 2003: "(G)iven the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.'” Pontifical Household Preacher to Pope John Paul II, homily 2005: “God’s absolute ‘no’ to violence, pronounced on the cross, is kept alive through the centuries. The Eucharist is the sacrament of nonviolence!” Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio to the U.N. on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism, 2006: "(W)e must respond also with cultural instruments capable of convincing that non-violent alternatives to redress genuine grievances exist ....(R)eligions...have a fundimental role to play...in helping people with grievances to opt for nonviolent means....this grave duty falls upon religions." Benedict XVI: World Day of Peace, 1 January 2006 I renew my appeal…to reject the temptation to tackle new situations with old systems. Benedict XVI Angelus, 19 August 2007 Thus, following in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, in accordance with St Francis of Assisi's famous words, Christians become 'instruments of peace'... in the daily commitment to overcome evil with good (cf. Rom 12: 21) and paying in person the price that this entails." Benedict XVI, Angelus, 28 August 2007 "(T)he supreme witness of giving blood is not an exception reserved only to some individuals, but a realistic possibility for all Christian people." We grieve with the archbishop's people, and can only pray for the courage to risk our own kind of martyrdom. Without it, we find Catholics supporting "premptive wars". With global warming to trigger new conflicts, we will have plenty of temptation.

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