In early June, the German television network ARD aired a film called “God and the World: The Persecuted Children of God.” The “children” referred to are Iraq’s largest Christian community: the Assyrians. While any attention to the plight of Iraqi Christians is welcome, I only wish that the film could have aired in the country that is in the best position to help them: the United States.
The film tells the story of the suffering and persecution endured by Assyrian Christians through interviews with Christian refugees-or “internally displaced persons,” as bureaucrats call them-who escaped the most dangerous areas.
One Assyrian Christian who did not escape was Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul. On February 29, his car was attacked by gunmen who killed his two bodyguards and stuffed the archbishop in the trunk of their car.
While in the trunk, Archbishop Rahho called his church and told them not to pay any ransom, because the money “would be used for killing and more evil actions.” His body was found in northeast Mosul. An Al-Qaeda member was sentenced to death for his murder.
The archbishop’s death was only the most publicized attack on Christian clergy in and around Mosul. As the New York Times put it, “In the last few years, Mosul has been a difficult place for Christians.”
That is an understatement: As Lawrence Kaplan wrote in the New Republic, “Sunni, Shia, and Kurd may agree on little else, but all have made sport of brutalizing their Christian neighbors . . . .”
Making matters even worse is that American forces did not hesitate to call on Iraqi Christians to serve as interpreters, precisely because they were Christians. Their religion made them easier to relate to. Now, Iraq’s Christians are seen by extremists as “collaborators” and “crusaders.”
Conditions have gotten so bad in parts of Iraq that some Iraqi Christians now celebrate Mass “in homes and sometimes, like their ancient Christian ancestors, in crypts instead.”
Anyone who knew anything about the history of the region-and its Christian minority-should have seen this coming. That is why Nina Shea of Freedom House, and others, called for special protection for Iraq’s Christians. Their advice was, is, and probably will continue to be, ignored by our government and the “international community.”
The only way this will not happen is if western Christians make their voices heard. To that end, Christian Solidarity International, and others, have launched “Save Iraqi Christians.”
Their goal is to get our government to “defend religious liberty in Iraq and create conditions that allow displaced Christians and other non-Muslim minorities to return to their homeland and live and worship in peace.” We ought to be using our “powerful leverage with government leaders in Baghdad and Kurdish authorities” to develop a “secure homeland province for religious minorities.”
Because without this, a Christian community that survived invasions by the Persians, Muslims, Mongols and Ottomans, might not survive the American liberation of Iraq. They certainly will not survive our indifference.