Thursday, October 21, 2004

Iraqi Exodus

My scream for someone to pay attention to the current situation of the Iraqi Christians helped. The Dallas Morning News gave me another opportunity to write an article about the subject for their Viewpoints page. The article was published and ran as a centerpiece yesterday. I was amazed:

Fayrouz Hancock: Iraqi Exodus
Christians fleeing for their lives

Five Baghdad churches were bombed by insurgents last weekend. As a native of Iraq and a Christian, I pray that the American people will pay attention to what is happening to the Christian minority in my home country.

Things are getting worse by the day for Christians there, more and more of whom are mounting an exodus from the land where believers in Jesus Christ have lived for nearly 2,000 years. They are abandoning nice houses and good businesses to gain peace of mind in other countries. I don't want to see the Christian minority driven out of Iraq like the Jews were many years ago. If things don't change soon, one of the world's oldest Christian communities will go the same way.

Talking to my relatives in Iraq makes me certain things are not going well for Christians, who constitute an estimated 3 percent of Iraq's population, or 800,000 people. My aunt has complained many times about the Christians' situation in Basra since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. Islamic extremists are now trying to impose Iranian-style rules in the city. They started by burning liquor stores owned by Christians, and prohibited the sale of alcohol in public. My aunt left with her family for Syria in August.

The hardships Basra's Christian women face caused some families to follow my aunt's lead. Some who stayed behind refused to send their daughters to school last year for fear of kidnapping and harassment by the extremists, who want to force Christian females to adopt a very conservative dress code and a headscarf. Neither Muslim nor Christian women feel safe. The extremists killed a number of women who work on projects implemented by foreign countries.

In Baghdad, kidnapping of Christian business owners for ransom is a booming business. My friend's father was kidnapped, humiliated and released after his family collected and paid the required ransom. Another friend's family moved to Jordan after kidnapping threats against her brother. Many businesses owned by Christians have become the target of these gangs.

Kurdistan is the only part of Iraq where Christians are still unharmed and not forced to change their social lifestyle. This safe status may change if Kurds aren't guaranteed an autonomous government over their land.

Most Iraqi Christians belong to the Chaldean church, an Eastern-rite Catholic church that has its own hierarchy and liturgy but recognizes the pope. Other Christians belong to the Assyrian, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Orthodox and other churches. Western Christians often forget their brothers and sisters of the Eastern churches, whose ancestors were worshipping Christ while Europeans were still in thrall to paganism. In times like this, we wonder if Christians living in safety and freedom in the West even know our names.

We have survived in a Muslim-dominated country by keeping good relations with the Muslim population. Our bishops and priests always stood for our rights and taught us how to be the good Samaritans. Also, the secular governments that ruled Iraq for many years protected our rights because Christians were a highly educated and peaceful people. Saddam Hussein knew if we left the country, he would lose a community that quietly works hard and did not represent a political threat to his government.

The fact that Christians are relatively well educated and middle class explains why the Christian exodus is a social and economic loss for the whole country. Many Christian professionals specialize in engineering, medicine, computers and other fields needed to build a new Iraq. According to a recent study conducted by Father Yousif Thomas of Baghdad, Iraqi Christians who hold master's and doctorate degrees make up about 40 percent of the total number of Iraqis holding the same qualifications.

Meanwhile, the extremist religious gangs continue to conduct their dirty business as usual. Their obvious goal is to drive Christians out. Their hidden goal could be to impose a Taliban lifestyle on all citizens, including Muslims.

So far, the new government has not done much to protect the Christian minority. Its migration could be stanched if the Iraqi government were to provide Christians with more protection. Empty promises do not stop insurgents' bombs, however, nor do they stop Christians from fleeing for their lives.

Not talking about the Iraqi problems won't make them vanish. It's for everyone's benefit to know these problems. Then, someone with authority may try to solve them.

Arabic Word of The Post:
opportunity: فرصة - / fur-SA /
opportunity: فرص - / foo-RAS /

Post Links:
Five Churches Bombed In Baghdad
Fayrouz Hancock: Iraqi Exodus

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