The growing collapse of law and order in Iraq is a tragedy. All Iraqis are affected, but the country’s Christian minority is bearing the heaviest burden. Explains Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International: “what began as liberation for Iraqi Christians has turned into a wave of deadly persecution.”
Christianity in the territory now known as Iraq dates back to at least the 4th century A.D., well before the advent of Islam. The church survived various forms of persecution over the centuries, but faces what may be its greatest challenge yet.
Although Saddam Hussein was no friend of Christianity—no dictator can be—he did not target Christians for their faith. They were no more free than anyone else, but at least they were insulated from jihadist violence.
The overthrow of Hussein initially created space for evangelism, and thousands of Iraqis responded. New believers flocked to new churches.
But the explosion of crime and lawlessness, rise of domestic insurgents, and influx of foreign jihadists have made life impossible for many Christians. Gangs have targeted Christians for extortion and kidnapping. Bombings and shootings have caught Christians as well as Muslims. And Islamic extremists, notes Jacobson, “have targeted Christians for everything from violating Islamic dress codes to simply being Christians.”
By some estimates half of the pre-war population of 1.2 million Christians—a mix of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox faiths—have fled Iraq, many going to Syria. Other Iraqi Christians have sought to emigrate to America and Europe.
Time is running out to save Iraq’s Christians.
First, Washington must insist that successfully protecting religious minorities is one of its benchmarks it will use in assessing the effectiveness of the new Iraqi government—and America’s willingness to continue offering support. “The Bush administration must insist that it did not invade Iraq simply to replace one form of repression with another,” says Jacobson.
Second, American forces in Iraq should respond to requests for assistance from local Christians. In an attempt to appease Islamists, the U.S. has held Iraqi Christians at arms length, even though they are being targeted because jihadists identify them with Washington.
Third, the U.S. should accept Christians seeking to flee oppression. So far Washington has kept America’s doors largely closed, in an attempt to not admit that persecution exists in Iraq. But politics cannot hide reality.
Washington bears a heavy burden, having unintentionally loosed the furies of sectarian war on Iraq’s Christian community. Argues Jacobson: “At minimum, the Bush administration should push for additional protection for religious minorities and accept those Iraqis forced to flee because of religious persecution.”
CFI has distributed humanitarian assistance to Christians in Iraq and is currently seeking donations for another shipment of much needed aid.
Christian Freedom International is a nondenominational human rights organization, helping persecuted Christians.
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