By Kenneth R. Timmerman
There is another tragedy
taking in place in Iraq on a daily basis, far from the front pages and
the TV news. It does not involve the kidnapping of U.S. troops, nor
even the fire-bombing of Muslim shrines by other Muslims, both of which
by now are familiar to most Americans.
This is a tragedy taking place in a total media vacuum. Even our government has remained silent as it continues.
Perhaps it’s because the victims are Christians. Indeed, members of the most ancient Christian communities in the world.
Over the past three years,
Iraqi Muslim extremists have targeted Christians in systematic attacks,
aimed at driving them from their homes, their work places, and their
Just last week, a group of
armed Muslims set fire to St. George’s Assyrian Church in the Dora
neighborhood of Baghdad, completely decimating what remained of a
church already hit by a deadly fire-bombing in October 2004.
It was the 27th church to have been destroyed by Muslim gangs since the liberation of Iraq from Saddam and his thugs.
“The bombing of St.
George’s Church should leave no doubt in any one’s mind that a process
of ethnic cleansing has begun,” the Rev. Dr. Keith Roderick of
Christian Solidarity International told me.
“Unfortunately, the US has
put very little pressure on the Iraqi government to establish, as
guaranteed by provisions in the Iraqi constitution, an autonomous
federal unit of self governance and security for these minorities,” he
Father Roderick has been a
tireless advocate for Iraq’s martyred Christians. Through Christian
Solidarity International, he works closely with Christian communities
throughout the Muslim world as they struggle against repression and
The May 16 attack is only the latest in a series of measures by Islamic militants aimed at forcing Christians to leave Iraq.
“There are estimates that
nearly 50% of the Christians of Iraq have been forced to flee into
exile,” Father Roderick said. “It is lamentable that the international
community and the US have not treated this terrible human dilemma with
an urgent response.”
Early this week, the Rev.
Temathaus Eisha, pastor of the Church of St. Shimoni, said that his
church was the last one in the entire Assyrian quarter that
still conducted services. The other churches, including a number of
monasteries, had all been abandoned.
The Christians of Iraq
include Chaldeans, Syriac Orthodox, and Assyrians. All trace their
roots to the early church and use a liturgy still written and sung in
Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.
Peter BetBasoo of the
Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) has been following closely
the plight of his fellow Assyrians in Iraq. The stories that he and his
news agency tell of Christian martyrdom in Iraq are chilling.
“Over the past 30
days, al-Qaeda has moved into the Dora neighborhood and started to
collect the jizya,” he said. “They are telling the Assyrian families
who remain in the area they must pay this protection money, or leave.”
The Jizya, sometimes
referred to as a “head tax” or a “protection tax,” was instituted by
the Prophet Mohammad in the Koran on non-Muslims as a means of
enforcing their submission to Muslim rule. Those who refused to pay the
jizya were to be killed.
The “Islamic State in
Iraq,” a Sunni insurgent governing council dominated by al-Qaeda,
recently appointed a local imam, Hatym al-Rizeq, as its “Prince” for
the al-Dora neighborhood. He began demanding that Christian Assyrians
pay the jizya last month.
According to AINA, al Qaeda
units moved into the Dora area recently from al-Anbar province, where
they were fleeing the U.S. security sweep.
The Dora neighborhood, some
six miles southwest from central Baghdad, “seems to be abandoned by
both Iraqi and Coalition” forces, AINA reported last month, when the
mass exodus of Christians began.
Over the past week, U.S.
forces have scoured the surrounding area in search of two missing U.S.
soldiers who are believed to have survived a kidnapping by insurgents
linked to al-Qaeda.
“We talked to many people
within the American Embassy and the Iraqi Government, but it seems
nobody really cares, because they have done nothing” to stop the
anti-Christian violence, one al-Dora resident told AINA.
Another Dora resident, who
is now a refugee in Syria, said he had spoken to a family who recently
fled the neighborhood after “terrorists knocked on their door” and
demanded that they pay the jizya to support the insurgents. If they
refused to pay the tax, they were told to convert to Islam, “or leave
the house within 24 hours or else be killed.”
That is in keeping with
Koran 9:29, which exhorts Muslim to “Fight those who believe not in
Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold forbidden that which hath been
forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of
Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the
Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
Al Qaeda is demanding that
Christians pay 250,000 dinars (around $200) for the right to remain in
their own homes, a sum equivalent to an average month’s salary in Iraq,
"Christians in Iraq are on
their way to extinction, cut off from the country's political process,"
said Father Bashar Warda, newly-appointed rector of the St Peter Major
Seminary, which has moved from Baghdad to Ankawa in Iraqi Kurdistan for
Ankawa has become known as the “city of Christ” because of the new refugees crowding the city.
When asked why nothing had
been done since the liberation to protect Iraqi Christians, Father
Warda blamed “the indifference of Iraqi leaders. They do not consider
us as belonging to this nation.”
He said that other Iraqi
groups take advantage of Christians “because we have no outside support
or our own militia. They know that all we can do is make appeals and
complain. [Iraqi] politicians act convinced that our community is bound
to disappear in a few years.”
William J. Murray, chairman
of the conservative Religious Freedom Coalition, tells me that he has
called on President George W. Bush to “step forward and protect the
Christians that have been placed in such grave danger by our actions in
Iraq, even if the sole solution is to grant immediate asylum to all of
The instability “caused in
Iraq by our failed attempt to install a democracy has decimated the
Christian community,” Murray added.
Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo,
international director of the Barnabas Fund, issued an appeal on May
11 to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and to U.S. leaders.
He recalled during a recent
visit to Baghdad speaking to a Christian minister who had appealed to
the local American military commander to beg for protection for
Christians. “The answer he got was, ‘We are not here to protect you.”
International estimates that 100,000 Assyrian Christians have fled Iraq
for Jordan, where the government refuses to grant them refugee status
and has closed church schools because they are “teaching Christianity.”
Many more have fled for Syria.
In 1987, the Christian
population of Iraq was 1.4 million, Father Keith Roderick said. “Today
it is estimated to bet between 600,000 and 800,000.”
Dora is not the only area
in Iraq where Christians are being persecuted. Over the past two years,
churches have been attacked or firebombed throughout Iraq, priests
kidnapped, and women murdered, Father Roderick said.
Last October, an Iraqi
priest, Father Boulos Iskander, was kidnapped and murdered near Mosul.
His kidnappers placed his severed head on top of his chest, and his
severed arms and legs around his head.
“The US military has rushed
in to rebuild schools and mosques,” Father Roderick said. “It remains
to be seen how quickly they will rush in to assist the beleaguered
Christians rebuild their losses, such as St. George’s.”
Writing about the
persecution of the early church by the Emperor Nero, Tertullian
famously wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the
By this, he didn’t mean
that the martyrdom was optional. He meant that it was a necessary
condition for the advancement of the Christian faith.
Those are tough words – and
a tough concept – for the families of those martyrs, who have watched
in horror as their loved ones have been murdered and their corpses
mutilated and defiled.
But they may be the only consolation to this story.
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FrontPageMagazine.com | May 25, 2007