Iraq: Islam or Death
A decade ago, Christians in the region were more than 50,000. The problem is not even limited to Iraq, but it’s recurrent throughout the Middle East, except in Israel.
2014-08-18 by Rafael Bardají
It’s a relief to know that thousands of Yazidis harassed on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq by ISIS radical Islamists, have escaped a certain and horrible death thanks to their own skills, the help of Kurdish peshmerga, and the limited American intervention. A mass murder and a humanitarian catastrophe were prevented this time, but the underlyiing problem remains untouched: Islam is intolerant of the other religions.
What is now happening in Syria and Iraq is its most radical expression, but it’s not the only one. In early July, ISIS began an offensive from Syrian soil to occupy part of Iraq and possibly from there to Jordan. And while the fighting continues and ISIS’s progress has relatively slowed down (which has required the full-blown entry of Iran, the American bombing, and the forced removal of the elected Iraqi Prime Minister,) the terrorist group has converted into the Islamic State with territory, population, and government – just as any other state. And it has declared the Caliphate, thus providing the highest moral and political authority to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In ISIS’s expansion, whenever they encountered villages and towns with non-Muslim populations, such as Christian, Qaraqosh, or Yazidi, near Tal Afar and Mosul, ISIS militants were expeditious: “Go away, convert to Islam, or die.” In other words, leave all your property behind and flee, or stay to be killed. Out of the 3,000 Christians in northern Iraq, only 30 chose to convert. Most of them have escaped as they could while some, as seen on Internet, have been brutally murdered.
However, the problem isn’t new. A decade ago, Christians in the region were more than 50,000. The problem is not even limited to Iraq, but it’s recurrent throughout the Middle East, except in Israel. A place as emblematic to Christianity as Bethlehem, where the Nativity of Jesus is celebrated, has seen its Christian population decrease over the years under Palestinian pressure and radicalization, to become a minority. And what can we say about the Jews living in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan? They are none.
For years the Catholic Church has been silent about the abuses against the faithful in that area of the world for fear of even further persecution. But it’s time to recognize that appeasement didn’t produce good results. It’s time to demand reciprocity. It’s unacceptable that inter-religious dialogue cannot take place on Arab soil. Just as there’s no need to have mosques established just about everywhere in the West, it’s unacceptable that there’s not one church allowed in the Gulf countries.
This article was originally published in El Diario de las Americas, August 18 2014.