Reflecting on Iraqi Christians and Yazidis One Year After Terrible Massacres

John Allen has published a typically excellent column on remembering Christians and Yazidis who were massacred one year ago by ISIS and offering reflections on American involvement there.  He writes:

[August 6] marks the one-year anniversary of one of the greatest calamities to fall upon Christians anywhere on the planet in the early 21st century — an ISIS offensive in the Plains of Nineveh in northern Iraq that broke out on Aug. 6-7, 2014, and left thousands of Christians and Yazidis dead.

It also drove an estimated 120,000 Christians into exile either inside the country, in places such as Kirkuk and Erbil, or outside in refugee camps in nations such as Turkey and Jordan.

During the assault, churches and monasteries were destroyed, centuries-old Christian manuscripts were burned, and scores of Christians were killed, often in staggeringly brutal fashion: flogged to death, beheaded, and, in at least a few cases, reportedly crucified. They often died cheek-by-jowl with Yazidis, who practice an ancient syncretistic form of monotheism, in a grim reminder that it’s not just Christians at risk.

He makes a case for the U.S. coming to their aid:

First of all, coming to the aid of Iraqi Christians and other minorities is not merely a humanitarian or confessional imperative. There’s also a clear strategic logic for doing so.

To begin with, if Iraq and Syria are emptied of their Christian populations, then any lingering hope for democracy and development will likely go with them. Two of the premier hotspots on the planet would become even more dangerous.

Not only do Christians operate the most significant private networks of schools, hospitals, and social service centers across the Middle East, but their higher-than-average educational and occupational levels generally make them a force for stability. They also serve as a natural bridge between the Muslim world and the West.

If you want peace in the Middle East, in other words, then make sure Christians have a home there.

In addition, the makeshift camps in which Christian exiles are now crowded have the potential to become breeding grounds for both political resentments and criminal enterprises, to some extent like what happened in Palestinian refugee camps after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Granted, Christians generally stand a much better shot at eventually resettling in the West, but that’s not true of all. The potential for mayhem increases the longer people are forced to remain in the camps, despairing of ever returning home.

Given what’s at stake, one hardly needs to be a Christian, a Yazidi, or even a humanitarian activist to grasp that doing something for these refugees deserves to be an urgent geopolitical priority.

He also points out that what is happening now is a direct consequence of the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003:

For Americans, the one-year anniversary of the assault in the Plains of Nineveh also invites an examination of conscience.

Whatever one makes of the moral legitimacy of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, it’s empirically undeniable that the war ripped the lid off pre-existing sectarian tensions and created a context in which the country’s minority groups, above all its Christians, today find themselves in the firing line.

St. John Paul II’s political prescience was never clearer than when he dispatched the late Cardinal Pio Laghi to meet with US President George W. Bush in a vain effort to head off the invasion, telling Laghi to warn the Americans that Iraq’s minorities, beginning with its Christians, would be its first victims.

Perhaps the whole world has something to gain from making it possible for those 600,000 Iraqi Christians, along with the Yazidis and others, to go home and to live in peace and security. Americans, however, also carry a moral responsibility to work for that outcome, quite apart from matters of self-interest.

In December 2013, Patriarch Louis Sako of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church articulated what his people were feeling at that point, sentiments that can only have intensified after last year’s disaster.

“We feel forgotten and isolated,” Sako said.

“We sometimes wonder, if they kill us all, what would be the reaction of Christians in the West? Would they do something then?”

That’s a question well worth pondering today, perhaps especially in the United States.






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Daniel Philpott

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