Too Many at Once

When Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko spoke to a group of government officials about the problem of corruption in his country in 1976, he didn’t come right out and tell them to quit stealing altogether. He just told them to dial it back. “If you want to steal, steal a little cleverly, in a nice way. If you steal so much as to become rich overnight, you will be caught.”

Somebody is probably offering similar advice to Islamist terrorists in Iraq in light of the murder of more than 50 Christians by Al Qaeda terrorists in Baghdad on Oct. 31. By killing so many Christians at once, they overwhelmed the ability of Western intellectuals and religious leaders to sweep the problem of Islamist violence against Christians under the rug.

Mobutu’s advice, if it were translated from the context of corruption to terrorist violence, would go something like this: “Keep the murders to a dull roar. Don’t kill too many Christians at once, because if you do, you’ll force intellectuals and religious leaders in the West to admit that we are not merely a liberationist movement opposed to foreign troops in our country, but killers intent on perpetrating an ethnic cleansing of Christians in Iraq — and throughout the region.”

Even if Al Qaeda were to dial it back and reduce the death toll of their attacks to several at a time, it’s too late. Media outlets in the West have woken up to the problem of anti-Christian violence in Iraq and are starting to connect the dots about the violent eliminationist ideology that motivates it.

Carnage too much to ignore

The carnage and the depravity were just too much for people to ignore. In an article published on Nov. 11, USA Today described the attack in chilling detail:

Priest Wasseem Sabeeh was halfway through Sunday Mass, in Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, when an explosion shook the church. Suddenly men with guns yelling Islamic prayers burst into the church. They fired at the priests, congregants, even murals of Mary and the saints.
Some parishioners screamed and ran out. Sabeeh, 27, and another priest, Thaer Saadallah, 32, hastily directed dozens of others into a room near the altar, then turned to plead with the men in suicide vests to stop the killing.
They shot Sabeeh at point-blank range, then shot Saddallah in the face. He fell on the steps of the altar, his vestments stained with blood.

Leaders from the Vatican, the World Council of Churches and the Presbyterian Church (USA) seem unable to acknowledge exactly who perpetrated the violence, but they did issue statements condemning it. Their inability to name names and shame the perpetrators of this violence and condemn the ideology that motivates it is clearly troublesome, but in the age of the Internet, the story is getting out.

It got out in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. On Nov. 7, the paper published a profile of Natasha Shino an Assyrian activist who explains why she and her family have fled Iraq and live in Chicago: “”We’re going through a silent genocide,” Shino said. “We are near extinction.”

It got out in the pages of London’s Globe and Mail, which on Nov. 10, 2010 reported about anti-Christian violence in the days after the attack in Baghdad:

A slew of attacks on homes and shops of Christians in the city killed six people and injured 33 injured since Tuesday evening, according to an Iraqi defence official.
These latest attacks, small-scale by Iraqi standards, came just 10 days after a devastating Oct. 31 hostage-taking in which 44 Christian worshippers, two priests and seven security personnel were killed when Iraqi forces stormed Baghdad’s Syrian Catholic Cathedral that had been seized by several Islamist gunmen.
The Islamic State of Iraq, an organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, announced it carried out the cathedral attack to force the release of Islamic converts allegedly being detained by the Coptic Church in Egypt. The group later declared Christians everywhere to be “legitimate targets.”

The Globe and Mail even quoted a France’s Ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud as stating there is “a deliberate will to destroy the Christian community” in Iraq.

It got out in the pages of Time, which on Nov. 11, acknowledged the onslaught of anti-Christian violence in Iraq. It reported that Iraq’s remaining Christians want to stay in Iraq and that Muslim leaders are working to bring an end to the violence. Nevertheless,

There has been no let-up, however, in the campaign against [Christianity]. On Wednesday, synchronized bombings struck at least 11 Christian locations across in Baghdad, killing at least six people and wounding more than 30. The strikes appear to be directly connected to a vicious October 31 church invasion that left at least 50 people dead after gunmen overran Sunday services, shooting down the attending priest and acolyte at the altar before spraying automatic gunfire on the congregation and detonating explosives vest. The Halloween murders at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad’s middle class, mixed Karada neighborhood were followed by an announcement by the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda proxy, promising “We will open upon [the Christians] the doors of destruction and rivers of blood.” (Emphasis added.)

On Nov. 11, AFP reported on the U.S. State Department’s condemnation of the attack (which unlike some Christian institutions, mentioned the perpetrators by name) and reported that “[a]n estimated 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq before the US-led invasion of 2003 but that number has since shrunk to arou nd 500,000 in the face of repeated attacks against their community and churches.”

The story made it onto the Web site of the Christian Science Monitor, which on Nov. 10 quoted an Iraqi Christian who asked that his name not be used as saying: “What’s happening to us is what happened to the Jews.”

The CSM provides some necessary detail when it reports “Iraqi Jews, once an integral part of society here with a history dating back to Babylon, began fleeing in the 1940s. Now only stories of their once vibrant community remain.”

The publication fails to provide any explanation as to why the Jews disappeared from Iraq – they were being murdered – but even the most obtuse readers can figure that out for themselves.

Christians Not the Only Victims In Iraq

Christians and Jews are not the only victims of this type of violence. This reality was underscored on April 23, 2010 when terrorists hijacked a bus in Mosul, Iraq, ordered all the Christians and Muslims on board to leave and then killed 23 remaining passengers, members of the Yazidi religious sect.

A few months later, Sunni terrorists murdered more than 500 members of this group with multiple car bombings in two villages near Iraq’s Syrian border. After the attack, one Yazidi told Reuters “Their aim is to annihilate us, to create trouble and kill all the Yazidis because we are not Muslims.” (Reuters, Aug. 17, 2007).

Taken together, these stories help illuminate a troubling reality that journalists and intellectuals have a tough time acknowledging: Religious and ethnic minorities are treated terribly by Muslim and Arab majorities throughout the Middle East.

Minorities in the Middle East who lack an army and a security barrier to keep would-be murderers at bay are victims of regular violence (such as the Copts in Egypt) or worse, potential victims of ethnic cleansing (such as the Yazidis and Christians in Iraq).

Minority Rights Achieved in Israel

There is, however, one minority group in the Middle East that has been able to achieve a modicum of safety in the face of Muslim and Arab enmity – the Jews. With Israel’s creation in 1948, Jews from Europe and the Middle East were able to achieve what no other minority in the region has been able obtain in the region – territory in which it can express its cultural identity and protect itself from Muslim and Arab hostility and oppression.

On this score, Israel’s creation represents a breakthrough for minority rights in the Middle East. Mordechai Nisan, author of Minorities in the Middle East: A History of Struggle and Self-Expression (McFarland, 1991) puts it succinctly: “In the 1948 breakthrough, one Mid-eastern people achieved independence and majority status as no other people had done.” (Page 234) Jewish independence in the Middle East represents a serious challenge to Islamic hegemony in the region and has in numerous instances served as an inspiration for minorities suffering from oppression at the hands of Muslim majorities to long for homelands of their own.

Instead of directing the world’s attention to the mistreatment of religious minorities at the hands of Muslim and Arab majorities in the Middle East and acknowledging that Israel’s creation in 1948 was a powerful and legitimate response to this oppression, a significant number of Western intellectuals and religious leaders have portrayed Israel’s creation as a cause of (and not a response to) minority suffering in the Middle East.

The irony is this. Instead of condemning the violence against religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East (and the ideological and theological beliefs that foment this violence) human rights activists and peace activists in the West have facilitated this violence by focusing the vast majority of their attention on Israel – a country founded to prevent the destruction of a minority in the region. And to make matters worse, prominent Western journalists have cooperated with this process.

The church invasion in Baghdad and the ongoing exodus of Christians from Iraq is part of a terrible price ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East must pay for journalists, intellectuals and religious leaders in the West to come to their senses. One can only wonder how many more innocents will die before an honest account is given to the world.

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