UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Churches and mosques on the Damascus skyline, 2010. Photo by Dennis Gruending

Christian exodus

How do we protect the 'human' rights of religious minorities in the Middle East?

By Dennis Gruending

Recently, a friend who is a Christian of Lebanese origin, asked when I'm going to write about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. We sat down for most of an afternoon to talk, revisiting what has happened there and what might be done about it. 



Some of what's occurring must surely be a crime against humanity. One egregious example is the brutality inflicted by Islamic State extremists who attempt to impose a fundamentalist caliphate in an area that straddles the failed states of Iraq and Syria. 



Last summer, Islamic State fighters captured large swaths of territory, including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Christians and members of other minority groups were given a stark choice between converting to Islam or dying. Most chose to flee.



The Christian population of Mosul during the 2003 U.S. invasion was estimated to have been 35,000, but in the ensuing chaos and violence, all but a few Christian families have taken flight. In all of Iraq, the Christian population has declined from roughly 1.2 million in 2003 to fewer than 500,000 today — and more are leaving all of the time. 



In fact, a Christian exodus from the Middle East has been occurring for decades, which is a great irony considering that countries, such as present-day Iraq and Syria, were among the early cradles of Christianity.  



It's important to note, however, that members of other minorities are also being targeted by Islamic State militants. In Iraq, this included members of the Yasidi, Turkmen and Shabak minorities. It's also true that Shia Muslims are the most frequent victims of their Sunni co-religionists. 



What's more, Muslims, Christians and other minorities have lived in these communities in relative harmony for centuries. It's the arrival of violent and well-armed jihadists; not local community tensions, that has led to this persecution.  



Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the opposition parties have condemned the persecution of Iraqi and other Christians, as they must. Canada has also sent war planes to participate in bombing against Islamic State militants. But inevitably, that means civilians will die in those attacks, too. Pope Francis has even called for dialogue, peace and prayers, cautioning that “violence isn’t overcome by violence.” 


Canada, after dragging its feet, has now announced that it will resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years. The government has also said that it'll focus on resettling those Syrians who are Christians. But that is a mistake and an attempt by the Conservatives to play to their base. Governments should never draw distinctions in the religious persuasion of refugees.

Although there has been much talk about protecting the religious rights, we should instead insist upon the protection of human rights, which are even more fundamental. Protecting these kind of rights in the Middle East would — by very definition — apply to religious rights, just as they apply to the protection against persecution on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation. 



Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image