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.
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
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.
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
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.
Keep it free!
If you enjoy reading our online stories about ethical living, justice and faith, please make a donation to the Friends of The Observer Fund. Supporting our award-winning journalism will help you and others to continue to access ucobserver.org for free in the months to come.