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

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image