Thursday, April 29, 2010

The continued persecution of Iraqi Christians

Ekklesia reports on an open letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates from religious leaders calling on the US government to protect Iraq's religious minorities. The letter from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA to Hillary reads:

We are writing to express the concern of the National Council of Churches, and our partners in Iraq and throughout the world, about the on-going situation of violent attacks on minority groups in Iraq, including the Christian community. We strongly request that you raise this concern with the Government of Iraq, provincial authorities, and the leadership of the Coalition Forces, urging them to take all possible steps to prevent further incidents of this type.
Christians in Iraq have suffered more than a dozen violent deaths so far this year, including a three-year old child in Mosul who died on March 27 after a bomb, placed next to his family's home, exploded. As you know, thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes because of their fear of violence.
Our concern is now particularly acute because it is possible that tensions will increase as various political forces continue to vie for power following the recent elections. We fear that a growing climate of mistrust and animosity will further threaten the fragile Christian community.
With this is mind, we appeal to you to work directly and with Iraqis to
* protect minority groups, including Christians in Mosul and other parts of Iraq;
* extend necessary humanitarian aid to displaced families and
* encourage the preservation of religious and ethnic diversity in Iraq.
Thank you for your attention to this most urgent concern.

Among those signing the letter are Rev Michael Kinnamon, Rev Canon Peg Chmberlin, Bishop John F. White, Rev Paula Clayton, Rev Roy Medley, Bishop Charles Leigh, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Rev Robert Welsh, Stan Noffsinger, Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori, Rev Mark S. Hanson and Rev Michael E. Livingston. Nathan Black (Christian Post) adds:

The letter comes days after Christians in northern Iraq erected a statue of Jesus, modeled after Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, amid mounting attacks by extremists.
Bashar Jarjees Habash, coordinator of Christian affairs in the city of Hamdaniya, said the statue of Jesus opening his arms was built to "send a message of peace to everyone to say that we want to live in peace with all," as reported by Agence France-Presse.

Pakistan Christian TV explains, "Iraqi Christians used to make up about 3 percent of Iraq's population, but now make up for more than half of its refugees, the Telegraph has reported.Iraqi church leaders who have visited the National Council of Churches offices in New York have implored U.S. Christians to take closer notice of their fellow Christians in Iraq." And thus far nothing has been able to stem the decreased presence in Iraq. Michael Swan (Catholic News Service) reported last week that Iraqi Christians who fled to Syria for safety are not planning any return and that the secular political party of Ayad Allawi's victory in the March 7th election (a victory now in dispute) has not convinced them of changes. Toma Georgees tells Swan, "It's very, very difficult to turn back to Iraq, impossible to turn back. Our problem is not with the Iraqi government. Our problem is with Iraqi people, ignorant people who want to kill us, who want to kill all the Christians. . . . Those people are ignorant, and they just want to drink our blood as Christians." Despite repeated, false claims, Iraqi Christians who fled the country aren't planning to return. That has been the case over and over. But some in the press continue to attempt to spin. Why would they want to return? If you were threatened and attacked and people you knew were killed forcing you to flee, would you be eager to return? The spin never had the numbers to back it up but there was never any psychological truth in it either.

Earlier this week, Amnesty International issued a 28-page report entitled "Iraq: Civilians under fire," [PDF format warning] click here. News notes of the report "thousands of Christians, as well as many members of the Sabean Mandaean religion, Yazidis and women and girls, being targeted for un-Islamic behavior. Amnesty International said that many of these people are at risk of being killed." Spero News reports that a recent Babel College (Erbil) seminar was entitled "The Role and Identity of the Priest in Iraq Today" and:

The key issue - a priest present at the seminar told Fides - was that of the ministerial priesthood, examined in a human, spiritual, theological, and biblical sense, and all lived within the reality of Iraq today, which has among its most pressing challenges to face: violence, forced emigration of Christians, and the critical security conditions of Christian communities. The conference also stressed the importance for the Church as a whole to accompany the priests during their journey of formation and during their pastoral life, as every priest needs to feel the community's support in the form of concrete aid and prayer.

Rudi Stettner (Indyposted) observes, "Even if the physical survival of Iraq's religious minorities can be assured, their endurance as distinct religious groups is endangered by the displacement they have endured in the aftermath of the war in Iraq. It is important that the world show its support for Christians, Mandaeans and Yazidis in Iraq, whether they choose to remain there or not. Concerns for their safety should be made clear to the Iraqi government. A desire to welcome them should be made clear to the American government as well." And Kathleen McManus, OP of the University of Portland writes the Catholic Sentinel:

As a Dominican Sister, I know from our own Iraqi Sisters about the persecution Christians are experiencing. Our Sisters in Baghdad and Mosul have chosen to stay and minister to Christians and Muslims alike. A tragic effect of the war and our U.S. presence has been a persecution of Christians never experienced during the admittedly brutal and unjust reign of Saddam Hussein.
In recent weeks assassins entered the home of a Christian family in Mosul, killing an elderly father and his two sons. Panicked by the realization that they are no longer safe in their own homes, more than 100 families fled Mosul. Rapes and murders have been reported. The elderly sisters in the Dominican motherhouse in Mosul have chosen to stay in the convent, lest terrorists seize it.
The U.S. Dominican Iraq Coordinating Committee has written to Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to urge the bishops to exhort Washington to pressure the Iraqi government to attend to the violence. Swift and definitive intervention is necessary to ensure the protection of all, and, through them, the democratic process for which so many have already suffered and died.

The following community sites updated last night and this morning:

And we'll close with this from Geoff Millard's "My part in a veterans delegation to Vietnam" (Iraq Veterans Against the War):

From the 26th of March until the 9th of April I was lucky to be a part of a veterans delegation to Vietnam in order to do research in preparation for an upcoming push for legislation to alleviate the suffering of the people of Vietnam that has plagued them since we first started using agent orange in 1961.
Vietnam may seem an odd place for an Iraq vet whose parents had not even met when the last US forces retreated in defeat hanging from helicopters, but somehow I was the perfect piece to complete a very complicated puzzle. You see there are many connections to be made between the two wars but I was there because both were toxic battlefields that left veteran and civilian alike scared for many generations.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s it was not conservative veterans groups who were talking about the effects of agent orange (more specifically dioxin but for common understanding I will simply use AO as my reference), it was VVAW and CCI [Citizens Commission of Inquiry ]. As much as revisionists would love to write antiwar veterans from history or minimize them as a small force (as they are trying today with IVAW) the reality is that while the VFW would not allow Vietnam veterans to join their ranks antiwar vets were creating a new generation of leaders. These brave souls were the ones to first paint the words agent orange kills our soldiers on banners.

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thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends