Problems of Iraqi Christians and Future Opportunities
Patriarch Louis Raphael Card. Sako
In light of the current situation, prevailing chronic political “blockage” as well as retreat on several levels and facing the rise of patriotic and honest voices from all around; the last of which was the cry of the Iraqi activist, Ms. Hana Adwar, in her meeting with the UN representative in Iraq, I would like to present here a reading of the political map of Iraq Today, and the “actual life” of Christians in it, while pursuing the future opportunities for Iraq and its citizens.
Since the fall of the former regime in April 2003, Iraq has not realized a normal political life, due to the failure of successive governments in achieving what the people of this country are looking for, in terms of: building peace and stability; restructuring the state; implementing important reforms; establishing true democracy; and attaining justice, equality, and prosperity.
On the contrary, we are witnessing an escalation in political corruption, conflicting agendas, challenges and crises have been accumulated in the absence of a clear and effective strategy. The current political blockage is nothing but a natural result for such a deteriorated situation imposed on this society by sectarian and quota system.
Christians in Iraq
Christians are indigenous of this land, citizens of authenticity, and a historical witness to the originality and glory of their country’s civilization, starting from the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs, and Armenians, followed by the arrival of Arab Muslims. Christians have integrated very well in this beautiful Iraqi fabric, and have proven that they are more patriotic and loyal to it. Along the history Christians have contributed a lot to the progress and growth of their society culturally, economically and socially, by all means, including intellect, money and sincerity. While the charter of Human Rights signed by Iraq indicates that Christians have the right of “full” citizenship in terms of rights and duties, they are considered, unfortunately as second-class citizens in their homeland because of their religion. Violation of human rights and freedom of belief obviously hurt Christians’ feelings by calling them infidels and polytheists in a number of religious and educational platforms (we have documented texts). It is worth mentioning the following example: merging the exam of Islamic education with the subject of Arabic language to confuse Christian students, affect their markings and ultimately, decline their ranking.
In view of this qualitatively unprecedented situation, and by simple theological and jurisprudential analysis, we can conclude that this is a short-sighted, confused and clear ignorant way of looking at Christianity that believes in one God. This kind of behavior has directly accelerated Christians’ emigration, they were one and a half million before the fall of the previous government (2003), the number has decreased today, to less than five hundred thousand.
From this platform, and through our national responsibility as a supreme religious authority for an Iraqi Christian component, with a prominent geographical area, we affirm that the mentality and social culture must change to preserve the present diversity and pluralism in Iraq for the future. The identity of Christian, Muslim, Sabean Mandaets and Yazidi should be maintained as a respected Iraqi heritage of living “the actual” culture of tolerance and reconciliation, sharing a true partnership and spreading noble religious and human values, away from classifying citizens as people of faith versus infidels. Hence, citizens would be valued according to their education and creativity in serving their country, as is the case in civilized societies.
People from religions other than Islam have the rights to be treated equally in terms of their full rights and duties at all levels. The Muslim majority should bear the responsibility for the survival of “the so-called minorities”, by enhancing their presence, and defending their rights, because of their uniqueness in religious, education, linguistic and social diversity. Christians of Iraq and the East, are known to be the salt of the earth and the mirror of their country! The dilemma of marginalizing them must be addressed legally and socially by endorsing new legislation that respects all religions, emphasizes equal citizenship and criminalizes speeches provoking discrimination and hatred.
Major Problems of Christians
- Discrimination and Hatred Discourse: Extremism is as aggressive as cancer in demolishing “the body” of the society. That is the case with Al-Qaeda, and members of the Islamic State “ISIS”, if it won’t be treated and dismantled. Generally, faith is an individual matter (of choice) for all citizens, but not a system for managing the state or society because state should be a sovereign social “creature” free from doctrinal and religious belief. However, the adoption of one religion in the legislation, as stated in Article (2) of the Iraqi Constitution, is not right, since the same article bears in its two subsequent paragraphs what contradicts that: Paragraph B – of the same article states that it is not acceptable to endorse a law that opposes the principles of democracy; and Paragraph C of the same article also does not allow passing a law that is inconsistent with the basic rights and freedoms stipulated in this Constitution). Also, Paragraph A of this article contradicts with the logic of a strong national, civil and democratic state. Eventually, this creates discrimination and discrepancy in legislation and in dealing with people of other religions, especially with regard to belief, as shown in the marriage and inheritance of “Personal Status Law”: for example, when Christian women get married to a Muslim man, she is not entitled to inherit anything. Here, we need to reassure that the civil system does not mean detracting Islam or other religions, but rather respects spiritual values and good morals. As we know, Islam is a religion of mercy and tolerance, just as Christianity is a religion of love. Therefore, the mentality of imposing one religion is not helpful in tolerance, respect and coexistence. Also, according to human rights, it is unfair to discriminate citizens because of their religious belief. Such kind of mentality traced back to the Middle Ages, and Christianity paid the price for that. The “logic” is that religion is for God and the homeland is for the nation, which is consistent with the Qur’an verse, “You have your religion and I have mine” (Al-Kafirun 6), also “there is no compulsion in religion” (Al-Baqarah 256), and “religion is offered not imposed”. From this standpoint of view, all forms of discourse that “inflames” discrimination, exclusion and hatred among citizens because of their religion, should be condemned legally. It is necessary as well, to review and improve religious and national education curricula in terms of understanding the actual and scientific meaning of the text rather than relying on traditional interpretations. Moreover, it is very important to review the “terminology” in order to learn how to deal with the human feelings based on fraternity and the logic of citizenship that may enable us to live actually the Hadith statement “we are all children of God”. With heartfelt love and respect, I suggest that religions in Iraq should be listed as follows: Islam, which is the religion of the “majority”, Christianity, Sabean Mandaets, Yazidis, etc. These identities should remain together because they are designed by God and represent a civilized model for peaceful coexistence!
On the other hand, it is so sad to note that the heritage of Christians is neglected, as if they had no history. Christian history should be included in the curricula of Iraqi public schools. This heritage could be an important resource for religious tourism. It is enough to have a look at the “Koukhi Church” located at the country side of Baghdad, and belongs to the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd Centuries, unfortunately, there is nothing remaining from it more than neglected walls. This is an evidence of disregarding Iraqi archaeological treasures!
- Problem of Citizenship: Citizenship is the foundation for social relations and its criterion is to belong to this homeland. Citizenship means equality and that the law protects everyone equally and promotes mutual respect, coexistence and harmony among all citizens. The heresy of the concept of “components” nourishes tribal and sectarian identity and does not serve the establishment of a strong and modern national state, but rather endorses a culture of special interests and encourages exclusion. Christians are indigenous Iraqis and not a community that came from another country, they are people of the land, so it is not acceptable to call them a “minority”. It is “injustice” and a lack of citizenship privilege that sometimes Christians are “stung” in their religious belief, as mentioned above due to gross confusion and ignorance of knowing their faith. Christians’ rights should be as sacred as the rights of others, and they cannot be considered second-class citizens because of their religion. Diversity and differences must be a richness, a source of energy for creativity, balance and prosperity.
- Problems of Peace, Security, Stability, and Trust in Having Better Future: Yes, Christian individual, is well known for seeking peace and safety in his life and that of his family when he does not find it, he leaves!
- Problem of Employment and Processing Paperwork: Christian’s major difficulty is in finding job, because of the “quota”. In spite of having a law of replacing a retired or immigrant Christian with the another Christian, but this “stayed” on paper only and has never been “effective”! Also, the problem of paying bribes with every single attempt to process a paperwork, especially in having their seized properties back, for example, the bribe will make the cost doubled, or at least more than the actual price of the property!
- Problems of Immigration and the Future. The tendency to emigrate has increased in the last two decades due to instability. Furthermore, the “bleeding” of emigration to the West still exists due to the following: loss of confidence and future uncertainty; unemployment; poverty; deterioration of basic services; desertification; and the failure of governments to build a real democratic and civil state. In addition to the repeated attacks on Christians in various forms: extremism (al-Qaeda and ISIS), seizing their properties and the systematic demographic change in their historical areas (towns and villages) in addition to excluding them from jobs. I find it unavoidable to emphasize once again that religion is for God and the homeland is for the nation. Migration is nothing but uprooting us from our land, even though we are authentic.
- Problem of Christian parties. These parties were based on nationalism and “formalities”, served nothing, but in reviving regional fanaticism. Consequently, they failed in the center and the region to play their real role in achieving cohesion between Christian “groups” in finding a unified name and investing their presence as one team for the benefit of Iraq and Christians in general. Its struggle was and still is for personal interests, so they used double-language speeches in deceiving their followers. Hence, the natural outcome of all that was offending Christians, when they discover that these “so-called Christian representatives” are loyal to the political “whales” that supported them initially, for this reason the “Christian representatives” did not say a word of truth against: injustice and manipulation of Christian properties and changing the demographic structure! Overall, Christians’ current situation should lead them to realize that the future depends on their unity. The HOPE is to have one “front” from which we can come out with a single list of “actual representation” to encounter whoever try to kidnap Christians’ quota. Otherwise, being divided is nothing but surrender to keep Christians marginalized, ineffective and displaced.
Note: It is intended to hold a conference that brings together Iraqi Christians to study these issues with a clear vision and effective responsibility.