I don’t follow British ecclesiastical politics too closely, but the media in the UK is treating this like a big deal. Over the weekend, the Church of England issued a strongly worded condemnation of the government’s policy of neglect toward Iraq’s Christians. The letter, written by Bishop Nicholas Baines and endorsed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Wellby, makes the same point that commentators in the US, including CLR Forum, have made with respect to American policy: the United States has rushed to help Yazidi refugees, but has done relatively little to alleviate the plight of the much larger number of Christian refugees. According to the Guardian,
Cameron is accused of turning his back on the suffering of Christians. The letter asks why the plight of religious minorities in Iraq, such as the Yazidis, seems to have taken precedence. It notes that, though the government responded promptly to reports of at least 30,000 Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar, the fate of tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians fleeing jihadists from Mosul, Iraq’s second city, and elsewhere appears to have “fallen from consciousness”.
Baines asks: “Does your government have a coherent response to the plight of these huge numbers of Christians whose plight appears to be less regarded than that of others? Or are we simply reacting to the loudest media voice at any particular time?” He condemns the failure to offer sanctuary to Iraqi Christians driven from their homes: “The French and German governments have already made provision, but there has so far been only silence from the UK government.”
The Guardian describes the letter as “bitter” and “extraordinary.” If you want to read the letter in its entirety, the Guardian‘s article has a link.
At The Week, columnist Michael Brandon Dougherty has a hard-hitting piece on America’s responsibility to Iraq’s Christians. In light of the fact that America’s invasion, occupation, and withdrawal created a situation of great and continuing peril for Christians, America should be doing much more to help them. For example, he writes:
Although I’m generally inclined toward a more restrictive position on immigration, the U.S. should, as a matter of practice, be especially generous in granting refugee status to the collateral victims of the war we started in Iraq. It should even offer some refugees of ISIS persecution the material resources to emigrate to America if they so desire.
The dream of transforming Iraq into an incubator of Arab liberalism has turned into a nightmare for religious minorities. America’s intervention in Iraq, and its support of Syrian and Libyan rebels, have created a disastrous disorder in which Islamist threats thrive.
Mosul was a home for Christians for as long as Christianity existed. Not anymore. Now, the U.S. cannot restore these people to their homes, or reverse the desecration of Christian shrines. But our diplomatic, financial, and moral energies should be used to protect them from any further harm.
Read the whole thing.
Next month, University of Chicago Press will publish Negotiating in Civil Conflict: Constitutional Construction and Imperfect Bargaining in Iraq by Haider Ala Hamoudi (University of Pittsburgh School of Law). The publisher’s description follows:
In 2005, Iraq drafted its first constitution and held the country’s first democratic election in more than fifty years. Even under ideal conditions, drafting a constitution can be a prolonged process marked by contentious debate, and conditions in Iraq are far from ideal: Iraq has long been racked by ethnic and sectarian conflict, which intensified following the American invasion and continues today. This severe division, which often erupted into violence, would not seem to bode well for the fate of democracy. So how is it that Iraq was able to surmount its sectarianism to draft a constitution that speaks to the conflicting and largely incompatible ideological view of the Sunnis, Shi’ah, and Kurds?
Haider Ala Hamoudi served in 2009 as an adviser to Iraq’s Constitutional Review Committee, and he argues here that the terms of the Iraqi Constitution are sufficiently capacious to be interpreted in a variety of ways, allowing it to appeal to the country’s three main sects despite their deep disagreements. While some say that this ambiguity avoids the challenging compromises that ultimately must be made if the state is to survive, Hamoudi maintains that to force these compromises on issues of central importance to ethnic and sectarian identity would almost certainly result in the imposition of one group’s views on the others. Drawing on the original negotiating documents, he shows that this feature of the Constitution was not an act of evasion, as is sometimes thought, but a mark of its drafters’ awareness in recognizing the need to permit the groups the time necessary to develop their own methods of working with one another over time.
I posted earlier this week about the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s special report on violations of religious liberty in Syria. Also this week, USCIRF issued its annual, comprehensive (364 pages) report on religious freedom around the world. It makes for interesting reading.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan government advisory body that monitors global religious freedom and makes non-binding policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. For example, each year, USCIRF suggests countries for inclusion on the State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern”–those whose governments engage in or tolerate especially bad violations of religious freedom. This year, USCIRF names 15 such countries, including Burma, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, and Vietnam.
Iraq’s appearance on the list is especially noteworthy. Notwithstanding the Iraqi government’s “efforts to increase security for religious sites and worshippers, provide a stronger voice for Iraq’s smallest minorities in parliament, and revise secondary school textbooks to portray minorities in a more positive light,” the report states, the government “continues to tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, including violent religiously-motivated attacks.” Please note: Ten years after a US-led war to topple a dictator and establish the rule of law, things are so bad that a US government commission has named Iraq as a particularly worrisome country with respect to religious freedom. Let’s hope the people running our Syria policy are paying attention.
With respect to American policy on religious freedom generally, the report shows some frustration. One gets the distinct sense that the commissioners think the Obama Administration should make global religious freedom more a priority. For example, the report decries the downgrading of the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and the downsizing of her staff. And it criticizes the Administration for not taking more concrete action with respect to “countries of particular concern” that the State Department already has named.
The report contains a thematic section with helpful material on a variety of issues; this section will be especially useful for scholars. Among the issues addressed are constitutional changes in Muslim-majority countries and the increasing adoption and enforcement of anti-blasphemy laws around the world.
Haider Ala Hamoudi (University of Pittsburgh Law) has posted Religious Minorities and Shari’a in Iraqi Courts. The abstract follows.
There is a rising interest in our academy in the study of constitutional states, particularly in the Islamic world, whose legal and constitutional structure is at least as a formal matter both founded on and subject to religious doctrine. For those of us interested in the Arab spring, and indeed in constitutionalism in much of the Islamic world, this work is not only valuable, but positively vital. Without it, we are unable to discuss most emerging Arab democracies in constitutional terms. In Iraq, and in Egypt after it, two of the premier Arab states which have recently seen constitutions approved through popular referendum, Islam is described as state religion, as source of legislation and as constraint upon law as well. Nobody reasonably aware of the region imagines that Libya and Syria (were the latter to develop into a democratic state) would reach a different conclusion respecting the role of Islam in the public order. While the details may well differ from one state to another, the principle of “constitutional theocracy” holds fast throughout much of the Arab world. The effect of this on religious minorities that are not Muslim is the subject of this essay, with particular reference to the one Arab state with which I am most familiar, that of Iraq.
In assessing how rising constitutional theocracies like Iraq happen to balance the priorities they afford Islam in foundational text with religious freedom, a value also invariably enshrined in the constitutions of emerging democracies in the Middle East, it is important to note that the going opinion is very much in favor of some form of protection for and tolerance of non-Muslim minorities. It is also important to note that in assessing any conflicts with shari’a, there is a great deal of nuance, indeed near Continue reading
Jonathan Pride (Student, Harvard Law) has posted Saving an Ancient Community: Christianity in Iraq. The abstract follows.
The Christian community in Iraq has survived conquests by Arabs, Huns, and Turks over the two millennia since the birth of Christianity. However, the latest danger to Iraq’s Christians, who include Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Catholics, poses the largest threat that this community has faced yet. In post-Saddam Iraq, a lethal combination of a Western “other” Christian identity, Islamic extremism, and a depressed economy has taken an enormous toll on Christians in Iraq. Their communities all over the country have been devastated by violence against men, women, children, and community symbols like priests, bishops, and churches. Because they only numbered about 1.5 million before the fall of Saddam Hussein, these attempts to terrorize and scare away Christians threaten the very existence of Christianity in Iraq.
In response to violence inside Iraq, many Christians have fled the country or become internally displaced, fleeing to traditionally Christian areas in Northern Iraq. Though their situations outside Iraq as registered or unregistered refugees may be difficult, those who are a part of the Christian Iraqi diaspora are hesitant to return to their homeland due to the systematic violence and discrimination they have faced and may face again. Can international action or internal, government programs do anything to save Christianity in Iraq?
To answer this question, I will address a number of issues. First, I will explore the underlying causes of the historical violence against Christians, taking a deeper look at the construction of the Christian identity as the Western “other.” Second, I will consider the current situation facing Iraqi Christian refugees and internally displaced peoples. Finally, I will propose remedies that seek to encourage Christian Iraqis to either remain in or return to Iraq. These remedies include 1) deconstructing Christians’ “other” identity through constitutional changes and civil society initiatives, 2) creating a semi-autonomous “safe haven” for Christians inside Iraq, and 3) encouraging international economic assistance to revive devastated Christian communities. Though my suggestions are to promote a continuing Christian presence in Iraq, they are by no means a definitive solution. There is still time to save Christianity in Iraq, but it remains uncertain whether the community will ever fully recover from the devastation of the last ten years.
On December 15, 2011, President Obama formally announced the end of the eight-and-a-half year Iraq war. American troop presence in Iraq has dwindled to a fraction of its former strength: In 2007, 170,000 Coalition troops occupied Iraq from 505 bases; in December, 2011, 4000 operated there from only two. President Obama has also said he will not send any more troops to Iraq, even if the nation devolves into civil war; instead, America’s role will be limited to a political one, using diplomacy to resolve future conflicts.
Our war, then, is essentially over. But whether war is over for Iraqis is a separate question, one with significant moral import for the United States. Though American troops will be gone, Iraqis still face the specters of terrorism, government oppression, and civil war. And because America started hostilities in 2003—whether justly or unjustly—it bears at least some responsibility to aid the nation it now leaves to its own devices. Major religious bodies like the Catholic and Anglican Churches have yet to speak directly to this grave issue, one essential to America’s moral obligations to the Iraqi people.
What moral guidance, then, can we draw upon to evaluate this moment in contemporary history? Shall we be overjoyed that a war is over, or shall we lament a moral failure?
For more on the situation in Iraq and a moral discussion of our withdrawal, please follow the jump. Continue reading
Posted in Commentary, Daniel R. Strecker
Tagged Archbishop of Canterbury, Barack Obama, Iraq, Iraq War, Morality of War, Pope Benedict XVI, Sectarian Violence, Terrorism, USCCB, WIthdrawal from Iraq
The US pulled its troops out of Iraq this weekend, ending the 9-year long Iraq war. The ultimate consequences of the war — for Iraq, the Middle East, and the United States itself — remain to be seen. We won’t really know for generations. One thing that seems clear at the moment, though, is that the US-led invasion was a catastrophe for Iraq’s Christians. Before the war, Iraq had about 1.5 million Christians. The fall of the secular Ba’ath government left them exposed to killings, threats, and intimidation by radical Islamic elements. About a million Christians have fled the country. This LA Times piece offers a sad reflection on the state of those who remain.