Baghdad’s Auxiliary Bishop Andreas Abouna has given his bleakest assessment yet of the situation in Iraq, speaking of the despair that is driving more and more Christians to leave the country. Describing a worsening of the security situation since last December’s parliamentary elections, the Chaldean prelate told how people were living in fear of their lives. Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Abouna said: “The Christians feel desperate and so many are leaving. In their hearts they do not want to leave the country, but because of the situation, they prefer to be outside Iraq.”
He explained: “Security is now very bad. There are a lot of police in Iraq, especially around Baghdad – you can find them everywhere and they are increasing all the time. The problem is that the quality of the policing is indifferent. Sometimes people feel afraid because – more so than before – they do not feel secure.” Stressing that Christians have suffered no worse than others, Bishop Abouna said: “We still hope that Iraq will rise again but it is very difficult when we have a government who cannot decide anything. Can you imagine what life is like without any real form of government?”
The bishop added: “Christians are getting less and less. When you look inside the churches, they are full of Christians. But when you go outside you feel that Christians are finished in Iraq.” Latest estimates give the number of Christians in the country as about 750,000, down from more than one million before the allied invasion.
A piece from the infamous new issue of The New Republic looks at the problem. (Piece not online, I don’t think.)
But, however much the clergy may deny it, Iraqi Christians suffer for their faith. Along with kidnappings and assassinations, church bombings—beginning with the destruction of five churches in August 2004—have become a staple of Christian life in Iraq. To disguise their faith, Christian women, particularly in Iraq’s south, tuck their hair under hijabs, while fewer and fewer attend church, performing Mass in homes and sometimes, like their ancient Christian ancestors, in crypts instead. Even the Kurds, so often depicted as saints in Iraq’s morality tale, have taken to pummeling Christians; the Kurdish religious affairs minister said last year that “those who turn to Christianity pose a threat to society.” Commenting on a recent pogrom against Christian students in Mosul, Yonadam Kanna, the only Christian elected to Iraq’s new parliament, says, “The fanatics blame us for doing nothing.They blame us for being Christian.”
The blame accrues, in part, because of real and imagined ties to the West and to the Western power occupying Iraq. There is, in truth, a cultural affinity between Iraqi Christians, many of whom speak English (and, as such, account for a large percentage of the U.S. military’s interpreters), and the mostly Christian soldiers occupying their country. “[Local Christians] were very supportive of having us in Mosul,” says Colonel Mike Meese, who served with the 101st Airborne Division in the heavily Christian city. “They’d have our soldiers go to Mass with them.” But, as soon as their American protectors departed, the city’s Christians became targets—their churches sacked and their archbishop kidnapped. In Baghdad, too, insurgents routinely execute Christians who work alongside the Americans. Threatened by her neighbors, a Christian friend of mine who worked in the Green Zone quit her job and today rarely leaves her house.
To the lengthy indictment of Christians, their persecutors have also added the charge of proselytizing. Unlike American soldiers, who mean to save Iraqi lives, the American evangelicals who followed on their heels mean to save Iraqi souls. There is a difference. Evangelizing to Iraqis carries with it risks that evangelizing to, say, Latin Americans does not. The infusion of pamphlets and missionaries from organizations like the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention enrages Iraqi Muslims, who, Iraqi Christian leaders claim, increasingly conflate their congregants with “the crusaders”—and, too often, treat them as such.“The evangelicals have caused such problems for us,” says Kanna.“They make the Sunni and Shia furious.”
Even though Iraq’s Christians suffer in the name of their American co-religionists, their fate seems not to have made the slightest impression on much of the evangelical establishment. Their websites and promotional literature advertise the importance of creating new Christian communities in Iraq while mostly ignoring the obligation to save ancient ones. Nor, with a few exceptions, have mainstream church leaders in the United States broached the subject, either. Dr. Carl Moeller, the president of Open Doors USA, an organization that supports persecuted Christians abroad, pins the blame on Christianity’s own sectarian rifts. “The denominations in Iraq aren’t recognized by Americans,” he explains.“The underlying attitude is, ‘They’re not us.’
And from the Weekly Standard, "The New Roman Lions"
A BROAD CONSENSUS EXISTS through much of the Islamic world that apostates from the faith deserve to be killed. This consensus could be glimpsed in Abdul Rahman’s case, where the judge, Ansarullah Mawlavezada, said, "In this country we have the perfect constitution. It is Islamic law and it is illegal to be a Christian and it should be punished." Even the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, expected to take a more moderate stance, called for Abdul Rahman’s punishment, claiming that he clearly violated Islamic law.
But apostasy laws stretch far beyond Afghanistan. At least 14 Islamic countries make conversion out of Islam illegal. The crime is punishable by death in at least eight of these states, either through explicit anti-apostasy laws or the broader offense of blasphemy.
Official proceedings against those who convert out of Islam are rare, at least in part because most of those who leave Islam choose to keep it secret. More often the government looks the other way while irate citizens mete out their own punishment. In July Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, estimated that dozens of apostates from Islam had been killed throughout the world in the previous year. Bolstering Marshall’s estimate, the Compass Direct News Agency was able to identify 23 expatriate Christian workers who were killed in the Muslim world between 2002 and July 2005.