Thoughts on Iraq’s Church Bombing

I was saddened to read of the killing of more than 58 people in the hostage incident in a Catholic church in Baghdad. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility, and simultaneously issued a threat and warning to Coptic Churches in Egypt.

Earlier this year, I visited Kurdistan and enjoyed the peaceful Kurdish capital of Erbil, the seat of Kurdistan’s parliament. The expat village communities had essentially no security at the gate and the atmosphere was very relaxed. Yet visiting the nearby town of Ainkawa, a village home to thousands of Christians, the man guarding the gate casually carried a kalishnikov–even in Kurdistan, Iraq’s Christian ultraminority was cautious, and made this quiet show of force to ward off trouble.

The caretaker of St. Joseph’s in Ainkawa

That was Kurdistan. I can’t even imagine the steps that were taken in Baghdad to protect churches.

Christians constitute a rapidly declining community in the Middle East. In the Levant, there are several million in Egypt and Lebanon, with minority populations in Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. But these communities only survive through reproduction — conversion from Islam to Christianity is prohibited by law in many countries, often through the survival of Ottoman-era family and marriage registries.

There are also churches in the countries of the Persian Gulf, primarily for Asian and Western expats, but Saudi Arabia strictly bans any form of worship other than Islam, and foreigners are occasionally arrested for proselytism–such as what happened to a dozen Filipinos last month who held a private, secret mass.

Years ago, Christian and Jewish populations were, while small, more commonly found across the region. But the violence and persecution, compounded by opportunities outside the region, over the past century (starting with the Jewish migration to Palestine after World War I) means the historical minorities are shrinking fast. And that makes the remaining communities in places such as Iraq smaller, and arguably more vulnerable. Or as one journalist put it, “The only Christians who remain in Iraq are those too old or too poor to attempt to escape.”

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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21 Responses to Thoughts on Iraq’s Church Bombing

  1. assyrianpride21 says:

    This is proof at how ignorant the world is…the church that was blown up was an assyrian church. My family is devastated. As if our population isn’t already slowly disappearing, but on top of it the country we don’t have anymore is being destroyed by a different culture. Half the people of the world don’t even know what an assyrian is. Its not syrian its not arab or armenian its a seperate culture. The articles should be corrected. It wasn’t just people who died it was assyrians… A harmless population that is being targeted right under the worlds nose

  2. Wataru says:

    You neglected to mention anything about how Saddam Hussein protected Christian churches and worshippers, and even had a Christian serving as one of his highest-ranking associates. The Bush-Cheney-Blair invasion changed all that, and now Iraq’s Christians are in the state you describe here.

  3. dave says:

    The state of Iraq’s Christians is due to one fact: the nature of Islam.

  4. Curzon,
    I recommend The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died by John Philip Jenkins. The book does a good job describing Christianity in the Middle East from its majority days (~300 to ~1300), minority days (~1300-~1850), and its now nearly complete destruction (~1850 to today)

  5. Curzon says:

    Indeed, Wataru — it’s an unfortunately common phenomenon after the fall of a totalitarian regime. See also: Yugoslavia, Chechnya, etc. Are you making a comment about the weaknesses of democracy as an alternative to authoritarian rule? Certainly that’s one of the key themes of The Coming Anarchy.

  6. Curzon says:

    assyrianpride21 — How should the article be corrected?

    For what it’s worth, the Christians in Kurdistan who I spoke with were Assyrian, Kurdish, and Armenian.

    Articles I read on the bombing described it as a “Syrian Catholic Church.”

  7. Wataru says:

    I imagine Bush-Cheney-Blair thought naively that by toppling a dictator and letting “the people” decide Iraqi affairs, they would be doing Iraq and the world a favor. They had little knowledge of the forces at work within the country, and were ignorant of the hellish chaos that would result from empowering the majority Shiites. There is a reason Saddam repressed the Shiites; it was the only chance of maintaining any kind of order in the hobbled-together country the West had given him.

  8. AssyrianGirl says:

    they people who died where not Syrians, they were definitely Assyrians

  9. Curzon says:

    Wow, Wataru — are you justifying the repression of the Shia in Iraq under Saddam? Would you justify the same currently being done by the House of Saud in KSA?

  10. Wataru says:

    I’m not putting any value judgments on what Saddam did. I’m saying that, if there were viable alternatives to his form of rule, they did not include removing him by force and letting another kind of repression arise, namely the repression of women, intellectuals, Christians, Sunni Muslims, and many other segments of Iraqi society that had tended to do relatively well under Saddam. Do you think that what Bush et al. did was a good idea?

  11. Curzon says:

    It’s not repression when its criminal and terrorist acts — you’re confusing Maliki with Milosevich.

    Without forgiving the negligent management of Bush in the aftermath of the war up through until the surge (on all levels), the democratic chaos in today’s Iraq as they muddle towards a government is much better than letting Saddam stay in power, and let his son’s fight for the leftovers.

  12. Wataru says:

    There is nothing about Iraq today that is “much better” than before. It is all-out civil war, with deadly terrorist acts day after day. At least when Saddam was in control, US leaders could go to Iraq without having to sneak in unannounced. Today? Not possible. The war was an utter failure, unless the objective was to throw Iraq into total chaos. The war is responsible for the attacks on Christians that you so deplore.

  13. geographylady says:

    No one is praising Saddam or his brutal sons. We just lament the loss of equality for women, Christians, and others who are now so brutally attacked.

  14. David says:

    Curzon! do not be confused when reading “Syrian Catholic Church” Many Articles say it was an Assyrian Church, let me correct the confusion.

    Assyrians in their native language identify as Suraye or Suryoye this was what the nacient greeks called us, it translates to Syrian, so Syrian is a synonym of Assyrian. The Arab country of Syria today was named after the Assyria by the greeks, however we dont own it since it was ivnaded and conquered by Arabs, hence the ‘Syrian Catholic Church’ is actually Assyrian. Watch this video that explains it by professor simo parpola –

  15. Tony says:

    @Wataru: The argument that things were better under Saddam is just smoke and mirrors. They were only slightly better in that Assyrians weren’t being slaughtered in the streets like sheep (much as they are today).

    I am not sure why people hide the fact that the root of all the violence and intolerance in the Middle East is Islam. Western governments play around the word and substitute terrorists for Muslims and terrorism for Islam.

    The day people start opening their eyes and realizing that Islam is a cancer that needs to be eradicated off the face of the earth that is the day we, as a world, will come closer to peace and harmony.

  16. Hamilton says:

    Wataru, you do know that AQI is a Sunni organization right? They were the ones who attacked the Church, not the Shia.

    Also, you are correct, by killing 8-12,000 of his own citizens per year Saddam did a fine job of keeping the peace. And the 10′s or 1000s he tortured of course…..a real Paradise Bush Hitler screwed up.

  17. Wataru says:

    If you want to argue purely in terms of number of people killed per year, or number of Christians prevented from attending church, or number of women prevented from walking freely on the streets or attending school, or number of foreign dignitaries unable to call on Iraqi leaders without sneaking in by night, post-Bush-war loses every time.

  18. Claudine says:

    I am so sad beyond imagination. At least under dictatorship of Sadam Hussein, everyone was treated equally. Our churches and our people were safe. What can we do to have our voices heard? Is this the freedom that USA promised to deliver? Where are the weapons of mass destructions? What gives right to one country to attack another country? What is United Nation doing about all this? Who can help us Assyrians? Civilization started with us. We invented alphabet, mathematics… We build the first library and had supreme law thousands years ago when under civilizations were living like savages. Our capital Nineveh is the first city mentioned in the Bible. We converted to Christianity when Lord Jesus Christ walked on earth and see where we are now. I am raising my voice to all mankind. We try to save animals where their species is threatened to vanish. Why not help Assyrians? If you do not care about us as human beings, at least treat us like treasures, antiques, rare species

  19. Claudine says:

    Hamilton, Sunni or Shia or any other branches of Islam. They took over our countries in Middle East. They persecuted, murdered, raped us and killed pregnant women to the point we had to leave our lands and go to western countries. Each generation of my family is born in a different country. Please people, study history. Search Simele massacre on the web and you will know what I am talking about. It is a shame that it is still happening in the modern world today. Unlike Jewish and Armenians, our voice is not being heard.

  20. MrCommonSense says:

    They were Assyrian. However, it isn’t only Assyrians in Iraq that are being targeted, there are lots of Chaldeans that are being attacked as well. This was a devastation to all Christians of Iraq. This could’ve been avoided. Oh, by the way, can anyone tell me where they found weapons of mass destruction before they invaded? OH THEY DIDNT?! That’s weird.

  21. priffe says:

    Unusually good article by R. Fisk here re the christian exodus from ME.
    All you who think one people – one land – one religion or anything along those lines are part of the problem. Isr–l was a terrible idea.