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[casi] WAR TENSIONS TOUGH ON CHRISTIANS IN IRAQ



Dear casi members,


FYI

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Andreas


EFFE
European Forum for Freedom in Education
Minorities Group
Research & Documentation & Analysis

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A N U
Assyrian News Watch
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Assyrian Chaldean Syriac

[ng]-ge-na-da  a-ba  in-da-di  nam-ti  --tu
Whoever has walked with truth generates life
Sumerian Proverb

 'When a man lies, he murders some part of the world'
Myrddin, Celtic Sage

-------------------

Source:   San Francisco Chronicle
Date:       Feb 20, 2002


WAR TENSIONS TOUGH ON CHRISTIANS IN IRAQ

by Hadani Ditmars

[Canadian journalist Hadani Ditmars recently returned from a monthlong
reporting trip to Iraq.]

Baghdad, Iraq -- At St. Teresa's Church, a woman kneels to pray. Making the
sign of the cross, she offers up silent benedictions as the priest leads a
prayer for the peace and prosperity of his congregation, their country and
their president, Saddam Hussein.

Although its interior -- with candles, icons and crucifixes -- would be
familiar anywhere in the Catholic world, St. Teresa's is in central
Baghdad,
where the power of God should never try to rival that of the president.

Iraq is a land steeped in biblical history. It was the birthplace of
Abraham, claimed to be the site of the Garden of Eden, and a place where
apostles such as St. Thomas sojourned en route between Jerusalem and India.

Iraq's 800,000-strong Chaldean Christian community enjoys a relatively
important place in a mainly Muslim society, exemplified by prominent
figures
such as Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. There are also another 200,000
Christians -- Roman Catholics and members of eastern churches. All are
afforded government protection as religious minorities.

But since the international embargo against Iraq began more than a decade
ago, Iraqi Christians -- who can trace their roots back to Babylonian times
-- have been slowly disappearing.

The largest Chaldean community outside of Iraq is now in Detroit, and many
Christians are using family connections to emigrate in search of a brighter
economic future than the one offered in embargoed Iraq.

Some observers express concern that the exodus is helping create an
increasingly Islamicized culture in what has long been a secular society.

As rural migrants from Iraq's predominantly Muslim south flood such major
cities as Baghdad and Basra, urban cosmopolitanism is gradually giving way
to a more fundamentalist outlook.

In Baghdad, more and more women don't leave home without donning chadors --
a combination head covering, veil and shawl -- and streets in many
neighborhoods are empty of women after sunset.

Since Sept. 11, the role of Christians in Iraqi society has been put into
even sharper relief. With President Bush's "with us or against us" rhetoric
and threats of U.S. military attack emphasizing the boundaries -- usually
benign -- between Iraqi Christians and Muslims, it is not an easy time to
be
a Christian in this country.

The state-appointed Chaldean patriarch, Raphael Bidawid, said that although
Iraqi Christians strongly identified themselves as "Iraqis first and then
as
Christians . . . we are sometimes accused of being agents of the West."

"But when the bombs fall," he noted dryly, "they are not especially for
Christians or for Muslims. They're for everyone."

Bidawid's flock feels abandoned by the "Christian" nations that they
believe
are persecuting Iraq, he said.

"No country in the Western world can call themselves Christian," he said.
"They do not act according to the Christian principles of peace and
justice."

Without addressing issues of moral relativity, he added: "Those who point
the finger at Iraq should not forget Hiroshima and Vietnam. They should not
forget that they are starving a whole generation of children here."

>From Detroit, Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim, the top Chaldean Catholic religious
figure in the United States, said: "It's very hard to see a bright future
for Christianity in the Middle East.

"On the one hand, there is the rise in Islamic fundamentalism; on the other
there is the U.S. position on Israel, which causes many Christians to be
blamed as co-conspirators with the West. Both issues have a real impact on
Christian populations in the whole area. We are really caught in the
middle."

Ibrahim says there are now 250,000 Iraqi Christians in the United States,
about 150,000 of them Chaldeans.

"We must follow the faithful, and that's why I'm here in Detroit," he said.

Despite their growing isolation, the Iraqi Christians do not stand alone.

Though the visit of a delegation of U.S. Episcopal bishops around Sept. 11
was postponed indefinitely, Archbishop Djibrael Kassab of Basra spent
Christmas Day with some Christian anti-sanctions advocates who came >from
the
United States to express their solidarity with Iraqis.

"The fact that they spent Christmas with us means they have not forgotten
us," he said. "There are some who care about what's going on here.

"We love our enemies. During Mass on Christmas Day I delivered a special
message to Mr. Bush, saying that we are both men of faith and that we are
praying for our leader and for him. We are praying that he will come to
know
that sanctions come from a place that is evil."

There are only about 1,000 Christian families left in Basra, down from
three
times that before the Iran-Iraq war began in 1980, but Kassab says they get
along well as a minority.

"We are living here like brothers with Muslims," he said, adding that at
least 70 percent of the people who benefit from his parish's free pharmacy,
day care center and home for the elderly are Muslim.

The Christian community in Basra is actually quite well off, a nugget
revealed by the archbishop's guileless comment that "Iraq is an egalitarian
society. My houseboy and I both receive the same amount of rations."

Besides benefiting from "cousin aid" from the outside, the community also
prospers in the liquor business, something reserved only for Christians in
Iraq. It is not uncommon to hear stories about Christians who literally
help
keep their Muslim neighbors alive by providing financial assistance.

At St. Teresa's in Baghdad, a group of women stopped to chat after Mass. In
the presence of a government "minder," they answered a question about
Christian emigration with an emphatic denunciation of "those who abandon
their country."

"I would never leave," said 25-year-old Rana, an attractive young woman
dressed fashionably in a faux-Chanel suit. "I love my country. And besides,
those people in the West are not friendly; they don't like us." (Pope John
Paul II, whose supportive anti-sanctions stance is much appreciated by
Iraqi
Christians, is excepted.)

But later on Rana confided, "Even if I wanted to leave, where would I get
the money? How would I get the visa?"

And eventually she asked in a more curious tone, "How would I get the
visa?"

When the group was asked whether they had any concerns about the growing
Islamicization of society and the increase in women wearing the hijab, or
veil,

53-year-old Amira said, "Well, it says in the Bible that women should dress
modestly. It's the same thing."

As for the United States, Amira said, "Those people who embargo our country
are not true Christians. They do not love peace and justice."

"I want to tell the Americans that Christ came for peace, not for war," she
said.



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