The Catholic Thing
The Flight from Iraq Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Saturday, 26 July 2014

When the Americans (“and allies”) took Kabul, they discovered that one of the clichés about Afghanistan was wrong. It was not true that there were no Jews left in that country. An elderly gentleman emerged from the rubble, a certain Ishaq Levin (may he rest in peace). All these years he had kept his head down, but was now under the impression he could come out.

It turned out there was another one. Perhaps gentle reader has heard the story, which was made into a little play in London. Zabolon Simenov (various spellings), carpet dealer and kebab-seller, also survived the Taliban while remaining quietly Jewish. His large family, including two daughters, had long since fled to Israel.

The last I heard, he was still refusing to follow them, believing that as son and grandson of once distinguished rabbis, living in what was left of a synagogue, he should stay, if he could. The kebab business being not what it was, however – persistent bombings discouraged diners out – he had to close his stall.

I remembered this story soon after writing on my own website Sunday that, “for the first time in more than eighteen centuries, there are no Christians in Mosul, Iraq.” My current information is that dozens, perhaps hundreds are in hiding.

But the few thousand who had remained under a variety of torments, in what was once a Christian city, and is still nominally the seat of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, have fled mostly towards Kurdistan.

“ISIS” – the fanatic Islamist army that now controls extensive territories in western Iraq and eastern Syria, and calls itself a “caliphate” – gave them the option of death. Media reports, buried on inside pages, mechanically repeat the two other options of conversion to Islam or paying the jizyah. They run out of space to explain that these are not serious alternatives.

There is little reporting generally on Iraq, now that allied troops have been withdrawn, and our choice of friends comes down to Sunni terrorists on one side and, on the other, two regimes (Assad’s in Syria and Maliki’s in Iraq), which have become clients of Iran.

In the course of cutting and running from profound moral responsibilities in Iraq, our Western leaders quite consciously left once numerous Christians to their fate. Even while our troops remained, and had the means to prevent the worst from happening, the fate of Christians was largely overlooked. They, along with other minorities within Iraq, were an inconvenient complication in a greater game.

A long history would have to be recounted to explain the impossibility of the current situation. I shall attempt to reduce it to one paragraph.

While Christians have always lived a tenuous existence in Islamic lands (and vice versa, on the longer view), their larger communities were able to outlast fourteen centuries by making accommodations with their Muslim masters. “Traditional” Islam did indeed recognize surviving Christians and Jews (though certainly not converts) as people of the book, retaining some right to life. Muslim rulers milked them for revenue, wisely refusing to let fanatics kill their cows. But with the rise of “ideological” Islamism, in succession to Arab nationalism in the twentieth century, all bets came off.

          Moments after this photo was taken, these captives were murdered by ISIS

It is worth mentioning two large facts, easily overlooked in the squalor of our age. One is that, in places like Mosul, and Raqaah in Syria, the survival even of Christian refugees has depended on Muslim neighbors hiding, feeding, transporting them. For their houses are marked, and they are stripped by the Islamists of everything they own.

Note carefully: Muslims defend them when we have abandoned them.

In praying for the persecuted Christians, one should also pray for the Muslims who risk all to shelter them – quite obviously without seeking publicity. This in turn helps one to apply a few rhetorical brakes when losing one’s temper on the analogy of, “All Germans are Nazis!” For even if the majority were at the height of Wehrmacht success, there were also what the Jews call “righteous among the gentiles.”

Let us aspire to be that when we find ourselves among the race of persecutors.

The other item worth mentioning is about Hope, in relation to Time. A day may be soon coming when there are as many Christians as Jews left in Middle Eastern countries – which is to say, a number that could be rounded to zero. And a day may follow when it is the same in this America we see around us, where Christians are already a despised minority.

Yet this does not discount the value of those Christian communities that are lost, whose homes and churches can no longer be recognized, because they have been scoured from the landscape. They did exist, in their time, as we exist, in our time. And that hard reality can never be taken away. In the eye of God, every fallen sparrow is recorded.

But this is the world, full of persecution and injustice, full of ruthless and murderous men awaiting their opportunities, until the Hell Gates are seen to open and verily they charge to get in. This has always been true in human society; of Man in his fallen condition. That is what Christians have taught, and we should hardly abandon our faith when we find that what we were preaching is true.

The Crusades, incidentally, were launched because Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land were being massacred, and access denied to our shrines. Eastern Christendom had taken its lumps, and would take more until it was entirely overrun; Western Christendom resolved to fight back, which is why it survived.

There are no “good options” visible, none I can foresee being taken to preserve Christian ways of life when they come under threat in East, or West. Today, we will only defend our sources of income.

But Christ prevailed, even when his own Apostles had abandoned Him, and were down to one man.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at:
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (13)Add Comment
written by Chris in Maryland, July 26, 2014
Thank you, as ever, Mr. Warren.

It is impossible not ignore that the Christian faith is dwindling. It may signify what Jesus projected: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

May God bless the great souls on earth who risk their lives to fight against this evil.
written by Manfred, July 26, 2014
Ishaq Levin?, Zabolon Simenov? When the U.S. "liberated" a former sub-state of Iraq called Kuwait, V.P. Cheney was asked why the U.S. forces did not go "all the way to Baghdad?" He replied: "Because it would destabilize the region." Why not tell us of Kristol, Kagan, Perle, Feith, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney, in short, the Neo-Cons who seized upon 9/11, which had nothing to do with Saddam or Iraqis, and made it their "Pearl Harbor" in order to remove a perceived threat to our Mid-East "ally". Now the U.S. was in two wars-Afghanistan and Iraq.
Well, that destabilization destroyed the only force in the area which could maintain control, i.e., Saddam and his Baathists, who, by the way, actually built Christian churches and schools!
Don't blame ISIS, blame the U.S. and its "allies". The root cause is that American Christians cannot/do not fund political campaigns to the extent that other groups do. That is why Christians are being persecuted. It is a lack of Will on the part of those who could help them.
written by ron a., July 26, 2014
Well stated Mr. Warren.

Western "leadership": (generally), the BEST that can be said about it is that most modern leaders have this insidious little habit of trying to complicate matters, rather than facing them head on and dealing with the consequences. They abdicate any higher moral authority as they shirk their responsibilities. Perhaps they are answering to a lower call. Moral courage, it would seem, is no longer fashionable.
written by Dave, July 26, 2014
Sooner or later we have to face the fact that the West, and America, is not "Christian." Western Europe is a formerly Christian place that has all but eradicated Christians from its civil polities. The United States, in its founding as a nonconfessional state, was really founded as an agnostic country that tolerated Christians because the majority of its population happened to profess one form or another of Christianity. And we certainly have been a country, with a government, more and more openly hostile to Christianity. Manfred has it right. We should all recall the Iraqi bishops, of whatever Church, pleading with the West not to invade Iraq, and Pope St. John Paul the Great and then-Cardinal Ratzinger saying everything against the war save that it was unjust: John Paul II pleaded for no war. And the US didn't care, nor did most Catholic conservatives in our country. We now reap the rewards.

So I do pray for the Muslims who are sheltering Christians, and for the Muslims who have been killed doing so. They are doing more than we. Are we demanding of our Government that it admit Christian -- and other religious-minority -- refugees from the Middle East? Are we demonstrating? Are we flooding the Congress and the White House with correspondence, or writing our local papers? Readers of TCT blame the bishops for a lot of things. Here are some steps we can take, without episcopal authorization required, and we ought to. If we don't speak out, we too become complicit in these murders.
written by Carlos, July 26, 2014

Isn't it interesting that all these interventions are resulting in Christian deaths in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, etc? Certainly God is in control of all things and He will not allow the world to be destroyed. But disciples are not better than the Master and we must bear this Cross. In the end the good guys win.
written by Joseph, July 26, 2014
Dear David
You write an awesome article about this issue. However, being originally from that area, I cannot help but clarify further truth. Yes, "not all Germans are Nazis" concept also applies to Muslims, BUT:
I'm not sure you are aware that the Muslim religion is engrained in hatred of non- Muslims. Historically what ISIS is doing is exactly what they have done since Muhammed days, namely Jizya, death or conversion; and lastly the general Koran vision of heaven is identical to ISIS's. Trust me what ISIS is doing is nothing short of living the Koran. Ask yourself why is it that you never hear condemnations or real actions from Muslim or Arab countries (or peoples) against atrocities perpetrated against Christians. One might also argue for the sake of being unbiased, that Muslims were forced to leave Christian countries in places like Spain in the 15th century. As bad as it was, the other two options did not exist, not to mention Christian Spain was returning to its roots after a brutal Muslim invasion that lasted centuries which is quite a different story. If one debates the Crusades, one can say it was in protection of pilgrims that were being killed then. I'm not justifying Christian merits but merely pointing out differences. Of course there are those like British Author Roger Boase who wish to rewrite European history in a way that suits his liberal, if not pro-Islamic, ideals and try to liken Muslim to Christian atrocities under opposite rules. Yet the facts tell us that Muslim history shows its hostility and expansionism towards other countries and religions since it's inception. There is also the fact that both European and Amercan culture is now so veered off religion and spirituality in general that its continued existence is dangerously threatened with extinction and being overrun by Immigrant Muslims to the extent that Muslim history's ugly part will undoubtedly be re-written while "what remains" of the Christian West is asleep at the wheel and indifferent.
written by Seanachie, July 26, 2014
As you observe, David, "Western Christendom resolved to fight back, which is why it survived." Perhaps that strategy is the way forward today. Remarkable that little is reported in U.S. media about Christian persecution, often Catholic focused, in the Middle East, India, Asia, and Africa. Wonder why?
written by Paul V, July 26, 2014
There are just two kinds of people -- "wheat and tares". Wheat and tares are among all nations, ethnic and religious groups even those calling themselves Christians.
written by Myshkin, July 26, 2014
Thanks, David for publicizing this genocide which implicates all Western governments as guilty of anti-Christian intentions. But it makes it all the more important to DO something about!

These comments all bang the wudda-shudda-cudda gong. A hand-wringing session.

Here's something each of us can do: look up the CNEWA (Catholic Near East Welfare Association) web site, click on the "Ways to Give" link and give something. Hand-wringing gets you nowhere, but alms-giving has a rich spiritual reward.
written by schm0e, July 27, 2014
The subject, and especially that picture, make me wary making any comment, but there are a couple to be made:

1. If Obama wasn't raising so much money for his political persuasion on his bi-monthly trips to New York City, "our Western leaders" might have abandoned Israel entirely, instead of merely de facto.

2. Are Christians "in this America which we see around us" really a "despised minority?" I think not. Is it so just because the media says it is so? I think not.
written by schm0e, July 27, 2014
Please indulge me another.

Comments here have brought back memories of my response to the use of the term "moderate Muslims" back in the day when it was used.

Speaking from my limited sphere of experience (NYC), it seemed to me that the Muslims I know who might qualify the honor of being called "moderate" were what I would call "cultural Christains". These good neighbors seemed to live by the Golden Rule, which there is still not a small remnant of in American air. This is to say that their good neighborliness seemed to me to be standard American good neighborliness. I have fond memories of the coffee vendor on the corner INSISTING I take extra donuts and baked goods from him when he learned that I was unemployed.

For further American perspective on this issue, I will wholeheartedly recommend a book entitled "God in the Pits", by my friend Mark Ritchie. Mark is a commodities titan whose parents were missionaries in Afghanistan when Russia occupied it. The book does indeed have anecdotes about Mark's career, but it's many thoughtful reflections on his parents' are illuminating. There was apparently some Good American neighborliness among the Muslim peasants in Afghanistan back in the day.

It's always the simple people who wind up bearing the brunt of all the demagoguery. Nobody bothers to understand them. The media overlooks them.

For speaking up for them in this piece, I am grateful.
written by schm0e, July 27, 2014
Paul V: whachoo say.
written by Howard, July 28, 2014
"... our choice of friends comes down to Sunni terrorists on one side and, on the other, two regimes (Assad’s in Syria and Maliki’s in Iraq), which have become clients of Iran." That appears to be mainly an American hangup. For most Americans, there was no Persian history before 1979, and there has been no Iranian history since then. We jumped into bed with the Germans and Japanese soon enough after WW2, but the Iranian hostage crisis is apparently just too much to overlook. We have kept Iran an extremist country.

There also appears to be no dilemma among Syrian Christians, or among the Orthodox anywhere, regarding whether Assad or ANY of the Syrian rebels should be supported. Although we have no business getting involved on either side, Assad is clearly the better option for Syrian Christians.

In this case, it is likely the reflexive support for the Israelis in everything they do that creates the "dilemma" for the US. The Israelis cannot be in love with ISIS, either, but they can count on ISIS destroying Syria rather than making Syria stronger.

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