The Flight from Iraq

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There is little reporting generally on Iraq, now that allied troops have been withdrawn, and our choice of friends comes down to Sunni terrorists on one side and, on the other, two regimes (Assad’s in Syria and Maliki’s in Iraq), which have become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 in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: