The Christian community in Iraq has survived conquests by Arabs, Huns, and Turks over the two millennia since the birth of Christianity. However, the latest danger to Iraq’s Christians, who include Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Catholics, poses the largest threat that this community has faced yet. In post-Saddam Iraq, a lethal combination of a Western “other” Christian identity, Islamic extremism, and a depressed economy has taken an enormous toll on Christians in Iraq. Their communities all over the country have been devastated by violence against men, women, children, and community symbols like priests, bishops, and churches. Because they only numbered about 1.5 million before the fall of Saddam Hussein, these attempts to terrorize and scare away Christians threaten the very existence of Christianity in Iraq.
In response to violence inside Iraq, many Christians have fled the country or become internally displaced, fleeing to traditionally Christian areas in Northern Iraq. Though their situations outside Iraq as registered or unregistered refugees may be difficult, those who are a part of the Christian Iraqi diaspora are hesitant to return to their homeland due to the systematic violence and discrimination they have faced and may face again. Can international action or internal, government programs do anything to save Christianity in Iraq?
To answer this question, I will address a number of issues. First, I will explore the underlying causes of the historical violence against Christians, taking a deeper look at the construction of the Christian identity as the Western “other.” Second, I will consider the current situation facing Iraqi Christian refugees and internally displaced peoples. Finally, I will propose remedies that seek to encourage Christian Iraqis to either remain in or return to Iraq. These remedies include 1) deconstructing Christians’ “other” identity through constitutional changes and civil society initiatives, 2) creating a semi-autonomous “safe haven” for Christians inside Iraq, and 3) encouraging international economic assistance to revive devastated Christian communities. Though my suggestions are to promote a continuing Christian presence in Iraq, they are by no means a definitive solution. There is still time to save Christianity in Iraq, but it remains uncertain whether the community will ever fully recover from the devastation of the last ten years.
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