Chaldean Patriarch Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako of Baghdad addressed the issues of peace and unity faced by Iraqis in an analysis sent to the organization Fides this week. The Patriarch addressed the misconceptions amongst the majority-Muslim population about Iraqi Christians. Although Christians have been present in the lands of Iraq – in the days of Jesus, Mesopotamia – long before Islam was established, their dwindling numbers have made their religion and culture into a minority in the region. But, Cardinal Sako made it clear, Christians in Iraq do not deserve to be referred to as “minorities,” which is a term that has been used to justify extreme hurt and sectarian violence against their communities.
They, with their dedication and creativity, have contributed in a decisive way to the original civilization that developed in the region, and the definition that labels them as “infidels” and “polytheists” is an offense to humanity. Most Christians believe in the Holy Trinity; Father, Son, Holy Spirit, as three in one. The nature of these three distinct “persons,” of the one, Abrahamic God, is a core tenet of the faith, and a mystery that Orthodox, Catholic, and the majority of Protestant tradition dictates cannot be fully understood by the human mind within a finite lifetime.
The mysterious and transcending nature of these beliefs often lends to the misconception that Christians are polytheists, especially amongst Muslims. This could not be further from the truth. Christianity is strictly monotheistic. However, this misconception has led to extreme sectarian violence, and is enforced at the social and political level, even present in the educational materials used in schools across Iraq. Christians are commonly called heretics and infidels in Iraq for their differing beliefs.
Cardinal Sako points out this in his extensive analysis focused on the problems and opportunities that characterize the daily life of Iraqi Christian communities. The broad analysis was offered by the Patriarch as a contribution to start a discussion with exponents and representatives of other local ecclesial groups, in view of a possible conference dedicated to the emergencies that tire the life of Christian communities in the Middle East and jeopardize their millennial presence in that region of the world.
In this piece, the Patriarch reiterated, “since the fall of the previous regime, in April 2003, a normal political life has not yet seen the light in Iraq, given the continuous failures of governments in achieving what the people need.” The Primate of the Chaldean Church also criticized the fact that Iraq’s constitution cites only Islam as the source of the nation’s governance. According to Sako, this has led to Christian communities and other faith communities to be treated as “second-class citizens.” He goes on to say: “The mentality that aims to impose a religion on consciences does not favor respect, coexistence and tolerance”.
The Patriarch acknowledges that in past times even Christianity paid its pledge to this mentality, adding that now any speech that instigates discrimination, exclusion and hatred among citizens for reasons related to religious sectarianism “should be legally condemned.”
In this regard, the Patriarch also criticizes the conception that identifies the various faith communities as separate ‘components’ of Iraqi society, a conception that “nourishes tribal and sectarian identities, and does not help to establish a modern nation state” founded on the principles of citizenship and equal rights.
“Christians” insists Patriarch Sako “are indigenous Iraqis and are not a community from another country. They are people of this land, so it is not acceptable [for society] to label them as a ‘minority.’”
Radical criticisms are reserved by the Patriarch to the so-called ‘Christian parties’, the small Iraqi political acronyms created by individual Christians and groups of the baptized who aspire to present themselves as political projections of local Christian communities. “These parties” writes Cardinal Sako “serve only to foment regional nationalisms. Consequently, they failed in the center and the region to play their real role in achieving cohesion between Christian “groups” in finding a unified name and investing their presence as one team for the benefit of Iraq and Christians in general.”
Interreligious unity within Iraq seems a distant dream, but one that we hope for ardently. The refugee crisis in the Middle East is still a focal point of the work of American FRRME. With clashes between radical islamic groups, layers upon layers of political turmoil, religious difference, and a hatred of anyone deemed “other;” hundreds of thousands of innocents in the Nineveh Plain have been displaced over the last decade. The majority of those who were killed, uprooted, or displaced were Christians, but many were also Yazidi and Shabak.
Regional clashes between different militias, minority groups, and facets of the Iraqi government have also recently displaced over 1,000 Yazidi families on the Nineveh Plain. In a region rife with political turmoil, the Christians, Yazidis, and Shabak of the Nineveh Plain need our help now more than ever before. The refugees who have fled their homelands in search of peaceful and stable futures, from 2014 onward, need programs to help their bodies, minds, and spirits recover from the intense trauma they have experienced.
In the wake of the growing refugee crisis around the world, more programs are needed like the ones administered by American FRRME. Unfortunately, refugees are among the world’s most underserved populations.
Life is not easy for Iraqi refugees. As adversity grows, programs are needed to protect the most vulnerable of these refugees. American FRRME is committed to long term self-sustaining programs and opportunities to help empower refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Donations to American FRRME go to programs that will aid in the survival of families facing violence across the Middle East.