In a recent speech in London, the Rt Rev Bashar Warda pleaded with Western civil and religious leaders not to remain passive about the circumstances of Christians in Iraq. Warda, who is the Archbishop of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, says that Iraqi Christians are facing extinction.
“Argue as you will, but extinction is coming, and what then will anyone say?” asked Warda. “That we were made extinct by natural disaster, or gentle migration? That the ISIS attacks were unexpected, and we were taken by surprise?…Or will the truth emerge after our disappearance: that we were persistently and steadily eliminated over the course of 1,400 years by a belief system which allowed for regular and recurring cycles of violence against us.”
‘No Abstract Matter’
Speaking at a discussion organized by the think tank Civitas, Warda described Christianity in Iraq as “one of the oldest churches, if not the oldest church in the world” and said that it was “perilously close to extinction.” Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were around 1.5 million Christians in the country. Now, said Warda, there are perhaps fewer than 250,000. While the most immediate reason for this is attacks from ISIS (known in Arabic as Daesh), Warda maintains that ISIS is merely the latest perpetrator of the violence that has been ongoing against Iraqi Christians for the past 1,400 years.
Warda called on Western leaders to recognize what extremist Islamic groups are doing to Christians and other minorities in the Middle East, emphasizing the need for honesty: “Understanding what has happened in Iraq means being truthful about the nature and purpose of Christian civil order. It means being truthful about the nature and purpose of the laws of Islam. It means being truthful about what happens when these two come together in one place.”
While this is an uncomfortable topic for people living in a peaceful country, Warda said, “for Iraqi Christians this is no abstract matter.”
Differing Views of Humanity
One of Warda’s key points was that Christianity promotes a system that inherently views all people, whatever their background or beliefs, as equal. But inequality is an inherent characteristic of Islam, he said, whether or not it is promoting violence at a specific time. Warda observed that during the “Golden Age” of Iraq, Christians and Muslims lived in peace with one another and experienced a period of cultural flourishing. However, he argued, peace only existed because the Islamic rulers at the time decided to tolerate minorities: “Fundamentally, in the eyes of Islam, Christians are not equal…we are only to be tolerated or not tolerated, depending upon the intensity of the prevailing Jihadi spirit.”
Warda warned that ISIS’s demise has not meant the demise of inequality. “The defeat of Daesh has not seen the defeat of the idea of the re-establishment of the Caliphate,” he said. “This has re-awoken and is now firmly implanted in minds throughout the Muslim world. And with this idea of the Caliphate there comes all the formal historical structures of intentional inequality and discrimination against non-Muslims.” And inequality, Warda maintained, inevitably leads to violence.
Not a Rhetorical Question
With this being the reality, Warda challenged, “How will you in the West react to this? My question to you is not rhetorical. The religious minorities of the Middle East want to know the answer. Will you continue to condone this never-ending, organised persecution against us? When the next wave of violence begins to hit us, will anyone on your campuses hold demonstrations and carry signs that say, ‘We are all Christians’?”
Warda then issued a specific call to action. First, he repeated the need for Western leaders to be truthful and not to see the situation “in stretched attempts at historical relativism, which diminishes, or more honestly, insults, the reality of our suffering.”
Next, he urged political leaders to promote equal treatment for all minorities in the Middle East. He asked that leaders would have the humility to recognize the damage their policies have done up to this point. These policies, he said, “have been almost universally wrong, based on fundamentally flawed assessments of the Iraqi people and situation” and have resulted in the deaths of “hundreds of thousands of innocent people.”
Lastly, Warda asked for material support, but for that support to be strategic. He said that while the British government has given generous amounts of tax money to the UN and third-party NGOs on behalf of Iraq, he believes that money has been largely ineffective: “To date, not one single penny of it, and not one single penny from the EU or the USA or any other major donor, has been offered to the schools, university or hospital of my arch-diocese. I cannot say where it goes, but most assuredly it is not seen in any of the projects that have the greatest chance of bringing diverse Iraqi groups together in peace.”
Warda closed his speech with these words imploring honesty and action: “We Christians are a people of Hope. But facing the end also brings us clarity, and with it the courage to finally speak the truth. Our hope to remain in our ancient homeland now rests on the ability of ourselves, our oppressors, and the world to acknowledge these truths… Please join us: name the truths and call-out the pretences.”