Monday, November 10, 2014

Armed Conflicts in Syria and Iraq Threaten Christian Communities with Extinction

Photo credit to Massalim (from Wikipedia)
Civil wars and rebellions in Syria and Iraq have triggered the Diaspora of Christians to other lands where they can make their family safe from harm. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Arab Spring which toppled down well entrenched authoritarian leaders and the rise of the ISIS in Syria and Iraq have had a negative impact on the lives of Christians and other minorities such as the Yazidis.

Peoples in the west have negative views on autocratic leaders such as the late Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Khadafy of Libya and the deposed and imprisoned Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Although those leaders were considered as dictatorial and corrupt, they were able to effectively control troublesome and problematic groups such as the Islamist extremists and the separatist minorities. On the positive side, the strong authoritarian regimes had made Christians live peacefully with their Muslim neighbors. The deposition of Hussein only resulted to a replacement by a weak leader who could not deal with rival factions in Iraq. In the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president. However, the military view Morsi and his organization as extremist, and the military led by General  Abdel Fattah el Sisi deposed him in a coup d’ etat in 2013. If Morsi had stayed long in office, the Christians could have been a target of persecutions in Egypt and could result in their leaving the country. It is noteworthy that in Morsi’s short stay in office there were clashes between opposition groups and his supporters, and there were mass protests by the people in the streets.  With Morsi gone, Egypt now has enjoyed a relative peace compared to other countries that are also affected by the Arab Spring such as Syria and Iraq.

 Although the west depicted Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as a brutal dictator, minorities such as Christians have not suffered persecutions under his leadership. Armed oppositions of his regime such as the Nusra Front and the ISIS are groups with extreme religious views and are considered terrorist organizations by the west. Replacement of the present Syrian leadership with any of these groups may not bode well for the minority Christians living in Syria.  

The crisis in Syria and Iraq has brought forth the emergence of groups that have extreme religious view such as the al Nusra and the ISIS. The ISIS has captured swath of lands from those countries for its caliphate. Wherever it goes it commits unimaginable atrocities to fellow Muslims, Christians and other minorities such as the Yazidis. Its onslaught seemed to be unstoppable at the start, but lately its image of invincibility has started to crumble with the gradual recapture of ISIS-held lands by the Iraqi, Kurdish and the coalition forces.

ISIS has a signature style of casting terror into the minds of its victims to make them submit to its will. Its acts include forcibly converting Christians and other groups including even the Shias to its extreme interpretation of Islam. Christians are given the option to pay the jisya tax if they will not change their religion otherwise they will leave the area or be killed. People who cross ISIS’ path will be killed, their properties seized and their female relatives raped or turned into sex slave. Under this condition Christians and even Muslim evacuate to other areas for their own safety.

It remains to be seen if the ISIS could successfully and effectively run its caliphate. Its seized oil wells and refineries are bombed by US and coalition planes to cripple down its ability to fund its operations. However, some analysts say that ISIS is not easy to defeat. And they are not certain when the conflict ends. But until then Syria and Iraq will be depopulated gradually of its Christian minority. Christians will emigrate to the neighboring countries and to far away western countries including USA, Canada and Australia. And probably those who do will not come back. The armed conflicts have paved the way for an eventual disappearance of Christianity from the land of its birth. It is ironic that as the Christian faith steadily spreads in many countries making it as the largest religion of the world as ever, it is slowly disappearing in the land where it has a 2,000 year-old rich biblical and historical legacies.