“We, Christians of Mesopotamia, are used to religious persecution and pressures by those in power. After Constantine [d. 337 A.D.], persecution ended only for Western Christians, whereas in the East threats continued. Even today we continue to be a Church of martyrs.”
– Most Reverend Paulos Faraj Rahho, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul: interviewed in Rome, November 26, 2007; kidnapped and murdered in Mosul, February 29, 2008
A church of martyrs on the cusp of annihilation. That’s the grim reality that Iraq’s beleaguered and vanishing Christian community faces. And it’s no secret, especially after two pillars of establishment journalism — the New York Times and CBS’s 60 Minutes — produced truly shocking accounts of savage persecution right before the Fourth of July.
The June 26 Timespiece is one of the most thorough treatments yet of the ubiquitous practice of “protection money” (jizya) being extorted from Iraq’s surviving Christians on pain of death, exile, or forced conversion to Islam. And the June 29 60 Minutessegment recounts in chilling detail how “Iraqi Christians are being hunted, murdered, and forced to flee — persecuted on a biblical scale.”
“All Iraqi Christians paid [the jizya],” says Yonadam Kanna, one of just two Christians serving in Iraq’s 275-member parliament. In fact, Archbishop Rahho was murdered precisely for halting such payments on behalf of his flock, mistakenly believing in good faith that the overall success of the U.S. military surge had eliminated the need.
What neither report makes sufficiently clear, however, is that all these evils are being committed in the name of Islam, under the pretext of enforcing Islamic law on behalf of the Muslim community or umma.
To be sure, the perpetrators are generally private individuals — Sunni or Shiite extremists or common gangsters — acting, under color of religious law but without proper religious authority, for wholly illicit purposes (including private revenge and criminal gain). But the Islamic basis for ongoing persecution is undeniable. The incidents invariably follow precisely the same pattern, with precisely the same threats (see, for instance, here and here) and citations to precisely the same Koranic verse:
Fight those who do not believe in the Last Day and do not forbid what God and his Messenger have forbidden — such men as practice not the religion of truth, being those who have been given the Book [i.e., Christians and Jews] until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled (9:29).
If this text and related traditions are being misinterpreted and misapplied, then it is above all the ulema’s, or clergy’s, duty to make that authoritative theological judgment unmistakably clear. These crimes openly usurp the clergy’s authority, as the “Islamic men of learning” are traditionally given the exclusive prerogative to interpret and apply Islamic law, but the ulema have failed to denounce or halt these abuses effectively. This compares unfavorably with the clergy’s direct — and highly effective — ongoing intervention in all aspects of Iraq’s political life, from shaping the 2005 constitution to organizing, supporting, and even directing sectarian political parties.