Friday, November 12, 2010

Iraq's disappearing Christians are Bush and Blair's legacy

William Dalrymple guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 November 2010 21.30 GMT
Before Bush senior took on Saddam for the first time in 1991, there were more than a million Christians in Iraq. They made up just under 10% of the population, and were a prosperous and prominent minority, something exemplified by the high profile of Tariq Aziz, Saddam's Christian foreign minister. Educated and middle class, the Christians were concentrated in Mosul, Basra and especially Baghdad, which then had the largest Christian population of any city in the Middle East.

Of the 800,000 Christians still in Iraq when Dubya unleashed the US army on Saddam for the second time, two thirds have fled the country.

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This haemorrhage accelerated after the ill-judged post-9/11 Anglo-American adventures in the Islamic world, and particularly after Bush used the word crusade, which in the eyes of many Muslims implicated the Arab Christians in a wider crusader assault on the Muslim world. So it was that two invasions that were intended to suppress terrorism actually had the reverse effect, radicalising the entire region.

According to the historian Professor Kamal Salibi, of the American University of Beirut, the Christians have simply had enough: "There is a feeling of fin de race among Christians all over the Middle East," he told me. "It's a feeling that 14 centuries of having all the time to be smart, to be ahead of the others, is long enough. The Arab Christians tend to be well qualified, highly educated. Now they just want to go somewhere else."

Certainly, for the first time, that now looks like being a possibility in
Iraq: last week
Michael Youash, of the Iraq
Sustainable Democracy Project,
warned that in the near future "perhaps we'll find no Christians in Iraq". Given the overt Christian faith of the two architects of the invasion, Bush and Tony Blair, there is a tragic irony in the fact that their most lasting contribution to the region may well be to have created the environment that led to the destruction of Christianity in one of its ancient heartlands – something Arab, Mongol and Ottoman conquests all failed to pull off.

While Mr. Dalrymple considers it to be a tragic irony, Jeremiah the hebrew prophet simply considered the abandonment of that ancient heartland to be a getting out of the way of his people so that the judgment pronounced upon it could come to pass.

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