by Glen Chancy by Glen Chancy
As we approach the 2004 Presidential elections, many Christian conservatives are lamenting various aspects of the current president's policies. The list of gripes is long and familiar to anyone active in conservative politics: out of control spending, the PATRIOT Act, No Child Left Behind, lax border security, and on it goes. In fact, a meeting of die-hard Republicans, held behind closed doors, is likely to devolve into a Bush-basing session the like of which Democrats could only dream. Give that there are alternatives to voting for either George Bush or John Kerry, one would expect that disgusted religious conservatives would look elsewhere for a candidate to support. After all, there is even an explicitly Christian party for which to cast a ballot.
Yet, despite their manifest anger towards him, most Christian conservatives will turn out in force to support President Bush on November 2nd. They will do so for a mixture of reasons, but above all what keeps so many Christian conservatives on the Republican reservation is the u2018War on Terror.' There is a belief, widespread among Christian conservatives, that the u2018War on Terror' is really a u2018Clash of Civilizations.' Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, although himself a conservative Jew, summed up the views of many Christian conservatives quite succintly in one of his articles posted on the Internet. He wrote, "It is time that I said in print what I have long felt in my heart: I not only support President Bush, I revere him. At a time when so many other world leaders want to paint Sept. 11 as a terror attack, President Bush saw it for what it was: a clash of civilizations, a war to the death between two systems – one open, democratic and respectful of human life, the other oppressive, tyrannical and deeply contemptible of human life."
The u2018War on Terror' then is not just about keeping the borders of the United States secure. It is not simply about preventing future terrorist attacks. Rather, the u2018War on Terror' is the ultimate showdown of Christianity (and Judaism) versus Islam. It is a fight to the finish, and George W. Bush is our Richard the Lionhearted, leading the armies of the Cross, allied with those of the Star of David, to glorious victory.
In this apocalyptic setting, the vast majority of Christian conservatives are backing President George Bush because they sincerely believe that, "Something must be done about the Muslim threat!" To these religious conservatives, George Bush is willing to go on the offensive and strike back in the name of God and country. They fear that John Kerry will surrender to the Muslims, and allow Western Civilization to be overrun a la Constantinople in 1453.
"Forget all of Bush's flaws," Christian conservatives bellow, "At least he's willing to fight!"
So, is our glorious president leading the Christian World in a great struggle against the Muslim hordes? If he were, then a reasonable outcome of this u2018Clash' would be that the position of Christian (and Jewish) populations worldwide would be in the process of becoming more secure.
This is, alas, absolutely not happening. In fact, the current policies of the Bush administration are threatening to absolutely devastate ancient and pious Christian communities whose blood will be on all our heads. To deal with the subject honestly, it must be acknowledged that it almost appears as if President George Walker Bush were waging a global war against Christians.
There are a tremendous number of facts that could be marshaled to support such a counterintuitive statement, and at least some will be surveyed in this article. However, the primary thrust of this article will be to analyze the policies of the Bush Administration that have placed us on the road to destroying one of the oldest Christian communities in the entire world – the Assyrians of Iraq.
Iraq – Before the Liberation
To understand the situation in Iraq today, in proper context, let's first review some basic facts about Iraq as it was under Saddam Hussein's regime.
Saddam Hussein was a bad Muslim, and everybody knew it. A secular dictator, he ruthlessly suppressed radical religious sentiment, and tried to build a modern state. Saddam was bitterly hated and reviled by Muslim radicals as diverse as Osama Bin Laden and the Shi'ite Ayatollahs of Iran. In a tape released by Osama bin Laden in February 2003, Saddam Hussein is referred to as an ‘ignorant infidel.' The Iranian clerics hated Saddam so much that they repeatedly spurned peace initiatives to end the Iran-Iraq War, in the hopes continued fighting could topple his government. They intended to replace it with a Shi'ite dominated state modeled after their own. Eventually, they got smart enough to hire Ahmed Chalabi to convince the U.S. to topple Saddam for them.
Saddam had inherited the Ba'ath Party ideology of secular pan-Arab socialism, and hewed to many of its tenets throughout his brutal rule. Iraqi women enjoyed more rights than women in the surrounding Arab countries. Women could hold jobs and attend higher education, all with uncovered faces. In fact, women comprised 20% of the professional workforce.
Under Saddam, alcohol merchants plied their wares freely in their shops. The lack of enforcement of the Sharia made Iraq the party spot of the region. David Younan Oro, a 70-year-old patriarch of a Christian family in Ramadi, ran casinos and nightclubs during the heyday of Saddam's regime. He described the glory days like this, “They drink like donkeys here. Business was good. I had a lot of restaurants and shops.” If you stayed out of politics, life and business were good.
Among the primary tenets of Ba'athist ideology was a dedication to religious tolerance. This is not surprising, since the intellectual father of Ba'athism was Michel Aflaq, himself an Orthodox Christian. In keeping with Ba'athist ideology, Saddam did not interfere with the rights of the Assyrian Christians in Iraq to practice their faith. Comprising somewhere between one and two million Iraqis, the Aramaic-speaking Assyrians are the original inhabitants of the modern-day state of Iraq.
The Assyrians did suffer repression under Saddam Hussein, who suppressed their ethnic and linguistic distinctiveness while trying to meld the hodgepodge of peoples in Iraq into a unified state. At no time, however, were the Assyrians ever denied the free practice of their religion, nor did they fear for their lives simply because of their faith.
One measure of the relative religious freedom of the Assyrians under Saddam was the exuberant and public celebration of Christmas. As one writer described it, "Christmas decorations, including nativity scenes, were seen in shops, restaurants and hotels. And Saddam reportedly sometimes attended services at Christian churches in Baghdad and even delivered an annual Christmas address."
As for the United States, Saddam seems to have pined for better relations. He had been a de-facto ally of the U.S. during his war against Iran, and appears to have wanted to recapture that status. According to the Duelfer Report, compiled by the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), beginning already in 1991, “very senior Iraqis close to the president made proposals through intermediaries for dialogue with Washington,” even offering to be Washington’s “best friend in the region bar none.”
Apparently, Saddam never did understand why he couldn't just work a deal with the U.S. In his beffuddlement, Saddam is not alone. Many other observers of the region still can't grasp why this secular dictator made it to the top of the U.S. hitlist in a war supposedly directed at Muslim extermists.
Iraq – After the Liberation
To say the least, since being liberated from Saddam, things have gone badly for a great many Iraqis. However, the time has been especially harsh for the Assyrian Christians. Large areas of Iraq are now under the control of Muslim religious leaders whose militias have been enforcing Muslim law. Based on locally issued fatwas, these armed fanatics have killed Christians for engaging in prohibited businesses such as selling alcohol or other formerly legal products. Many Christian business men have seen their shops, restaurants, and other business either forcibly closed or confiscated.
David Younan Oro's casino, the flagship of his family business, was taken over by armed men who converted it to a Mosque. “We had a very good situation until the fundamentalists began to appear and we were affected,” said Roger William, Oro's son-in-law. “Because America and Britain are Christian countries, they blame us for the war. We are terrified. We really don’t know what the future will hold.”
Even Christian homes and private land are being appropriated. The Kurds, America's erstwhile allies, are among the worst offenders. Writing about the situation in Dara, his home village, an Assyrian Christian living in London reported that, "The Kurdish people are building homes on our village's land, without our permission. It is sad to say, our own neighbors are stealing it from us."
Christians have reported rapes, kidnappings, and assaults. The situation is so bad, that Christian children have been gunned down in their own homes. This little girl, Raphid was gunned down in her home along with her sister in July. She was only six years old. Her sister, Raad, was only sixteen. They belonged to a well-known Assyrian Christian family that had been threatened. While the family was out, terrorists entered and shot the two children at point blank range.
These two little girls died simply because they were Christians in a country increasingly slipping into Muslim rule.
Armed groups of men have stopped cars on the street and harangued women whose heads are uncovered, accusing them of violating Islamic law. Even Christians have started wearing headscarves out of fear, something that never happened under Saddam Hussein's regime.
As Christians have retreated into the shadows, the compromise Transitional Administrative Law in force in Iraq today has actually gone far towards officially establishing Islamic rule in what was once a secular country. Article 7 states, in part, that “Islam is the official religion of the State and is to be considered a source of legislation. No law that contradicts the universally agreed tenets of Islam, the principles of democracy, or the rights cited in Chapter Two of this Law may be enacted during the transitional period.” It further complicates the problem for Christians in Iraq that they are under represented in the interim government when compared with their percentage of the population. It is almost as if the U.S. intentionally excluded them in the lead up to the u2018handover' of power.
Nor do the promised elections in January appear likely to improve the situation. According to a recent poll released by the International Republican Institute (an organization allied with the U.S. Republican Party), the highest level of support among Iraqis for any politician belongs to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The name of his organization probably speaks for itself.
It is bitterly ironic that far from bringing Western secularism, the U.S.-invasion has instead opened the door for an Islamic Republic. Out of fear, an estimated 40,000 to 45,000 Assyrians have already fled Iraq. Most have found shelter in Syria next door, a nation that the U.S. may be targeting next in its drive to spread u2018freedom' in the Middle East. Had President George W. Bush set out with the intentional goal of destroying the Christian population in Iraq, it is hard to see how he could have been more effective than he has been to date.
More Fronts in the War
President Bush has continued the NATO occupation of Kosovo. Since the end of the war against Serbia, Kosovo has been the scene of anti-Christian ethnic cleansing on a massive scale. More than 120 churches have been destroyed, some dating to the 14th century. 240,000 Christian Serbs have fled the province. Periodic anti-Christian pogroms such as the one that erupted from March 17th – March 18th kill dozens, wound hundreds, and cause more Serbian Christians to flee for their lives. While the U.N. administers the province, NATO troops, some 60,000, are the actual force on the ground. This means that, ultimately, the Bush Administration bears the responsibility for failing to protect the Christians in Kosovo from Muslim fanatics.
Elsewhere in the Balkans, the Bush Administration has continued the status quo in Bosnia, which allows Muslim terrorists to use it as a safe-haven for recruiting and training. According to European intelligence sources, Bosnia has become a “one-stop shop” for Islamic militants heading from terrorist battlegrounds in Chechnya and Afghanistan to Iraq. In addition, the U.S. under Bush has continued to try and dismember the nation of Macedonia by forcing it to make ever larger concessions to its Muslim Albanian minority.
The Bush Administration has made Turkish entry into the European Union a number one priority on its international agenda. Despite Turkey's horrendous record of mass murder and abuse of its Christian minorities, President Bush has been intervening personally to try and convince skeptical Europeans that, “Including Turkey in the EU would prove that Europe is not the exclusive club of a single religion, and it would expose the ‘clash of civilizations’ as a passing myth of history.” President Bush's single-minded determination to see Turkey in the EU even drove him to try and force a bad settlement of the Cyprus queston on unwilling Greek Cypriots, who ultimately rejected it.
Ironically, even as his Christian supporters in the U.S. bemoan the increasing Islamization of Europe, President Bush is doing everything he can to make sure that 70 million more Turkish Muslims will have the opportunity to settle there. While the possibility that this massive migration could destroy the very heart of Christendom seems to be lost on President Bush, certain European leaders have become quite alarmed. Addressing the issue of Turkey joining the EU, former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing said, “In my opinion, it would be the end of Europe.”
Both d'Estaing and Jacques Chirac, current president of France and a favorite target of American Christian conservatives, have positively emerged as defenders of the faith as they fight against Turkish accession to the EU. If only President Bush had as much dedication to Europe's Christian heritage as the heroic French.
In Chechnya, a region much in the news since the Beslan massacres, the U.S. has inserted itself on the side of the Muslims opposed to Russian rule. Foremost among the American agitators against Russia is The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, a front group of Bush-connected neoconservatives such as Richard Perle, James Woolsey, Michael Ledeen and Kenneth Adelman. The ACPC wants Putin to negotiate with the Chechens rebels, and favors a NATO presence in Chechnya along the lines of the NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosovo. President Putin seems to be relatively uninterested in listening to their ideas. If only the American president were half as wise.
Whatever President Bush and his coterie are doing globally, one thing is abundantly clear. They are not fighting a global war on any kind of Islam, radical or otherwise. On the other hand, they are making tremendous progress towards crippling or completely destroying large segments of the world's Christian population. And in this slaughter, the American people have become his accomplices.
Despite all of the negative impacts of his foreign policy on Christians globally, the Christian conservatives in America have been deafeningly silent. Two reasons account for this. First is their overwhelming pre-occupation with Israel. The State of Israel and its security were mentioned by both presidential candidates in their debates. The need to protect Israel is the subject of daily articles in conservative publications, both online and dead tree. Pat Robertson even threatened to form a third party, if the Republicans ever waiver in their full-throated support of the State of Israel. Such concern for the plight of Christians abroad is non-existent.
Perhaps if the Assyrians and others renounced Christ and embraced the Talmud, American Christians would care what happens to them?
The second reason is the fear that criticizing Bush will hurt his chances of re-election. For this reason, many Christians have kept their silence, all the while knowing the truth of what is happening. This is not a Christian attitude. Christ stood for the truth at all times, not only when it was expedient. Standing silent in the face of suffering, simply to prevent inconvenience to a favored politician, is not following the way of Christ.
It is time for Christian conservatives to end the silence. We must speak out, and we must let the President, whether it be Bush or Kerry, know that a continuation of these disastrous policies will absolutely not be tolerated.