Pride on Saving Christianity in Iraq

Jonathan Pride (Student, Harvard Law) has posted Saving an Ancient Community: Christianity in Iraq. The abstract follows.

The Christian community in Iraq has survived conquests by Arabs, Huns, and Turks over the two millennia since the birth of Christianity. However, the latest danger to Iraq’s Christians, who include Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Catholics, poses the largest threat that this community has faced yet. In post-Saddam Iraq, a lethal combination of a Western “other” Christian identity, Islamic extremism, and a depressed economy has taken an enormous toll on Christians in Iraq. Their communities all over the country have been devastated by violence against men, women, children, and community symbols like priests, bishops, and churches. Because they only numbered about 1.5 million before the fall of Saddam Hussein, these attempts to terrorize and scare away Christians threaten the very existence of Christianity in Iraq.

In response to violence inside Iraq, many Christians have fled the country or become internally displaced, fleeing to traditionally Christian areas in Northern Iraq. Though their situations outside Iraq as registered or unregistered refugees may be difficult, those who are a part of the Christian Iraqi diaspora are hesitant to return to their homeland due to the systematic violence and discrimination they have faced and may face again. Can international action or internal, government programs do anything to save Christianity in Iraq?

To answer this question, I will address a number of issues. First, I will explore the underlying causes of the historical violence against Christians, taking a deeper look at the construction of the Christian identity as the Western “other.” Second, I will consider the current situation facing Iraqi Christian refugees and internally displaced peoples. Finally, I will propose remedies that seek to encourage Christian Iraqis to either remain in or return to Iraq. These remedies include 1) deconstructing Christians’ “other” identity through constitutional changes and civil society initiatives, 2) creating a semi-autonomous “safe haven” for Christians inside Iraq, and 3) encouraging international economic assistance to revive devastated Christian communities. Though my suggestions are to promote a continuing Christian presence in Iraq, they are by no means a definitive solution. There is still time to save Christianity in Iraq, but it remains uncertain whether the community will ever fully recover from the devastation of the last ten years.

Babie & Rochow, “Freedom of Religion under Bills of Rights”

Earlier this year, University of Adelaide Press published Freedom of Religion under Bills of Rights (UAP Jan. 2012) edited by Paul Babie (U. of Adelaide)  and Neville Rochow. The description follows.

How can a nation protect fundamental rights and freedoms, including religious freedom, within a liberal democratic context? The objective of the essays presented in this volume, taken as a whole, is to provide an overview of the principal models used to protect fundamental freedoms, and especially the right to freedom of belief, expression and practice of one’s religion, in major liberal democratic systems. While there is no effort made to be comprehensive about this, the book is clearly not simply about Australia — the chapters cover the range of methods typically used to protectsuch freedoms. This represents the significance of the volume: it prioritises no one approach. Rather, a range of viewpoints are presented in a comparative way in order to obtain insights, reveal strengths, weaknesses and differences of opinion, and to learn from the lessons of others, how religion might be and has been protected.

Philip Jenkins on Why He Won’t Be Donating for Pussy Riot

Over at Real Clear Religion, Baylor historian Philip Jenkins has a powerful essay on the Pussy Riot trial and the Western media’s failure to take seriously the religious provocation the stunt represented:

Putin may be a thug, and Pussy Riot might be feminist warriors for human rights, but the particular act for which they faced trial is much more controversial than is commonly reported in the West. A good case can be made that it was a grievous act of religious hate crime, of a kind that would be roundly condemned if it happened in a country that the West happened to like.

Jenkins recounts the long history of Christian persecution under the Soviets, which involved intimidation and murder on a massive scale, often accompanied by anti-Christian agitprop in sacred places. Jenkins writes:

Russia’s new religious freedom is a very tender shoot, and the prospect of future turmoil has to agonize those believers who recall bygone horrors. These fears are all the more pressing when modern-day activists seem to reproduce exactly the blasphemous deeds of the past, and even in the precise places. When modern-day Orthodox look at Pussy Riot, they see the ghosts of Alexandra Kollontai and her militiamen, or the old Soviet League of Militant Godless. Are they wrong to do so? . . .

So no, I won’t be giving to any Pussy Riot support groups.

I’ve written before that Pussy Riot has been in prison for long enough; a two-year sentence for what they did seems very disproportionate.  I’d have fined them for trespassing and let them go. But it is striking that so few in the West see the other side of the story.

Re: That Old-Time Religious Persecution

The Telegraph has more information about that incident in Pakistan, in which an 11-year old mentally disabled girl is said to have destroyed pages from a Quran. The Telegraph suggests that Muslim neighbors have been looking for a way to dispel a Christian community in their midst for months now and may have found a way:

As communal tensions continued to rise, about 900 Christians living on the outskirts of Islamabad have been ordered to leave a neighbourhood where they have lived for almost two decades.

On Sunday, houses on the backstreets of Mehrabadi, an area 20 minutes’ drive from western embassies and government ministries, were locked with padlocks, their occupants having fled to already overcrowded Christian slums in and around the capital.

One of the senior members of the dominant Muslim community told the Christians to remove all their belongings from their houses by 1 September. “I don’t think anyone will dare go back after this,” said one Christian, Arif Masih. “The area is not safe for us now.”

As for the girl herself, she has been charged with blasphemy, an extremely grave offense under Pakistani law. The law, the Telegraph reports, “has a proven track record of ensnaring people on the flimsiest of evidence and being cynically used to intimidate communities or settle quarrels over money and property.”

Good Thing They Didn’t Try It in France

Anatole France famously observed that the law, in its majestic equality, forbids both rich and poor from sleeping under bridges. What would he have said about this weekend’s events in Marseille? At a rally in solidarity with Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band currently in prison for hooliganism, a group of protesters donned the band’s trademark neon balaclavas (above). The police immediately arrested the protesters for violating the French ban on veiling one’s face in public. The ban, which went into effect last year, was obviously directed at Islamic niqabs. To avoid any appearance of bias, however, the law formally forbids face veils generally. If tried and convicted, the protesters are subject to a fine of €150 and a compulsory citizenship course. CLR published a symposium on the ban and other aspects of church-state relation in France in 2010 – check it out here.