We must not look away

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

Im­peach­ment is on the brain, and it would seem to the ex­clu­sion of ev­ery­thing else. But we had bet­ter make room for the Iraqi peo­ple. At the start of the month, Chaldean arch­bishop Bashar Warda of Er­bil vis­ited New York and spoke at the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil about the sit­u­a­tion in his na­tive Iraq. Warda has been hous­ing and car­ing for peo­ple, pri­mar­ily Chris­tians, who fled ISIS in Mo­sul in 2014. He’s been work­ing to se­cure some sem­blance of a fu­ture for them, in­clud­ing by es­tab­lish­ing a Catholic univer­sity in his na­tive coun­try.

In his speech on Dec. 3, he said: “At stake is whether Iraq will fi­nally emerge from the trauma of Sad­dam and the past 16 years to be­come a le­git­i­mate, in­de­pen­dent and func­tion­ing coun­try, or whether it will be­come a per­ma­nently law­less re­gion, open to proxy wars be­tween other coun­tries and move­ments, and a ser­vant to the sec­tar­ian de­mands of those out­side Iraq.”

Warda was hope­ful: “If the protest move­ment is suc­cess­ful in cre­at­ing a new gov­ern­ment, with a new, civil con­sti­tu­tion, re­spect­ing the di­ver­sity of its re­li­gions and cul­tures, one not based in Sharia but in­stead based upon the fun­da­men­tal con­cepts of free­dom for all, free­doms enshrined in the Universal Dec­la­ra­tion of Human Rights writ­ten by this or­ga­ni­za­tion where we all sit today, then a time of hope can still ex­ist for the long-suf­fer­ing Iraqi peo­ple. De­spite ev­ery­thing, the Iraqi peo­ple love their coun­try, and they want it back.”

And the arch­bishop was also sober. He said that if the pro­test­ers were not suc­cess­ful -- “if the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity stands by and al­lows the mur­der of in­no­cents to con­tinue” -- Iraq will prob­a­bly fall into civil war, scat­ter­ing mil­lions of young re­li­gious mi­nori­ties. “In the cri­sis and the geno­cide of 2014, over 4 mil­lion Iraqis, Mus­lims, Yazidis and Chris­tians fled to the Kur­dis­tan re­gion seek­ing refuge from the evil of ISIS, but still re­mained within the coun­try,” Warda said. “In an­other ma­jor con­flict, we are likely to see the peo­ple flee from Iraq for good. We are in­deed at per­haps the last chance for our coun­try.”

His speech was a plea to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and es­pe­cially to the West for sup­port. It was an en­treaty not to look away, but also not to reck­lessly in­ter­vene, as the United States has done in the past. Warda will tell you that Chris­tians and other re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in Iraq are not bet­ter off be­cause of the fall of Sad­dam Hus­sein, evil tyrant though he may have been. Warda is no apol­o­gist for Hus­sein, he sim­ply ex­plains how things have played out. And the arch­bishop doesn’t ex­plic­itly ask the West to do penance, and yet, that doesn’t seem like it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

Se­ri­ous at­ten­tion to his as­sess­ment, at the very least, is over­due.

I’m told that on ac­count of his words at the United Na­tions, pro­test­ers have been seen with Arch­bishop Warda’s pho­to­graph on signs in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.

When I had a long in­ter­view with Arch­bishop Warda in Toronto in 2016, he talked a lit­tle bit about the ef­fect of U.S. in­ter­ven­tions in Iraq. He was mad. In­vad­ing, he said, “was a big mis­take,” “but it was a tragedy when [U.S. troops] left.”

Warda stresses the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing re­li­gious free­dom, but also how ur­gent it is to have Chris­tians in Iraq and the wider re­gion. First of all, they be­long there -- they have been there since about the start of Chris­tian­ity. That’s only right and just, but also: They bring an ex­am­ple to the re­gion that is ab­so­lutely needed. Chris­tians at their best em­body the mercy of Je­sus from the Gospels -- who al­lowed him­self to be cru­ci­fied out of love, an un­prece­dented act of hope that changed the course of his­tory and human lives. It is good to have peo­ple of hope among you, wher­ever you are, but it’s es­pe­cially nec­es­sary in the war-torn Mid­dle East.

The Washington Post just ran an alarm­ing se­ries about our last 18 years of armed in­ter­ven­tion in Afghanista­n. We’ve made things worse in that coun­try, and that’s just the be­gin­ning of the story. The news should, among other things, make us take Warda’s words ex­tra se­ri­ously. We must con­sider what we’ve done and stop look­ing away from the con­se­quences of our poli­cies and the hopes of the peo­ple whose lives we’ve so greatly af­fected.

About the on­go­ing protests in Iraq, Warda says: “The young Chris­tians of Iraq have been par­tic­i­pants in th­ese protests ev­ery day. They have been there be­cause the protests have given them hope for a fu­ture, a fu­ture in which they be­long as equal and con­tribut­ing Iraqi cit­i­zens.”

Warda points out that though over 400 pro­test­ers have been killed, the pro­test­ers re­main non­vi­o­lent. About their goals and the ur­gency of their cause, he added: “Along with the mil­lions of other marginal­ized Iraqis, they look now to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity for your ac­tion and sup­port . ... We be­lieve we have a fu­ture, and we ask you not to turn away from us now.” That should res­onate with us. The pro­test­ers’ cause is just, and we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to sup­port them. What­ever is go­ing on do­mes­ti­cally, let’s not look away. It’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, ed­i­tor-at-large of Na­tional Re­view mag­a­zine and au­thor of the new book “A Year With the Mys­tics: Vi­sion­ary Wis­dom for Daily Liv­ing.” She can be con­tacted at [email protected]­tion­al­re­view.com.


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