Eradicating a civilization

A girl holds up a sign that reads: "I am an Iraqi, I am a Christian" at Mar Girgis Church in Baghdad, July 20, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Malik

The Iraqi city of Mosul has been emptied of its Christian community in only a matter of days, in one of the most alarming developments in recent memory in this region.

Some observers have already noted that when ISIS fanatics issued an ultimatum to Mosul Christians to convert to Islam, pay a special tax or flee the city, almost all of them chose the final option. That ISIS gave them the choice to leave, some say, shows that it employed a less violent policy than in its dealings with other groups.

But you can also kill a country without necessarily killing people.

While Iraq, or Islam itself, might be synonymous with violence in the minds of some, the simple fact is that Iraq’s Christians have enjoyed a vital and distinguished presence on their land for nearly 2,000 years – most of that time living in peace with Muslims of various sects.

Over the centuries, they have withstood foreign invasions and bouts of persecution – and one of the biggest jolts to the Christian presence in Iraq resulted from a military invasion by “fellow Christians” from the U.S. in 2003.

The events of Mosul in recent days should spark outrage – both at ISIS and at those issuing verbal condemnations around the world.

A systematic policy of ending the Christian presence in a diverse Iraq, or in other Arab countries, deserves much more than stringing several sentences together containing the words “concerned” and “appalled.”

If fanatics are allowed to continue their targeting of the Arab world’s diversity – which is bound up with culture, heritage and personal identity – then they will be getting away with something that is worse than murdering people. They will be annihilating centuries of civilization.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 22, 2014, on page 7.




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