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December 14th, 2010, by Rene Guitton

Rene Guitton

A wave of anti-Christian violence has been blowing over Iraq for some weeks, first through the mass killings claimed by Al Qaeda in a Syriac Catholic Church, followed by a series of attacks on Christian homes.

René Guitton, religious scholar and author, discusses (view French version here).

You have closely followed the recent killings in Baghdad by Al Qaeda. What do you think about this tragedy?
I’m deeply outraged and feel like denouncing the attacks that are ever more numerous and perpetrated against Christians in Iraq because they are Christians. This is why it’s unbearable. Every day, Iraqi Christians first suffer social inequality, discrimination, threats of abduction, forced conversion, attacks, assassinations, massacres… They are the victims of an ideological confusion that likens them the Crusaders and the West, and forces them to abandon their ancestral land, their homeland. No, Iraq’s Christians are not a Western outgrowth in the East; they have been living on this earth since the beginning of Christianity, they are at home as all Iraqi citizens, and they especially want to stay there!

Some suggest that beyond Islamist terrorism, the rise of a more affirmed and identity-based Islam compounds difficulty maintaining a Christian culture and practice. What do you think about this?

For me, the attacks against them are perpetrated by fundamentalists, extremists, but otherwise this cohabitation is not opposed to the other religion when it’s about Christianity as a whole even if there is an Islam that goes back to the roots. This violence is perpetrated by violent and therefore extremist people. I think it does not prevent a return to the roots of the religion, whether Islam or the refuge among Christians who are perhaps stauncher practitioners when they feel threatened. Both communities strongly go back to the roots, but I may be innocent to believe they can coexist smartly as in the past because they are all sons of this land.

In your book “Ces Chrétiens qu’on assassine (Those Christians being assassinated)” (Flammarion 2009), you explain that ‘observers predicted that in the next century the Holy Land could be totally emptied of Christians’. More broadly, what’s the current situation of Christians in the East?
That’s true if they don’t do anything. When I say “they”, it’s very vague and very accurate too.
If the overall Christian West tries to intervene in countries that mistreat Christians, I think that would be frowned upon. I think such actions should be taken by powerful NGOs but also the European Council, the United Nations, but not in a Christian-against-non-Christian approach, so that Eastern Christian minorities can live in peace.

It’s first and foremost a humanist matter for the defense of the rights of humans and all minorities wherever they may be. There are countries where Muslims are the persecuted, especially in parts of India, and we’ll be facing the same difficulties and will be criticized for failing to demonstrate against these persecutions of certain Muslims. It’s a matter of humanity, not community. If the EU has to get involved, it should act upon the United Nations, which has that universal aura to take action toward governments that are doing nothing. We are tackling the Christian issue today to tackle the persecution of other ethnic or religious communities being massacred in various places. This is intangible data. Otherwise Christians’ defenders will lose any credibility.

Don’t you think that the West’s recent coverage of the massacres, in the end, have been favorable to Islamists by opposing Christianity and Islam while the Iraqis are dying every day, either Shiites, women, homosexuals, etc.

I unfortunately agree with you, I’m fighting against this, and when you were talking about my book I placed this on the back cover: When a minority community is attacked, all minorities are endangered wherever in world they may be. It’s a mistake that only Christians defend Christians, Muslims defend Muslims, Jews defend Jews, etc. It’s the human community that must defend the persecuted minorities wherever they may be.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently warned: “Countries that have hosted victims of the attacks abroad have taken a noble position, but this should not promote emigration”. Do you agree?

I was informed of the presidential statement. It’s quite respectable. In the facts, Iraq unfortunately has extremely urgent problems to be solved before resolving the problems of minority communities. It’s doubtless that helping Christians does not necessarily require issuing them visas to leave Iraq. Besides, they are not seeking that. I also emphasize that Christians are not the only people fleeing violence in Iraq. The neighboring countries are well aware and as I visited Syria since the beginning of this exodus, I know war, violence and death are what the Iraqis are fleeing, whatever their origins, leanings and religions. Christians are those who were marked as “legitimate targets” to quote extremists.

The only thing we have to constantly bear in mind is we must help Iraq’s Christians stay in their country and not leave. Concerning Christians, helping them leave means playing in the hands of those who want to chase them. And for all other Shiite or Sunni communities, it also means playing in the hands of the other side, so we must view Iraq’s entire fleeing community the same way, and we must help them stay.

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