CHRISTIAN leaders around the world are agonising over how best
to respond to the humanitarian catastrophe in northern Iraq, as
many thousands of Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and people of other
minority faiths flee for their lives from the advancing Islamic
State (IS) forces. The Archbishop of Canterbury has added his voice
to those urging the UK Government to allow Iraqi refugees to enter
The crisis in northern Iraq has many layers, of which the
refugee emergency is just one. Iraqi Christians who have not been
able to seek shelter in the Kurdish region have been subjected to
horrendous atrocities at the hands of the jihadists.
The Chaplain of St George's, Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, told
the Anglican Communion News Service that, during an IS attack on
the town of Qaraqosh, a five-year-old boy was cut in half. Canon
White said that he had baptised the child "in my church in Baghdad.
This little boy, they named him after me - he was called
Speaking on the BBC Sunday programme, the Chaplain of
the Syrian Catholic Community in the UK, Monsignor Nizar Semaan,
broke down when he spoke of the exodus of all Christians from
Qaraqosh, his home town: "It's my history, my family, my entire
life, the life of 50,000 people. Where is the international
community in the face of this humanitarian crisis? Just to mention
Qaraqosh makes me cry."
In a statement last Friday, Archbishop Welby urged the rest of
the world to "document human-rights abuses being committed in
northern Iraq, so that future prosecutions can take place. It is
important and necessary for the international community to
challenge the culture of impunity which has allowed these
atrocities to take place."
In an interview on Sunday, the Archbishop spoke of the "sense of
near despair and helplessness" at what was happening in Iraq. He
added that, while people were saying that more should be done to
help Iraqi Christians, it was difficult to say "exactly what 'more'
we are talking about".
On Wednesday, in an interview for ABC Australia, during his
visit to the Province, he said that events in Iraq took the
persecution of Christians - he highlighted atrocities in both
Nigeria and Pakistan - to "a new extent, a new sense of savagery,
and a new determination". He saw an "evil pattern" in "so many
parts of the world. Very often linked to a strain of Islam that is
a largely rejected by most Muslims. And seems tied up much more
with personal power-seeking, with adventurism, with almost cult
behaviour, than anything that is related to any historic pattern of
Three diocesan bishops - the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd
Nicholas Baines, the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David
Walker, and the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge - have urged the
Government to facilitate the entry of Iraqi refugees into Britain.
Asked for his view on this, Archbishop Welby: said "I think that
this is something we could do: we have the resources to do it."
Also on the Sunday programme, the RC Archbishop of
Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, denounced the "blind, cruel,
wanton" actions of the IS. Christians should pray for courage for
the Iraqi people affected, he said, and for the sustenance of their
faith. On their being allowed into the UK, Cardinal Nichols said
that "those who wish to travel abroad should be welcomed. But we
need a Christian presence in Iraq."
Both Archbishop Welby and Cardinal Nichols said that they lacked
the qualifications to judge whether the use of outside force would
be beneficial. But the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord
Williams said on Monday that Western military action against Iraq
in the past had failed to create a society where Christians and
other minority communities could feel secure.
"The assumption that a little bit of tidy, surgical military
action would create Western-style democracy in the Middle East is a
terrible illusion," he said. "As it is, we're faced with a choice
of a number of very unpalatable alternatives. I think that the
humanitarian, protective steps currently being taken are more or
less unavoidable if we're not to see complete genocidal
The Religious Liberty Commission - which comprises Release
International, Open Doors (UK and Ireland), Christian Solidarity
Worldwide, and the Evangelical Alliance (UK) - said that if Western
governments allowed groups such as IS to persecute populations with
impunity, it would "set a dangerous precedent in global affairs.
The situation in Iraq is particularly important because Western
governments were complicit in creating the vacuum into which the
terrorists have now stepped."
The group said that it was "unacceptable for Western governments
that embarked on the process of bringing freedom and human rights
to Iraq to continue neglecting this situation. It is vital that all
of Iraq's religious and ethnic minorities are guaranteed a future
in their country."
Appeals for prayers and practical support for Christians,
Yazidis, and others fleeing from the IS have been made around the
world. Pope Francis, addressing pilgrims in Rome on Sunday, said
that the news from Iraq had left the world "in dismay and
disbelief: thousands of people, including many Christians, driven
from their homes in a brutal manner; children dying of thirst and
hunger in their flight; women taken and carried off; people
massacred; violence of every kind; destruction of historical,
cultural, and religious patrimonies. All this gravely offends God
The Pope said that he had appointed Cardinal Fernando Filoni as
his personal envoy to Iraq, to show "spiritual support and the
Church's solidarity with the people who are suffering". The Council
of the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Europe joined appeals
"to the international community to do something more to stop this
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a
statement on Tuesday deploring the upsurge in violence in Iraq,
calling on religious leaders, those involved in interfaith
dialogue, and on all men and women of good will unequivocally to
condemn terror in the name of religion.
The Council listed practices which, it said, "bring shame on
humanity". These include: the massacre of people on the sole basis
of their religious affiliation; the "despicable practice" of
beheading, crucifying, and hanging bodies in public places; the
choice given to Christians and Yazidis to convert to Islam, pay a
tax, or go into exile; and the forced expulsion of tens of
thousands of people.
The Council of Christians and Jews condemned "in the strongest
terms the ongoing persecution of large numbers of Christians in
Iraq", as well as the persecution of Yazidis. The Council "urges
that everything possible will be done by the international
community to end this tragic treatment of religious peoples".
Dr Terence Ascott, the CEO of a Christian television channel
broadcasting to the Middle East, SAT-7 (Feature, 8 August), called
on the silent majority of Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq to say
clearly that they had had enough of the IS presence there. Unless
they were "willing to raise their heads above the parapet and speak
up, there will be no end to the bloodletting, and, sadly, there
will ultimately be no place left in Iraq - or Syria - for its
Christian and other historic minorities."
In the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, churches are struggling
to find shelter and food for the fast-growing refugee presence.
Christian Aid's head of the Middle East, Janet Symes, said: "The
situation across parts of Iraq, and the plight of persecuted
minorities, is horrific. The magnitude at which IS militants are
operating is absolutely terrifying, and we deplore their actions in
the deliberate targeting of civilians." She said that Christian Aid
was calling for "an urgent humanitarian response".
Christian Aid, in a separate statement, said that it was
"sometimes hard to know how to incorporate reflections and prayers
into church services and small groups"; so it has suggested Bible
readings, prayers, and reflections, which are available on its
Despite the acts of violence being perpetrated by IS fighters,
church leaders have emphasised that the group represents only a
minuscule fraction, and that the vast majority of Muslims have
denounced the group's actions, and question the basis of its
theology. The church-men said that Christians should remember the
importance of showing compassion and forgiveness towards one's
Archbishop Welby said that this was "the great trial and
challenge" for Christians. Adhering to this article of faith "may
not solve problems, but, in the end, it changes the world. It may
not be a quick fix, but it is the right thing in the end."
Question of the week: Should the UK send troops to protect
Iraqis against Islamic State fighters?