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The Impossible Future of Christians in the Middle East

“Christians who want to stay in their home country, administration officials say, should have the choice to do so. But many families in the Nineveh Plain are ambivalent about their future there.” That ambivalence is understandable. Here at, we have covered the persecution of Christians in Iraq extensively, as you can see here. The ISIS caliphate has been destroyed, but ISIS remains a presence in the region, and Shia militias also make life difficult for Christians. International action is urgently needed. As the foreign affairs secretary of the Philippines said recently, “The next Holocaust will be of Christians.” Hungary’s foreign minister noted that “in global politics, the fact that Christians are persecuted is being ignored.”

“The Impossible Future of Christians in the Middle East,” by Emma Green, The Atlantic, May 23, 2019:

…The precarious state of Christianity in Iraq is tragic on its own terms. The world may soon witness the permanent displacement of an ancient religion, and an ancient people. Those indigenous to this area share more than faith: They call themselves Suraye and claim a connection to the ancient peoples who inhabited this land long before the birth of Christ.

But the fate of Christianity in places like the Nineveh Plain has a geopolitical significance as well. Religious minorities test a country’s tolerance for pluralism; a healthy liberal democracy protects vulnerable groups and allows them to participate freely in society. Whether Christians can survive, and thrive, in Muslim-majority countries is a crucial indicator of whether democracy, too, is viable in those places. In Iraq, the outlook is grim, as it is in other nations in the region that are home to historic Christian populations, including Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. Christians who live in these places are subject to discrimination, government-sanctioned intimidation, and routine violence.

They do, however, have an influential and powerful ally: the United States government, which, under President Donald Trump, has made supporting Christianity in the Middle East an even more overt priority of American foreign policy than it was under George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Since Trump took office, the Nineveh Plain has received significant amounts of investment from the U.S. government.

In part, this foreign-policy position is grounded in domestic politics. The conservative voters who helped elect Trump care deeply about oppressed Christians, and they convey their concern through an exceptionally effective lobbying machine in Washington, D.C. But the plight of Christians in the region is also a natural cause for an administration that views foreign policy as a struggle to maintain the West’s global clout. For Trump, Christianity can be a bulwark of Western values in a region full of perceived enemies.

Christians who want to stay in their home country, administration officials say, should have the choice to do so. But many families in the Nineveh Plain are ambivalent about their future there. They harbor the same fears that led Catrin and Evan to leave before the devastation visited by ISIS; life has only grown more difficult for Christian minorities since. When I interviewed families in the Nineveh Plain last year, almost all of them admitted that they would leave if they had the chance. Even those most committed to remaining worry that, no matter how much aid they receive from Washington, they are still vulnerable. Christianity’s survival in one of the places where it first took root will depend on whether they decide to stay….

Jews lived in Alqosh for centuries, and in Iraq for thousands of years, although the priest who showed me around, Father Araam, knew about them only from stories. The Babylonian Talmud, which is the major text of rabbinic Judaism, was written here. Then, over a few short years, the Jews disappeared. Almost all of Iraq’s remaining Jews were effectively expelled from the country in the late 1940s and early 1950s amid intense political pressure and mob violence.

Priests in the Nineveh Plain see this history as a warning. Their communities, too, could one day be nothing more than overgrown tombs. If Christians continue to leave the Nineveh Plain and other areas like it, a powerful history will come to an end. In the Protestant mind-set dominant in the U.S., the body of the Church is wherever the people are. But for the ancient Christian groups of Iraq, this is not the case. The people I met there constantly reminded me that Assyrian culture was founded before Christianity. They point to the remnants of ancient aqueducts and settlement mounds, evidence of the empire that once flourished in this region.

For them, Christianity is not just a faith. It is an attachment to a place, a language, a nationality. Scattered across countries and continents, that sense of identity—as a people, not just as members of a religion—is much more difficult to maintain. Securing the fate of the Nineveh Plain is crucial “to protect our identity, our patrimony, our language,” Thabet told me. “We are the original people of Iraq.”

There is much more. Read the full article here.

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