What Is the Future of Iraq Without Christians and Other Religious Groups?

As an American whose homeland was once Baghdad, Iraq, it causes great sadness to see the ISIS, “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” occupy Mosul, the second-largest province in Iraq after Baghdad, also known as “Nineveh.”

Many Americans probably don’t realize that they may have closer ties than they think to the lives being destroyed halfway around the world. ISIS insurgents began to enforce Islamic law in Mosul by asking Christians and other religious groups to convert to Islam, to pay protection tax, or to leave, otherwise their lives would be in danger. Christianity has a rich history in Mosul, which is mentioned in the Old Testament a few times; for instance, Nineveh was the capital of the ancient kingdom and empire of Assyria, and it appears throughout the book of Jonah.

When I was 10 years old, I had the opportunity to visit Mosul, the birthplace of my father. During my trip, I visited historical places, and I was exposed to the city’s Christian history. Furthermore, I visited the tomb of the Old Testament Prophet Jonah, which is believed by many to have been a church, now replaced by a Mosque.

ISIS also visited the sacred site this week. Insurgents dug up the grave of the Prophet Jonah and smashed it. On Thursday, ISIS decided to demolish the Mosque of the Prophet Jonah.

These atrocities provoke a question: “Is it the goal of ISIS to eradicate the Christians, as well as to eradicate the Christian history in Iraq?” I stumble to answer these questions because I do not want to attempt to predict the future.

We always hear the quote “History repeats itself,” and I want to affirm this quote by reflecting on the history of Iraq. The Abbasid Caliphate overthrew the Umayyad Caliphs and established their new Caliphate in 750 CE.  The Caliphate started to impose Islamic law on the cities they ruled. Christians and Jews, “the People of the Book,” were forced to pay the protection tax, to convert to Islam, or to leave. A majority of the Christians and Jews decided to pay the protection tax, but they had freedom to worship in their churches and synagogues. Based on the influences the Islamic rulers in the past had over the people, and the current position of ISIS, I think ISIS wants to take Iraq backward to the Abbasid Caliphate period, when Christians and Jews had to pay, convert, or flee.

After 2003, extensive emigration and growing persecution of Christians in the region led to the decline of the Christian population in Iraq, particularly in Mosul. Today Mosul is vacant of Christian residents since ISIS gave Christians until Saturday to leave the city. Moreover, the sale of the property was forbidden by ISIS.

In recent history, my grandfather had shared with my brother and me many stories about the Iraqi Jews. In 1950, the Iraqi government started to persecute the Iraqi Jews. In fact, the Jewish residents in Iraq had the freedom to leave the country, but they had to forfeit their Iraqi citizenship.  In 1963, after a long period of persecution, the Iraqi government forced all the Iraqi Jews to leave, and their properties were confiscated, their bank accounts were frozen, their businesses were shut down.   The question is, “Does history repeat itself?

We all remember President George W. Bush’s now infamous speech on May 1, 2003. Standing safely on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, he started his speech,

“My fellow Americans, Major combat operations in Iraq have ended…. The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. Then, we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq.”

After eleven years, did we accomplish our goal to build a free Iraq?  The United States has spent billions of dollars to train the Iraqi army and provide it with weapons with the hope it can stand up against the radical militant groups.

What the USA cannot fund, however, is desperately needed: loyalty of these soldiers to defend their country. That must come from within. My hope is that the Iraqi citizens will be able to one day battle ISIS, and clean Mosul of its militant radicals.

Fady Al-Banna is a graduate of Wright State University. He is a Guest Writer for Ohio Conservative Review.

All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.

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