Thursday, April 3, 2003

Iraq: Christians face uncertain future.

Date: Thursday 3 April 2003
Subj: Iraq: Christians face uncertain future.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


The purpose of this posting is to bring to your attention a very interesting and important article.

"Iraq: Christian Community Faces Uncertain Future In Postwar Era"
By Jean-Christophe Peuch, Prague, 2 April 2003
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)

The summary introduction states, "Since the U.S.-led war on Iraq started two weeks ago, much attention has been devoted to the demands and expectations of the country's Shia Muslims, Kurds, and Turkomans. But little has been said about Iraq's Christians, the majority of them known as Assyrians and Chaldeans. RFE/RL takes a closer look at the hopes and fears of this group, whose history is intrinsically linked with that of ancient Mesopotamia."

In the RFE/RL article, the author Jean-Christophe Peuch quotes Joseph Yacoub, a teacher of political science at the French-based Lyon Catholic University. Yacoub, an expert on ethnic and religious minorities, expresses his concern that the worst is yet to come for Iraq's Christian community. "Especially for Iraq's Christian community," he says, "this war is a looming threat because of the confusion that might arise and lead to the perception that a Christian West is fighting a Muslim East. Consequently, there is a risk that Iraq's Christian community might become a scapegoat."

Peuch then gives several examples of how this perception (that this is a religious war) is being unwittingly cultivated by Western political figures.

Of greatest concern is the issue of the draft constitution being proposed for a post-Saddam Iraq.

PROPOSED NEW CONSTITUTION IS ISLAMIC

(Excerpts from the RFE/RL article.)
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In the lead-up to the war, meetings have taken place in London between officials of the Bush administration and the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a U.S.-sponsored umbrella organization of groups in opposition to the Baghdad regime.

These meetings notably examined several draft constitutions for a post-Saddam Iraq, which Assyro-Chaldeans -- represented at the talks by the Kurdish-based Assyrian Democratic Movement -- say are detrimental to their community.

AACF (Association of France's Assyro-Chaldeans) leader Adlun said the outcome of a 13-16 December INC conference in London raised serious concerns among Assyro-Chaldeans. "Several draft constitutions were presented [at this meeting], some of them emphasizing Iraq's Arabic and Muslim character. We, of course, disagree with such a wording. What we want is a democratic and secular country. These draft constitutions remain on the table today, and nothing has been decided," Adlun said.

In a letter sent to Bush on 13 January, nine Western European-based Assyro-Chaldean associations expressed their concern at the possibility of post-Saddam Iraq being governed by Shariah, or Islamic law.

"In the draft constitution that was presented at the London conference, the reference to Islam is much stronger than in today's Iraqi Constitution. This was done under the influence of some Shia and Kurdish opposition groups. The current Iraqi Constitution says Islam is the religion of the state but nothing more. There is nothing in there that says Shariah is the root of the existing
legislation, while the text that was presented [in London] is clearly Islamic. It describes Shariah as the source of tomorrow's legal norms, and the least we can say is that it raises concerns," Religious minorities expert Yacoub said.

Assyro-Chaldeans argue that they are underrepresented in opposition meetings and fear they might be equally underrepresented in Iraq's future parliament.

In addition, as AACF leader Adlun pointed out, recent U.S.-sponsored opposition talks in London and Ankara have so far failed to take the large Christian communities of Baghdad and Basra into account.

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- Elizabeth Kendal