For years now the Christian, Mandaean, Yazidi and other ancient communities of Iraq, have been harried, bombed, exiled and massacred without anyone batting so much as an eyelid. Churches have been bombed, clergy kidnapped and murdered, shops and homes attacked and destroyed. This persecution has now been elevated to genocide by the advent of Isis. People are being beheaded, crucified, shot in cold blood and exiled to a waterless desert simply because of their religious beliefs.
What began in Iraq, continued in Syria. Here the West’s ill-advised backing of an Islamist uprising (largely funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar) against the Assad regime has turned into a nightmare which has given birth to ultra-extremist organisations like Isis. Once again, religious and ethnic minorities, whether Christian, Alawite or Druze, have been the victims, alongside ordinary people of all kinds. Isis, now armed to the teeth with weaponry originally intended by the suppliers for "moderate" Islamist groups, has arrived in Iraq with a vengeance beyond anything that unfortunate country has so far experienced.
Next door in Iran, the Baha’i have been reduced to being a non-people: their marriages are not recognised, their children cannot be educated, their leaders have been executed or are in prison and even their graveyards have been desecrated. Christians, similarly, are not allowed to worship in Farsi, or to hold meetings in their homes. Churches have either been closed or can open only under tightly-controlled conditions. Any violation of these orders brings arrest, interrogation and imprisonment.
Zoroastrians, belonging to the indigenous religion of Iran, are now so reduced in numbers that there are more of them outside Iran than remain in the country. Jews, likewise, are in daily danger of being associated with Zionism and having their property confiscated as "enemy property", even if they have never set foot in Israel.
In Pakistan, Christians are being cowed by the draconian blasphemy laws, systematic discrimination and terrorist attacks on churches, schools and social organisations. The Ahmadiyya (a heterodox group), also, suffer legal discrimination, restrictions on the practice of their religion and recurrent mob violence. Only in Egypt can we say that the large Coptic minority has a breathing space as they await the emergence, perhaps, of a new order.
So will the world just stand by and watch this unprecedented onslaught on freedom or will we do something beyond airdropping food and medicines and protecting our own personnel who may be caught up in the conflict?
Along with many others, I have been saying for sometime now that Iraqi minorities need internationally protected "safe havens". Until recently, the obvious place for Christian safe havens were the plains of Nineveh. For years, the West operated no-fly zones over Saddam’s Iraq to protect Kurds in the North and the Marsh Arabs in the South. What can be done to protect those under threat now?
I recognise that American or British "boots on the ground" is asking for the moon, but a UN-authorised international force, drawn from a variety of countries, is desperately needed to prevent multiple genocide. This can go hand in hand with whatever air action is deemed practical in consultation with the Kurds and with Baghdad. If the UN cannot prevent this genocide, hard questions will have to be asked about its utility at all.
In Syria, the international community must encourage a negotiated end to the Civil War (without preconditions, such as the departure of Bashar Al-Assad). Everything must be done to prevent the acquisition of weaponry by extremists, whether directly or indirectly. As with Iraq, once relative security returns to the land, there will have to be a massive programme of rebuilding historic cities like Aleppo, returning refugees and internationally-displaced persons to their homes and the rehabilitation of the injured. It is clear that Syria will not be able to achieve this on its own. A very significant international effort will be needed. I am sure the large Syrian diaspora will assist in such an effort.
The paradox is, of course, that the West supported the uprising in Syria partly to check Iran’s influence over the Assad regime. Now that same Iran is needed to check the advance of Isis in Iraq. But can Iran be trusted in this matter or, indeed, on what is of much greater concern to the West, the nuclear issue? How can we trust a regime to keep its word internationally when it oppresses its own people, denying them basic freedoms of movement, belief and worship? Surely, any re-engagement with Iran must be will have to be all-round? It must take into account not only what is perceived as a threat to the West or Israel but also the future of Iran’s role in the region, as well as its treatment of women, religious and ethnic minorities.
On a wider front, bilateral relations, particularly aid, will have to be agreed with the human rights situation fully in view. Article 18 of the UN Declaration on Universal Human Rights can be a template for such discussions. Is educational aid, for instance, simply fuelling the teaching of hatred in school text books or is it being used to remove such teaching? Is aid reaching marginalised minorities, women and the very poor? There has been a welcome concern in the United Kingdom to help in the development of the rule of law and of legal systems. Such an approach can be used, on a case-by-case basis, to encourage ‘a Bill of Rights’ in Egypt, for example, or a review of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. At another level, assistance with legal discourse on punishment which moves away from an Islamist insistence on deterrence to more consideration of reform and rehabilitation, will lead to the development of more humane legal systems and greater respect for fundamental freedoms.
We cannot go on as before. The evil, with which we have been living for so long, has once again revealed its full face in Iraq. It is not a pretty sight and the international community must ensure that it has no place in the coming world order.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali: The West must face the evil that has revealed itself in the Iraq genocide
A very important article by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali for The Telegraph. Please note the section in bold print, especially if your name is John McCain.