On October 17th, The New York Times published an article on the plight of
Christians in Iraq. There are an estimated 800,000 in that country, about 3
percent of the total population.
The two largest sects are Chaldean Catholics and Assyrian Christians. The Times
reports that the 1987 Iraqi census reported 1.4 million Christians inhabiting the
country, "but many left during the 1990s when sanctions squeezed the country."
Today the churches are poorly attended with parishioners "simply stay[ing] at home
on Sundays because of fears for their safety."
Those fears are well founded. The Times reported on the new Islamist bete noire,
Pope Benedict XVI, because of his recent "reflections on Islam." As a result,
"Several extremist groups threatened to kill all Christians unless the pope
apologized." To their credit, Sunni and Shia clergy denounced these threats.
Nevertheless, "In Baghdad, many churches canceled services after receiving threats.
Some have not met since." The Times tells us that "In the northern city of Mosul,
a priest from the Syriac Orthodox Church was kidnapped last week. His church
complied with his captors' demands and put up posters denouncing recent comments
made by the pope about Islam, but he was killed anyway. The police found his
beheaded body on Wednesday."
Currently, as a result of Islamic fury, according to The Times, "Conditions have
been especially bleak for Christians in Basra, the southern city that is dominated
by radical Shiite militias. Christian women there often wear Muslim head scarves
to avoid harassment from religious zealots trying to impose a strict Islamic dress
code. After the pope's [Benedict XVI] statement, an angry crowd burned an effigy
When I read the Times' article, I recalled my meeting with Pope John Paul II, one
of the great friends of the Jewish community. It took place at the Vatican in May
of 1985. I wrote about the meeting in my book, "Citizen Koch." I will quote from
the book rather than rely on my recollection of the event:
"Your Holiness, I'm Jewish, and I want to urge you to recognize the state if
Israel. This is particularly important now because you recently received Yasir
Arafat at the Vatican, and you embraced him. The Jews in New York City were very
upset about this, but I explained to them there is nothing wrong with your doing
that. Your religiousness requires you to embrace every sinner. In fact, Your
Holiness, you did something which I tell people nobody else would do. You went to
the cell of the Turk who tried to assassinate you. And you forgave him. Most
people wouldn't do that. I couldn't do that. So I am not distressed with the fact
that you embraced Arafat."
"Mr. Mayor," the Pope interrupted, "I understand your concern, and the concern of
the Jewish people. Let me reassure you, I have been very supportive, in every
possible way, and I will continue to be so in the future."
"Your Holiness," I said, "the best way you could reassure Jews of your affection
and support is to recognize the state of Israel."
"Well," he said, "we do have relations with them. They're not formal, but we
certainly do meet with representatives of the state of Israel."
"It's not the same, Your Holiness."
"Perhaps not, but what you seek is difficult. It will happen someday, but it can't
happen now. I have a responsibility to the Catholics who live in the Koranic lands
and who would be in danger if we recognized Israel."
"Your Holiness, you are revered throughout the world. It's inconceivable to me
that anyone would seek revenge if the Church took such a position."
Pope John Paul II did establish diplomatic relations with the State of Israel on
December 30, 1993.
My point? Islamic terrorism and the fear of it is not new, existing long before
the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and its coalition. It appears that the Europeans
are slowly awakening to the dangers inherent in allowing the Muslim community to
separate itself from the mainstream communities in Holland, Belgium, France and
In these countries, the population of Christians and Jews feel threatened by the
Muslim arrivals. Some Muslims have signaled their desire to lead their lives in a
way that a Britain's former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, according to The Times,
said "Muslim women who wore full veils made community relations difficult." The
Times reported on October 17th that "British Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped into
the debate over the integration of Muslims into British society on Tuesday, calling
the full veil worn by some Muslim women 'a mark of separation.' He supported a
local education authority that suspended a Muslim teaching assistant from the
classroom when she insisted on wearing a veil in the classroom.
There are those who believe that the Western countries should withdraw from Iraq
and that such capitulation will somehow end Islamist terror or at least seriously
reduce its intensity in the world outside the Middle East. Can we or should we
abandon the Middle East? Should we leave our allies, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi
Arabia to the tender mercies of Islamic terrorists? There were many before World
War II who would have left the Jews, England, France and Russia to fend for
themselves in the face of the annihilation sought by Hitler, his Nazi armies, the
SS, the Gestapo and the final solution.
As I have repeatedly written, take Islamic radicals at their word -- they want to
convert us or kill us. They are killing one another, Shia against Sunni and Sunni
against Shia. Often before decapitating their enemies in the ongoing civil and
religious strife in Baghdad, they torture their victims, according to The Times, by
drilling holes in their bodies and heads so death is slow and cruel until the
merciful bullet is fired into the victim's head.
Can any independent state threatened with acts of terror, unless it changes its
policies, domestic or foreign, ever submit to their demands and expect to protect
its citizens from new demands? Has appeasement ever worked?
There are those in every Western democracy who are losing their resolve, their
willingness to standup to the Islamic terrorists. U.S. Senator Russ Feingold
(D-Wisconsin) deplores the use of the term "Islamic fascists," sometimes used by
the White House. The terrorism we face is worldwide and has an Islamist goal --
the restoration of the caliphate, one Islamic state including Spain, North Africa,
the Middle East to the Far East, including Indonesia. Take them at their word.
The words of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, now dead and heretofore leader of Iraq's
insurrection and terror, are, "Killing the infidel is our religion, slaughtering
them is our religion, until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute."
Two leaders in the Western world recently spoke, unlike Feingold, directly and
fearlessly. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, responding to the intimidation by
Islamic terrorists which caused the cancellation of a Mozart opera, stated, "It
makes no sense to retreat." The other, Rupert Murdoch, commenting in The New
Yorker magazine on the rise of militant Islam, said, "These people intend to change
civilization, and they are prepared to take a hundred years to do it. We keep
having to speak politically correctly about it, saying Muslims are wonderful, it's
just a tiny minority. They are not all terrorists, of course, but the frightening
thing is that it is the children of those good original immigrants who are being
brainwashed in big numbers."
Chancellor Merkel is right. No matter how difficult the road ahead, "it makes no
sense to retreat."