Hiding Christmas in Iraq
The US Christian Right has been loudly complaining about the alleged exclusion of Christmas from the US public sphere. (There isn’t really any evidence of it.)
But Iraq’s approximately 700,000 Christians actually are having to hide their celebrations for fear of violence from radical Muslim extremists. Borzou Daragahi reports that most Iraqi Christians are declining to put out Christmas lights or symbols, and many are attending daytime masses or none at all for fear of car bombs. Many masses have even been cancelled by the churches. Christians had been relatively safe under the Baath regime. Daragahi writes,
‘ “It’s true that the Americans are Christians and we are Christians. But they should not associate us with them. All the Christians want the Americans to get out and the occupation to end. Nobody is with the Americans,” said Father Gabriel Shamami, who leads the St. George’s Church in Baghdad. ‘
There have been some horrific bombings of Christian churches by Muslim radicals in the past year, and some churches were bombed as recently as Monday, Dec. 20, 2004. A wave of kidnappings of Christians has also plagued the community.
Thousands of Christians have fled Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Estimates vary widely, from just 10,000 to as many as 200,000. Most have moved to Jordan, Syria or Lebanon, all of them relatively hospitable to Christians. The Baath regime had been generally tolerant of Christians, since it stressed Arab nationalism rather than Islam as the basis of the state.
A conference on Christian-Muslim dialogue was held recently in Baathist Syria, where major Christian and Muslim figures spoke about harmony between Christians and Muslims. Most Syrian Christians support the Baath government because it provides tolerance to them, and they know that were it to fall, it would likely be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood. About 10 percent of Syria’s 18 million citizens are Christian.
Ironically, the Bush administration wants to overthrow the Syrian government, risking the same kind of destabilization there that has so hurt Iraqis–including Iraqi Christians.