Christian Iraqi refugees in U.S. probably will not return

Two Chaldean bishops told Catholic News Service (CNS) that Iraqi Christians will not return, although conditions in Iraq have improved.

“No one in the United States will go back to Iraq or the Middle East because the future for children, (opportunities for) education and life are better here,” said Chaldean Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim [of Detroit].

Also, experience has shown that once people have overcome the initial difficulties of adapting to a new culture, “no one will convince them to change it again” and rip up those freshly laid roots, said Chaldean Bishop Sarhad Y. Jammo [of San Diego].

The bishops were in Rome to report to the Vatican on their dioceses. 

Bishop Ibrahim said 5,000 Iraqi Christians came to Detroit in 2008; it is the highest number of newcomers he has seen.

The economic situation in Michigan is not good and businesses are struggling, he said, so he offers the new arrivals encouragement to help them through the rough patches.

During a Christmas dinner he hosted last year, he said he told some 1,500 recent Iraqi refugees, “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid, because this country is blessed by God. You will sleep without fear at night. Be patient and things will improve.”

It would seem as if Michigan would be the worst place in the country for refugees to go to, with its economy in the pits. But there is a very large Chaldean community around Detroit, and the support that provides might outweigh the problems. There is another reason the Chaldeans will not go back:

“Constitutional rights and equality have not been provided for Christians and that is a major reason why Christians will not go back and why people continue to leave and go to the West and the United States,” he said.

The constitution establishes Islam as a main source of legislation and declares that no law may contradict Islamic and democratic standards. [Aren’t these standards contradictory?]

However, while there is freedom to worship, there is no full freedom of religion such as the freedom to change one’s religion, Bishop Jammo said.

Nonetheless, there is “a new season of hope” for Iraq, said Bishop Jammo.  He blames the United States for the Christians’ situation.

 He said, “it was a big mistake” on the part of the United States and the interim Iraqi government not to have protected the country’s Christians and promoted their “political and cultural leverage.”

Even though Christians in Iraq have always been a small minority, they were part of “the top elite of society” and made up 25 percent of the country’s professional class, he said.

Christians are also “a factor for peace and for national reconciliation because they don’t have militias, they don’t fight, and they don’t claim more rights” than they are due, he said.

He said Christians act as “a soft joint between tensions” within a multiethnic, religiously diverse community — sort of like cartilage that cushions hard bones.

“The United States should have paid attention to this asset” of the Christians serving as buffers in conflict, he said.

Instead, U.S. policymakers overlooked the role Christians could have played in favor of focusing only on the fate of the country’s Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions, he said.

He is right. We heard nothing about the Christians during the war. Everything was about the needs of the three Muslims groups. When the Christians fled we read some stories about their ancient communities being destroyed. But I don’t think our government did anything to help them. It’s as if we had to bend over so far backward to be “understanding” of the Muslims that we didn’t dare bring up the needs of the Christians. This is to our great shame. 

Bishop Jammo said he thinks it is still possible for the Iraqi Constitution to provide full equality for Christians.

Otherwise, “what was the purpose of the U.S. going there (and overseeing the drafting of the constitution), if it did not emphasize the equality of all” ethnic and religious communities? he asked.

Unless full equality is provided, “peace, justice, progress and balance will not be realized” in Iraq, he said.

It’s not going to happen. If George W. Bush didn’t pay attention to the Christians, Barack Obama surely isn’t going to be any better. Islam doesn’t provide for equal rights for non-Muslims, and Iraq’s constitution is Islamic. Only our insistence could have made it happen (and possibly even that wouldn’t have), and now it’s too late.

The article doesn’t say anything about Iraqi Christians in other countries. I wonder if any are returning. From what I’ve read, life is difficult for them in most places. The ones who made it here are fortunate indeed.

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