For most citizens of Iraq, the invasion meant the end of tyranny. For one group, however, it meant a new start: the country’s historic Christian community. When the war stopped, persecution by Islamists, held in check by Saddam, started.
At a church in Basra I visited a month after the war ended, the women complained of attacks against them for not wearing the Islamic veil. I saw many Christian-owned shops that had been firebombed, with many of the owners killed for exercising their legal right to sell alcohol. Two years and many church attacks later, Iraq may still be occupied by Christian foreign powers, but the Islamist plan to ethnically cleanse Iraq of its nearly 2,000-year-old Assyrian and Armenian Christian communities is reaching fruition.
There is nothing unusual about the persecution of Iraqi Christians, or the unwillingness of other Christians to help them. Rising nationalism and fundamentalism around the world have meant that Christianity is going back to its roots as the religion of the persecuted. There are now more than 300 million Christians who are either threatened with violence or legally discriminated against simply because of their faith — more than any other religion. Christians are no longer, as far as I am aware, thrown to the lions. But from China, North Korea and Malaysia, through India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, they are subjected to legalised discrimination, violence, imprisonment, relocation and forced conversion. Even in supposedly Christian Europe, Christianity has become the most mocked religion, its followers treated with public suspicion and derision and sometimes — such as the would-be EU commissioner Rocco Buttiglione — hounded out of political office.
I am no Christian, but rather a godless atheist whose soul doesn’t want to be saved, thank you. I may not believe in the man with the white beard, but I do believe that all persecution is wrong.