For Father Douglas al-Bazi, the terms “genocide” and “persecution” don’t even begin to describe the horrors his people have faced in the Christian community of Northern Iraq. And yet, the media are still reticent to use to g-word.
At the World Summit for the Defense of Persecuted Christians earlier last month, al-Bazi talked with MRC Culture about torture, forgiveness, the decimation of his people and the need for action, not words.
“If I look to my story, I’m the lucky one,” the Chaldean Catholic priest began.
That is quite the claim for a man who survived two church attacks, an AK-47 Kalashnikov bullet in the leg and a nine-day kidnapping resulting in broken nose, teeth and spinal discs. At the same time, al-Bazi is alive, and that’s more than can be said for thousands of his countrymen.
“In the last 100 years, my people been attacked eight times,” the Father recounted. “The last [attack] was two years ago: 125,000 people forced to leave their homes, their cities, in one day.”
Currently, thousands of Christian families are living in temporary camps, unrecognized by the UN and unable to access government funds because of their IDP (internally displaced person) status. So the community relies on private aid for the 36 million dollars they need every six months to survive.
The problems facing Iraqi Christians are not new, however. To put it in historical perspective, al-Bazi detailed their startling numerical decline through the years.
“Before 14th century, there were belong [sic] to my church over 70 million Christian [sic], and before 2003, we were 1.7 million. Now we are 200- less than 200,000.”
If there were any word to describe that kind of decimation, “genocide” would surely be the one. But al-Bazi called that term too “polite.” And based on their reticence to use the word, the big three broadcast networks apparently find it too harsh.
“Look, when we say genocide, a lot of people they are scared because… it means that some people should go to the court, go to the jail,” al-Bazi explained. But genocide is, after all, only a word, and as al-Bazi says, “action should follow words.”
After former Secretary of State John Kerry formally recognized the genocide, the priest and his parishioners sent a message of appreciation. But simply recognizing genocide isn’t enough. Along with providing necessary material help, al-Bazi believes that the Trump administration should also push for a change in Article 2 of Iraq’s constitution, which is built on the Koran.
“We don’t have actually equal citizenship there, we are second class,” al-Bazi said of his brothers in Christ. “So to say ‘genocide,’ we have to take all those steps together.”
'By Forgiveness, We Can Change the Future'
Despite the monstrosities committed against him and other Middle Eastern Christians, al-Bazi brimmed with forgiveness.
After he was kidnapped, one of his attackers asked him what he would do if they crossed paths again.
“If we met, believe me, I’m going to invite you to drink chai together, or coffee,” the Father recalled responding, to the kidnapper’s great consternation.
“Look, I can revenge, but if I’m going to revenge that means I will be like you,” al-Bazi continued, “and I don’t want to be like you.”
To al-Bazi, this interaction was more than a memorable conversation. It reflects on the very prospects of peace in the Middle East.
“By forgiveness, we can change the future,” he stressed. “This is the problem with the Muslim countries. They have to grow up with forgiveness… I’m not criticizing any minority—but much we have Christian [sic] in Middle East, especially in Iraq, we will have a good example of forgiveness.”
“We have forgiveness, we will have peace,” he concluded. “We have peace, that means we can live together.”
Efforts to Practically Aid Middle Eastern Christians
Recently, al-Bazi partnered with the Knights of Columbus in a nationwide digital and TV ad campaign to raise awareness and money for the plight of Iraq's dwindling Christian population.
“We must act and act quickly if Christianity is to survive in the Middle East,” Knights CEO Carl Anderson explained in a press release about the effort.
“Three years after ISIS rolled through their country, these minority communities of Christians could face extinction without our help," he continued, "and if they disappear, the chance for a pluralism and tolerance of minorities will be increasingly lost in that country.”
To meet the practical needs of the Christian refugees, Anderson is urging people to give money, as his organization will match up to $1 million in donations. Furthermore, the Knights are encouraging Congress to pass H.R. 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act. Introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the bill would "provide for emergency relief to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Iraq and Syria," and "provide accountability for perpetrators of these crimes."
Network History of Terming Persecution by ISIS ‘Genocide’
The broadcast network news shows from ABC, CBS and NBC boast a history of avoiding the term “genocide.”
Earlier this year, the networks covered the Egypt Palm Sunday bombings, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, nine times – without using the word “genocide” once. Similarly, last year, the networks refrained from using “genocide” following an Easter bombing in Pakistan targeting Christians – as well as in other reports of Christian persecution.
Last August, the MRC found that, in the past two-and-half years, the evening news shows reported on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia only 60 times. And of those 60 reports, just six used the word “genocide.”
All this as even the U.S. government acknowledges a genocide by ISIS.
Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that, “in my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”
At the World Summit, Vice President Mike Pence was blunt. “I believe that ISIS is guilty of nothing short of genocide against people of the Christian faith,” he declared. “It is time the world called it by name.”
According to a 1948 United Nations document, genocide “means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” including killing, causing serious physical or mental harm, preventing births and kidnapping children.
At the World Summit, MRC Culture also talked with Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), Egyptian Pastor Michael Youssef and Open Doors Director of Advocacy Kristin Wright about Christian genocide and the war on women.