Sunday, December 28, 2008

christmas in babylon

Over time, I’ve ended up on a few right-wing email distribution lists. (Someone forwards one of my emails to her right-wing brother-in-law and, next thing you know, I’m on his list for life.) If you aren’t lucky enough to share this particular pleasure, it really is amazing the stuff that a lot of Americans are sending to each other. (It’s like they’ve never discovered Snopes.) Their world is a scary place, defended only by angry white American men. This is the 24% that still thinks Bush is doing a great job. (And they really DO!! Makes you wonder what metrics they’re using.)

Anyhow, one of those emails that has been going around over the holidays gives a big HUZZAH to President Bush (yes, amazingly, he IS still president) and The Troops because someone in Iraq has made Christmas an “Official National Holiday.” (Does that mean everyone has the day off? Because, according to the
Brookings Institute, the unemployment rate is “27 to 60%, where curfew not in effect.” Think of it as the Iraqi “Christmas Curfew.”) In a country that is, like, 97% Muslim.

This is the kind of thing that makes my head explode.

Now, I applaud any expression of religious tolerance, regardless of its magnitude or motivation. We can’t have enough of them. But this isn’t a celebration of religious tolerance. The same people applauding this gesture would be freaked out if President Barack Hussein Obama made Ramadan or Kwanzaa a national holiday in the US. Rather, it is a celebration of religious triumphalism. Bush brought Christmas to Babylon, dammit, and if the collateral damage included a few hundred thousand Iraqis, it was a small price. (One email I got actually made reference to this as a manifestation of Bush’s “higher calling.”)

But make no mistake about it. The cause of religious tolerance has not been advanced by Bush’s war.

From the
Chicago Tribune two days ago:
In Iraq, the priests routinely celebrate mass in nearly empty churches—if they dare open their church doors at all. …

[T]he exodus of the country's ancient Christian minority has not stopped — and indeed appears to be accelerating again.

"They're threatening the Christians so that they'll be scared and will leave," said Yohan Hanna Hermes, 59, an Iraqi from Mosul who arrived in Beirut in mid-December and attended mass the next day for the first time since September. "It's a deliberate campaign to drive the Christians out."

Iraqis who can afford the plane ticket prefer to go to Lebanon because of its large — 40 percent — Christian population. Others make their way to Jordan or most likely
Syria, the main destination for Iraqi refugees. …

[A]s many as 500,000 to 700,000 of the 1.4 million Christians in Iraq … are believed to have fled in the past five years, according to a report last week by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body appointed by Congress.

"Five years from now there won't be any Christians left in Iraq. It's happening
quietly but also very quickly," said retired Gen. Michel Kasdano, a researcher
and spokesman at the Chaldean Archbishopric.

In 2006 and 2007, most of the new arrivals [in Lebanon] were from Baghdad, he said. But since the attacks in late October against Christians in Mosul, which forced an estimated 2,000 Christian families to flee to nearby villages, Christians have been arriving from the north, which was previously considered relatively safe."

From those who are coming, we hear the others are packing and making preparations to leave," he said. "It's only a matter of time before they all are gone."

For Ikhlas Aziz, 40, and her husband, truck driver Dawood Kariokos, 50, the decision to leave was more than a year in the making, since Kariokos was twice kidnapped in 2007.

They cite not only the repeated acts of violence and intimidation against Christians
but also a climate of discrimination that makes them feel they are no longer
welcome. …"

All the Christians are terrified all of the time," said Kariokos, as he waited with his wife to register for aid at the archbishopric. "And if I apply for a job they will take the Muslim, not the Christian. Always they prefer the Muslims."

… Christians, who accounted for 4 percent of Iraq's population on the eve of the war, are also disproportionately represented [among refugees], comprising 16 percent of the 1.1 million refugees in Syria and 25 percent of the 50,000 refugees in Lebanon, the UN says.

They also account for a disproportionate number of those being granted asylum overseas.

Of the 16,874 Iraqis resettled in the U.S. since 2006, 48 percent are Christians, according to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Others claim asylum in Western countries such as Sweden and Australia, though not all will be admitted, leaving their future uncertain.

But going back to Iraq isn't an option, said Solaqa Zaya Moshi, 53, who first fled Baghdad for Mosul in 2007. In October he fled Mosul for the surrounding countryside before deciding to leave Iraq altogether, arriving in Lebanon with his wife and son on Dec. 5.

The Iraqi government says some of the Christians who fled Mosul have now returned to their homes, but when Moshi tried to go back to his house just to
pick up some clothes, his former neighbors told him it wasn't safe."

In all Iraq it's black, it's finished for Christians. I can never go back," he said,
crumpling in tears. "We used to have a very good life in Baghdad, and here I am
like a beggar in Lebanon. I've lost everything."

So much for Bush’s “higher calling.”

We don’t have precise numbers for these things, but the percentage of Iraqis that are Christian is around 2% (and declining by the day). In the US, the percentage of the population that is Muslim is probably a bit under 2%. In other words, they are the same order of magnitude.

When the only Muslim member of Congress, Keith Ellison, took the oath of office on a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson, the right-wing went apoplectic. (One
pundit said it “undermines American civilization. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress.”) Imagine how Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and the rest of the “War on Christmas” crowd would react if the US made Eid (the Muslim feast celebrating the end of Ramadan) a national holiday.

Bush, who began his “War of Terror” (as Borat called it) as a “
crusade”, is leaving office with the same cultural nuance intact.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How in the world did Christmas manage to be made a National Iraqi holiday? That's just silly.

Good on you.