Christian Genocide: Evidence for Its Designation and Saving Christianity in Iraq
(Andrew Doran, April 20, 2016)
Transcript available below
About the speaker
Andrew Doran is co-founder of In Defense of Christians (IDC), a nonprofit organization that advocates for the protection and preservation of Christians in the Middle East.
He will present IDC’s new, nearly-300 page report on the ongoing genocide in the Middle East, which was presented to Secretary of State John Kerry (read the full report here), and the next steps necessary to preserve at-risk Christian communities in Iraq.
The Syrian conflict has cost as many as 470,000 lives with Christian and Yazidi communities nearly wiped out in ISIS-controlled territory. The Christians who remain in Iraq and Syria are in a desperate plight. The State Department has recognized the genocidal intent of the Islamic State but the UK government and the United Nations continue to deny recognition.
Doran has published dozens of articles about U.S. foreign policy and human rights, with a focus on the Middle East. He previously served at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of International Organizations (IO) on the executive secretariat of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. He is an attorney, armed forces veteran, and lives in the Washington, DC area.
Robert R. Reilly:
I found it very interesting that in the Wall Street Journal a week ago Monday there was an op-ed by a former U.S. Ambassador whose son-in-law was killed in the Brussels bombing. So, all condolences to the Ambassador for that loss, but it was interesting in the rallying cry he issued about the forces of civilization gathering to defeat the forces of barbarism. He wants to identify the enemy and what they are against.
And so he says, “Let’s be clear. This fight is not only against America and Europe, and it is not against Christianity.” Well, were that true, there would be no need for such an organization as In Defense of Christianity, which there emphatically is. And we are very privileged to have our speaker here tonight, and we are also very pleased to have the co-founder of this group and its president, Toufic Baaklini, with us in the back of the room. Thank you for coming, and other members of the staff, Louay Mikhael from Iraq was an advisor to IDC is with us this evening. We are very happy to have you here.
Now, Andrew Doran is as I mentioned the co-founder of In Defense of Christians and he remains a senior advisor to the group. IDC is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the protection and preservation of Christians in the Middle East.
As you know, this organization – or if you do not know, I know Andrew will tell you tonight – played an absolutely essential and key role in bringing attention to the issue so that when Congressman Fortenberry introduced the bill in the House of Representatives declaring a sense of the House that there is a genocide in the Middle East, it was introduced at the IDC conference at which I was privileged to be present at the time last year.
And as you know, an extraordinarily unique event happened fairly recently when the House of Representatives passed that resolution unanimously. In addition to which Secretary Kerry of the State Department subsequently declared genocide or designated what is happening there a genocide however, only after the evidence of that genocide was presented by IDC to the State Department in a nearly 300 page report, which IDC did in concert with the Knights of Columbus and that I know is what Andrew is going to address this evening. I just want to point out being a Knight of Columbus in their recent magazine they point to a poll which they commissioned in which the majority of Americans say Christians face genocide in the Middle East. So that message has gotten out and it has gotten out in large part because of this wonderful organization, In Defense of Christians.
Just a few more words about Andrew. He has published dozens of articles about U.S. foreign policy and human rights with a focus on the Middle East. He previously served at the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of International Organizations – for which [he has] my condolences – on the Executive Secretariat of the U.S. International Commission for UNESCO. He will be talking to us tonight about, “Christian Genocide: The Evidence for its Designation and Saving Christianity in Iraq.” Please join me in welcoming Andrew Doran.
Thank you very much and thank you for having me and for that kind introduction, Bob, it is a pleasure to be here at the Westminster Institute. And, you know, looking around the room and seeing a friend and a victim of genocide, his family is a victim of genocide, here in the room with us, Louay Mikhael, who was a friend and comrade on the ground, steering me around some on several trips and some dangerous places. And now he is here in our home, and his family is here, seeking asylum, if I may.
And, you know, I suppose we will come to this a little bit later, but this is the greatest evil I think on the planet unleashed now before us with ISIL. And the victims are not only our brother and sister Christians, but our brother and sister human beings, Sunni and Shia, Muslims, Yazidis, all of those people who lay in the path of ISIL defenseless. And unfortunately, I am afraid this caliphate is not going away any time soon.
It is something of an injustice I think to – hopefully a small one – but an injustice to be credited with so much, whereas I feel as though we have been sitting back, watching so many people do so many remarkable things, and of course, great credit to Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Rabbi David Saperstein, a friend and hero who has led the way on this, Knox Thames at the State Department, and of course, Congressman Jeff Fortenbarry and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, with their legislation dropped September 9th, 2015, which as you mentioned, Congressman Fortenbarry announced at the National Press Club the day we launched our second event, six months to the day.
We were honored to have the report published with the Knights of Columbus, who I think are kind of the cavalry coming to the rescue in this story. I think it was their effort. They were told by State we just simply do not have the evidence to declare genocide, [so] go get it. At that [point] most people would have said, well, I suppose that is the end of it.
Well, they went and got it, and they came back. And it was so persuasive and as they successfully drove home, the standard was probable cause, I am sure you all know, for genocide, which essentially means establishing reasonable grounds, a reasonable basis. And if you read the upwards of three hundred pages of the report, and I hasten to add that many other NGOs did heroic and wonderful work, gathering and documenting these atrocities on the ground, and that was also adopted and incorporated by reference in this report.
It is worth reading. It is not night-time reading. I was re-reading it again today and it is deeply unsettling, and I think anyone who has spent any time in that part of the world, you know for whom it is real, and we have, again, in our midst someone who fled his homeland, his ancestral homeland to be here with us. It is very real. I just met for the first time today Louay’s daughter, who is what, four years old, five years old? You know I walked away and I wondered, my god, I hope she does not have any memories of any of this.
There are some people not in the room who certainly deserve recognition, although if the camera was not rolling, I would skip over them. Bob Destro, the indefatigable professor who spent time working on the language, Dr. Stanton, the many Hill staffers who did such a wonderful job, putting in the overtime to see through so much of this, and of course, as I mentioned, the Knights, and IDC’s own staff, who are overworked, and in the interest of not revisiting salary negotiations I will not add underpaid, since they may be present. But we really have an amazing team.
I was talking to Marty in the hallway before coming in. One of the great things that I think that we have seen, certainly over the last six months is the various groups of advocates, those organizations and individuals who have given their voice to speak out on behalf of the Christians of the Middle East, working in much greater unity. I was looking over my notes and I was looking at something and I thought, wow, I was very pessimistic about that and it happened, I was very pessimistic about this and it happened. I was pessimistic about the genocide resolution. I was pessimistic that it would even get to the floor, and then it passed unanimously. And then I said, well, okay, well, we have to plan for the [fact that the] Secretary of State is never going to designate genocide for Christians, so we have to plan for this and move on accordingly, and then eight days later he does.
So, not that I am ceasing to be a pessimist, but increasingly I find myself thinking of myself as what the late Benedict Groeschel would call a ‘hopeful pessimist,’ and I think maybe hopeful pessimism is the attitude we should bring to the question of the Christians in the Middle East because now we have before us genocide declared, and the next question that everyone has been asking, of course, is what next, so now what? And as many have said, now we are just coming to the starting line. Now what do we do? And I will come to this.
I think the answer is very, very clearly a special autonomous zone, a protected zone, whatever – I do not want to get into semantics – whatever we want to call it, that is the concept that we are talking about and this haven in Iraq is key, not only to help save Christianity in Iraq, we need to have a model across the Middle East as these nation-states continue to disintegrate and to fall apart, falling back into sectarian violence.
The report as I mentioned – I have a copy here if you do not mind reading my mark-ups, and we have some, I think Kirsten has brought some, and the Knights, of course, have many, and it is available online at InDefenseofChristians.org and on the Knights of Columbus website. I think [it is] 286 pages in a PDF, and at a minimum if you do not want to take the whole thing, I think it merits reading the executive summary, which is well-crafted and persuasive, and I think the standard clearly was met. And I say that because ISIL is an organization that is self-defined and self-proclaimed as a genocidal organization, so there is not a great deal of dispute.
One concern I have – and I think most in the room will remember 1994, the Rwandan genocide. There was a moment when, as heads were being lobbed off and people were being slaughtered almost in real time, this descent into a semantic debate, which had the effect of being thoroughly dehumanizing, and one of the fears, one of the things I was pessimistic about was that this was going to descend into that, and it was going to be this back-and-forth, ‘Well, is this genocide or is this mere crimes against humanity because crimes against humanity are, of course, tolerable?’ Well, of course, they are not.
What Assad has done in Syria certainly constitutes crimes against humanity. Now, by the legal definition does it meet the threshold of genocide? I think probably not, but let us just suppose that that is the case for the sake of argument. Mere crimes against humanity is certainly sufficient to command the outrage of the international community, and one would hope compel them to action.
What action precisely? I think we have models for faux nation-states being deconstructed, and the best model that we have is Richard Holbrook’s 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, which saw the international community mobilized to end a genocide in that case against Muslims in the former Yugoslavia, and to see the establishment of a zone of separation monitored by an international – not peacekeeping, but peace enforcing force led by NATO and the United States principally; the French, the British, and the Americans, twenty thousand Americans, effective January 1, 1996.
We do not see any sort of leadership on the part of the United States to mobilize the international community, and our so-called allies in the region to put this conflict to an end. On the contrary, we see where the Turks, who have played a very dangerous game since 2010, 2011 to rankle Bashar Assad, letting Al-Nusra move freely across that border, and now that violence is coming home to roost, and that was inevitable.
And in the Gulf states we see tremendous fear. I think I have used the analogy that Thomas Jefferson once used of holding the wolf by the ears. This is essentially the relationship between Wahhabism and the violent extremism that has come forth from the Sunni Gulf states. And I also hasten to add that our government’s response to this has been woefully inadequate for years.
We have known the funding and ideological sources of Al Qaeda, of Al Nusra, the Al Qaeda affiliates, and even the Islamic State. And we have done virtually nothing about it. Billions of dollars diverted from wealthy individuals, perhaps with the knowledge and consent of certain people in the government, but certainly it is known, and it is known that many of the transactions took place through Kuwaiti banks.
And this was when Al Qaeda in Iraq was – in a conversation with somebody recently, we were talking about the parallels with – I hesitate to jump into this, but with the Irish Republican Army when in 1972, I believe, Bloody Sunday, there were fewer than a hundred [IRA militants]. And then some wildly imprudent judgement on behalf of some British soldiers, who were there actually to protect the Catholics led to the deaths of thirteen Catholic civil rights protestors, resulted in the enlistment of thousands of young Catholic men into the Irish Republican Army almost overnight.
Now, the same inciting event does not exist, but Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2010 in the west of Anbar Province was relatively obsolete, and then the Syrian civil war came here, the Arab Spring, the revolt against Assad, Assad’s thuggish regime crushing, murdering children essentially, sparked a revolt among Sunnis. And I think reasonable minds may differ about whether or not there was ever any real hope of a moderate Sunni rebel force emerging, but now it does appear pretty clearly and convincingly I think that the overwhelming majority of those on the rebel faction tend to be somewhere on the Islamist spectrum. And the two most powerful groups, of course, are ISIL and Nusra, who have competing ideologies and interests, but I do not think this is a case where we can say the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Yesterday, I heard former Congressman Frank Wolf speak before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission along with Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus. And former Congressman Wolf was as always unafraid, and he sat there in his chair, and he said we know where the funding sources are coming from, and our government is not doing enough about it. [He is] a man of great courage to say that.
And I think we saw over the past week where the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States feel somewhat inadequate to even represent the interests of survivors, [the relatives], of murdered victims of 9/11. Simply passing legislation to pursue those parties who may have contributed to 9/11, and there is an $800 billion dollar debt held over our head as a nation like the Sword of Damocles.
And I think it really prompts the question how did we as a nation, the United States of America, somehow [become] beholden to this frankly very extreme regime in the Gulf? This is one of the questions that is going to baffle historians, about how we got ourselves, starting in the 1970s, into this mess. From 1975 to 1995, Saudi Arabia spent more money exporting Wahabism than the Soviet Union did throughout the entirety of the Cold War, that is just pre-9/11.
Now just imagine how many terrible regimes we might have given those trillions of dollars in wealth to who would have done less harm, starting with the Soviets. This is the great conundrum before us, and we have not yet come up with a solution. I was having a conversation a couple of years ago with the foreign policy advisor of one of the current presidential candidates, and this advisor said – we were having a conversation about this, and the advisor said, well, the only solution here is energy independence.
Correct though that may be, it is a completely inadequate response to this. I mean it is very late in the game for energy independence. The substance of the harm has been done. And we should think not only of those three thousand plus victims on September 11 but also the eradication of Christianity in the Middle East, of the blood of Americans that was shed in Iraq and whether it was shed by Iran, proxies of Iran, or terrorists funded by private individuals in the Gulf states. What difference does it make? It is American blood that ultimately had to be shed because this extremism was spread by petrol wealth.
I was having a conversation with another advisor to one of the former candidates of this past election cycle. It seems like there were so many on the Republican side. It is not shocking we are down to a few. It was a very telling conversation about that frustration about the nexus between our energy independence and radical, violent extremism. And just the sense of helplessness that was reinforced in that conversation was very discouraging. So the U.S. government certainly has tools.
I was going to add, we were talking about Iran in that discussion, and I said do you know what the number two revenue-generating industry in Iran is? And he said no, and I said I do not either, but I do not think it is significant. That nuclear program is being funded by oil revenue. All of the threats to American national security are being funded through the oil revenue of people who do not share our values or our strategic interests.
And one last point there – it is a conversation about genocide and Christians of the Middle East, and I am talking about the Gulf states, so I hope you will forgive me. On the way to the IGE meeting last Tuesday about northern Iraq and the survival of Christianity there, I had a Palestinian driver, and we were discussing this very issue. And he said I hope they are made to eat that oil. And I thought what an interesting thing. He said it will be mean to them in five years. And remember that going back to the ’70s, the principal source of funding for the PLO was from the Arab Sunni Gulf states, so this problem has taken on different forms over the decades, but it is the same problem.
So first, why is the designation important?
First for the reasons I just mentioned, it brings to justice not only the individual soldiers who are carrying out these atrocities, this genocide, but also those perpetrators and accessories, and I think that line is very significant, the perpetrators and accessories. And I think this is something that we must key on because as we pursue the ideological and the funding sources that is certainly going to be very important. And all of the agencies of the U.S. government must be directed toward what I think the next steps are, and that is restoring the victims to justice.
Now what does that look like? I would say, first of all, securing the Nineveh Plains region, which is the northern, eastern part of Nineveh province. To give you some sense, Nineveh province is, I think, a little over fourteen thousand square miles. Armenia by comparison is only 11,000 square miles, so that should give you some [sense] of the magnitude of Nineveh province. So when we say Nineveh Plains, we are talking about a subsection of Nineveh province.
To the south and west of the Nineveh Plains is Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, which is a mess left abandoned after the fall of Saddam, especially late in the regime of Maliki after President Bush left. And the Sunnis there were essentially the victims of divided, sectarian governance. And we see the consequences of this, of course.
And I think there was a preference there. I do not think many of the residents of Mosul were simply not passive agents in ISIL moving in. And certainly, the Iraqi military, the military of the central government, demonstrated all the interest in protecting Mosul as you might expect in 1968 from, you know, an Alabama National Guard unit deployed to put down civil unrest in Detroit, you know. There really was no concern. There was no sense of nationhood, and I think you get this when you go to Iraq. It is just a fact. We are talking about a broken nation, no sense of itself. And this, I think, is where we erred when we went into Iraq.
Pluralistic democracy sort of assumes an evolved sense of the common good, a very post-tribal society with a sense of the common good, or at a minimum common interest. And if that was not there in 2003, it is certainly not there today, and so I think this is a time for radical creativity or what passes for it inside the Beltway. We have to begin to be honest with ourselves and have some difficult conversations about what a post-ISIL Iraq is going to look like.
At a recent gathering of the Atlantic Council, the KRG special representative, Bayan [Sami] Abdul Rahman, addressing a panel of retired generals and diplomats, said after one of them had commented that the Sykes-Picot borders had, in fact, proved to be very durable, she said, gentlemen, this is 19th century thinking. Do you have any idea how much blood has been shed to preserve those borders? And certainly, Kurdish blood, but let us not forget Christian blood, as well.
And my friend Marty and I were talking just outside about this question of the Kurds, and I think it is an important one because those who believe in sovereignty, that a people have a right to self-govern who believe in sovereignty, those of us on the outside have a right to demand that same sovereignty, self-autonomy, security is the point I am coming to, for the Christians, the Yazidis, all of the religious minorities and vulnerable peoples, especially those of the Nineveh Plains of northern Iraq.
Recently, I think, some of the statements from both the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have indicated that they are not only open to the notion of this region being secure, this region, by the way, which in both the Iraqi and the KRG provisional constitutions allow for special rights and special autonomy for Christians and other religious minorities. They have indicated that they are open to international observers, perhaps even international peacekeepers.
I think this is a very crucial moment for those who are advocating for the rights of Christians in the Middle East and hope for the preservation of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq to make demands of both the KRG and the central government about the rights of Christians and the self-administration and special autonomy of Christians. The next step would be resettlement, of course, into these historic Christian communities.
Now, we are talking about thousands, tens of thousands of empty homes, people who had to flee with little or no notice with ISIL on their heels, going to the region just a little bit to the north and west of Erbil. And if you go there, you see I would say about a hundred thousand Christians at least in this Christian community, largely of IDPs. Many of these Christians have expressed to me, have expressed to others in this room, Congressman Wolf mentioned it yesterday, Mr. Anderson mentioned it, have expressed a willingness to return to Nineveh.
And I would also like to add that Christians I have spoken to whose grandparents were originally from Nineveh, who moved in 1933 after the massacre in Nineveh to the Khabur river region in northeastern Syria in Al-Hasakah Governorate, which was then overrun last spring by ISIL, who are now refugees in Beirut, have said we do not want to go back to Al-Hasakah Governate. We do not want to go back to Syria. We want to go back to the land of our ancestors. We want to go back to Nineveh, to the Nineveh Plains.
So think about this.
There are refugees in Lebanon who are saying we want to go back to Nineveh, what a fascinating thing. What a great opportunity this is for us to give the Christians of Iraq after our nation, wherever we may stand on the war, or wherever we may have stood in 2003, we gave rise to harm that the Christians suffered, that many others suffered. I know that some may debate, you know, the duty to intervene, but I think we do have a duty to protect, especially where our conduct contributed to the danger that many now face.
And as Carl Anderson noted yesterday, it is not ‘genocide declaration-and-we-move-on.’ This is an ongoing thing. The genocide is taking place right now, and so long as the Christians are not permitted to return to their homes, this genocide is ongoing, and so we do have a duty, and the question I think before is what do we do? These are my thoughts, and I would say there is a growing, emerging consensus on this. Now, what this looks like I do not know, but I am, as I said at the outset, something of a pessimist, a hopeful pessimist about the survival of Christianity specifically in the Nineveh Plains region.
So security, resettlement, revitalization, this is the third point. Economic revitalization will be necessary, and it will need to be very swift because we have a number of people already facing a very difficult choice of do I leave Iraq for Europe, or for the United States, or Canada, or Australia, or do I cling to the hope that I may get back into my home one day soon. Many who were there have committed to staying, and I believe they want to, and so this piece of economic revitalization is key.
I am proud to say that Stephen Hollingshead, friend and colleague, has been doing work on behalf of IDC to look at that very question, what can we do to spark a very rapid economic revitalization for the Christians and the others who return to the villages in the Nineveh Plains, and what might be done while they are still internally displaced persons. And I cannot even begin to do justice to Stevens’ comprehensive vision for what ought to happen, but I will say that he is contemplating everything from microfinance and micro investment to revisiting current banking practices.
And [he] has had a number of very positive meetings with people who I would say even three years ago would not have been aware that there are Christians in the Middle East, and now are aware and want to do something about it. And I think that that speaks volumes about the many wonderful people, some in this room, some not in this room, who have committed their lives or a portion thereof to this work to preserving Christianity in the Middle East there again.
Where I was once very pessimistic, I think there really is hope, and I think there are opportunities. If one of the dangers of American institution building – and this is what we do well. We do institutions. We do very large, well-run institutions that are very impersonal. We do that very well, and there are dangers when you are talking about things like genocide, which is becoming a kind of meaningless term, an impersonal term. But one of the things we do well is grow institutions, and this is where I think leveraging these institutions in the Middle East to help rebuild what was destroyed, I think, there is a great opportunity before us.
And I do not know that a complete sweep of Mosul is going to be necessary for this resettlement, revitalization, and the security portion of this to begin. I think there are different minds on this. I do not know that even a few years from now if Mosul is going to be completely cleared. I do not know that it is going to look like it. I do not know that it is ever going to. It did not look very good in 2008 when Archbishop [Paulos Faraj] Rahho was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in a dank basement in Mosul.
I mean these problems in Mosul did not begin in 2014. This is a long-term solution. I am not optimistic that the Iraqi military can liberate. I am not optimistic that the Kurds are keen to shed blood to liberate a city, and then pull out of it, or that they frankly have the means, or the capability, or the training for offensive warfare, the sort of urban warfare that is going to be necessary. But just coming back, there are a number of groups looking at these possibilities, how to help the Christians there, and they are leveraging ingenuity, and so that is something, the source of hope.
I think, with that I am just going to speak for a moment about the challenges that Middle East Christians face here and there, and I think that I would say that there are seven, but they are related. Some of them are overlapping. The first would be the history and culture, and you do not ever want to suggest any sort of fatalistic view, in other words, that people are trapped by their history and culture.
But I think I would say Christopher Dawson, the Great British Catholic historian, just sort of in passing somewhere noted that we tend to think of Christianity, especially the early centuries of Christianity, as being Greek and Latin. Greek and Latin Christendom, this is how we think of it. And he said there really is a third pillar of Christendom, and it is Syriac Christianity, he called it. We might say Middle East Christian, Middle East Christianity, Middle East Christendom. Although, in his time that might have been called Near Eastern Christianity, but Syriac Christianity is how Dawson called it.
And he did note that unlike Greek and Latin Christendom, which hearkened back to a pre-Christian pagan political era of empire, in other words, they had pre-Christian political traditions that were incorporated into Greek and Latin Christendom, Middle East Christianity never really had that, and so talking about the region of the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, Syria, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, the Christians of these regions, Greek, Monophysites, Maronite, they were typically overrun by the great empires of the ancient world. They were used to being, in other words, a subject people from the Greeks, to the Romans, to the Parthians, to the Persians, and then the Byzantines, and then the Arabs (the Byzantines, of course, were Christian), and then finally the Arabs.
By the time the Arab conquests of the 7th century overrun the eastern Mediterranean to Mesopotamia, Anatolia, down to Egypt, the religious leaders of that of that part of the world are very much prepared to cede anything that needs to be rendered to Caesar. They are just prepared to concede that, and they are content to render only to God, and so what happens beginning very early on, certainly by the 7th century when we have Islam and Christianity occupying the same space, much of it for several centuries predominantly Christian – places like Syria, were, I think, forty percent Christian, fifty percent Christian as of just half a century ago.
But I think that moment when the Christians more or less conceded the political realm started a pattern in motion that is still with us to this day. And I guess I would say that that maybe strikes an American a little bit odd that religious leaders would be coming to represent the political interests of a people, which is what happened in 2014 when we had the patriarchs coming out of the Middle East and it was historic, and it was, I think, the first moment of its kind since the Council of Florence.
At the same time in the back of my mind, I am thinking how could this be? Why would this be? Where are the political leaders? And of course, this is very uncomfortable. I do not want to delve into this too much. There is the Ba’athist exception with Michel Aflaq, but frankly, I do not think that was necessarily a Christian [movement]. I mean that was definitely a secular movement.
And I do not know that that has favored the Christians over the long run. Indeed, many of the Christians I talked to who have been victims of brutal Ba’athist regimes will tell you that is certainly not what one hopes even the architects had in mind, so I guess the greater point is that there is not an independent political culture that developed among Christians in the Middle East, there is not that willingness to engage. And we see that to this day in Syria where a significant number of Christians on the ground are perfectly willing to cede their voice to a regime that is essentially discredited worldwide.
Now, it is not for me to judge them, and my heart goes out to them, and what a terrible captive place that must be. I do not think anyone in this room would trade places with a Christian in Syria, so I think we dare not judge. However, looking at it from 50,000 feet or perhaps in the context of 2,000 years, I think it is safe to say that the absence of an independent political culture is certainly not ideal. Now where I do see that developing and I am optimistic is in is in Lebanon, and I think the Christians of Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, however imperfect Lebanese politics is, and it certainly is, there is access there to freedom of speech and an opportunity to observe freedom of speech and parliamentary democracy in a way that just simply does not exist elsewhere.
And I would also note that Lebanon is a very small country, and it has been plagued by its own civil war, but it has resisted for five years the possibility of slipping into a civil war, but the fact that Lebanon is small should not really give us [pause]. We should not dismiss it for that reason. On the contrary, I think what is beginning to emerge across the Middle East as these nation states, especially Iraq and Syria, are falling apart is the fact of local, regional governance.
I heard someone in the Middle East, a very thoughtful gentleman, say what is coming about with the collapse of these false nation-states is the rise of the city state, and it is beginning to look something more like what existed in Europe. And I thought that was a fascinating observation. I cannot claim credit for it myself.
Quickly: demography is certainly a challenge. There are the twin problems of the exodus of Christians and the comparable birth rates of Christians. And the prognosis there is not necessarily encouraging, and I think this is another reason why we should look at regional and special autonomy.
The third point would be what a Middle East Christian advocate and a Syrian called the dialectic. We were sitting in a room on Capitol Hill, and he said the biggest problem we face is the dialectic, and [the eyes of] everyone in the room just sort of glazed over. And I thought, well, that is interesting. He is spot on, and his point was that the Christians of the Middle East among the American foreign policy establishment are not regarded sympathetically because institutional Christianity in the West has traditionally been identified with the oppressor class.
This, of course, is Hegel’s dialectic of herrschaft and knechtschaft, I think, lordship and bondage, but the church has historically been identified in the West as part of the oppressor class, and this is an unfortunate reality of many [people in the] foreign policy establishment coming from lead institutions and being prepared to identify the Christians of that region. I mean you think about the terrible irony there. I think the gentleman who made this point was precisely correct, but you think about the terrible irony of the victims being identified, the oppressed being identified, with the oppressor class.
The next two points really are related. Disunity, which I think is the biggest obstacle to effective advocacy, [and tribalism]. And I also want to add that this is something that is being addressed, I think, just organically and naturally on its own with people working, organizations and people working more closely together. [I am] very encouraged by that. And then disunity is kind of an extension of tribalism, which is a little bit of an uncomfortable subject, but one that really kind of cannot be avoided.
I was recently reviewing an article I was writing, and [something] occurred to me. I thought, okay, well, I think Jesus of Nazareth was the first post tribal prophet-level, you know, teacher of the Abrahamic faiths. And I thought, well, that is an interesting notion, I think I will test this out. So last week I was talking to Chris Seiple, Chris Seiple of IGE.
He is a really thoughtful, wonderful man who I think came up with the concept of what he calls relational diplomacy, which essentially means sitting down in the Middle East and letting a dozen grown men in a council scream at you for American foreign policy for about an hour before you get a word in edgeways (Louay, you have had occasion to see me get yelled at in the Middle East, yeah), and then absorbing that and building trust by telling them, you know, what you think.
I wanted to bounce this idea of, you know, tribalism off Chris Seiple. And he said, oh yeah, John 4, and it was one of those moments that I think that a lot of Catholics have, you know? I just sort of vaguely nodded, you know, thinking I hope that that is the Samaritan woman, yeah. And there should have been something in Westphalia that, you know, made memorizing scripture, give Catholics permission to opt out of memorizing scripture passages.
But Chris is a fascinating guy, and he said yes, this notion of post-tribalism is an important part of our work. And now I am excited to say we are co-authoring a piece on it, but that really is a very important challenge, and it has to be overcome. And in the West, I think we face the challenge of cultural tribalism. And in the Middle East, I think there is still a lot of ethno-religious tribalism, and I hope that the Christians of the region will realize, and the Christians of the West will realize, that tribalism is fundamentally incompatible with Christian belief, and hopefully we can move beyond it.
And then finally, there is the problem of inverse proportionality, which I think is a big cultural barrier between Middle Eastern and Western Christians. And by inverse proportionality what I mean is about 5 percent of the Middle East may be, approximately, is evangelical and about 5 percent of America would be Orthodox, and as you go from the East to the West, you see these numbers switch where we have a plurality of evangelicals in the West, and then Catholics would make up the next greater portion, and [there are] very few Orthodox. And in the Middle East, Orthodox constitute a majority, a slight majority I believe, of the Christians in the Middle East, so it is not just language, it is not just culture. It is custom, it is liturgy.
And so, a number of evangelical leaders, I am happy to say, are taking steps to help narrow that culture gap. And I think that overcoming that is going to give Christians a great opportunity for a greater voice in this culture. I will just conclude by saying it is a real honor to be here at the Westminster Institute. I hope I did not drag on too long and that there is some time for some questions.
It is an excellent report, which I looked over and read. And I actually wrote an article on this, but in the introductory legal brief report in an unfootnoted passage, which struck me because everything else in the legal brief was footnoted, the passage was not, there was a discussion of the jizya, the poll tax on Christians, being a substitutionary tax for military service of Christians, as was referenced by Robert Destro, your legal adviser who signed on to the legal brief at the press conference at the National Press Club on the release of the report.
Where did that idea come from that the jizya is merely a substitutionary [tax]? [It the idea that it is] similar to like the Civil War experience in America, that, you know, you have the bonus jumpers and so forth, that I could pay my way out of the draft or the Union Army? That is the idea that Robert Destro and others were [suggesting].
That is a great question, and I am afraid I think you would have to ask Robert. I am not familiar with that, and I could not answer that question. I thought that the jizya portion of the report was very significant. And in some meetings with members of our government, I heard people at different points dismiss [the significance of the jizya tax]. You know, it was sort of the [attitude of] ‘oh, mere crimes against humanity’ tendency that you saw. ‘Oh, the Christians, it is really not that bad. They can pay a tax.’
Well, the report went to great lengths, I think, to make the case that this is not what is going on. This is not the historic, traditional jizya tax that is being levied against Christians. In fact, when 3,000 Arab Muslim warriors conquered the whole of Byzantine-held Egypt in I think the year 642, they were able to do so because there was a great deal of support among the Monophysite Christians of Egypt. And once they conquered Egypt, the Caliph was not keen to convert anyone to Christianity because he was raking in all this money. And there is no evidence historically that it was anything like what we are seeing in Iraq and Syria, in Raqqa and Mosul at the hands of the Islamic State.
I am afraid I cannot answer your question. I just do not have [the answer]. I would be happy to reach out to Robert Destro or put you in touch with him if you would like to follow up with him, but I do not feel as though I am competent to answer that specific question because, yeah, that is one area I just do not know enough about.
Thank you, sir. Andrew, thank you for your report. It is a fantastic report. I would like to ask a question about what you said about Mosul and the Mosul campaign. If I heard you correctly, you said that the Nineveh Plains could be secured and there could be economic revitalization even without taking the second largest city of Iraq. There are a million people there at least. There are at least four thousand or more Islamist fighters. It is a big sprawling city. It is huge. There are many universities there. By the way, I used to live in Kirkuk.
Nineveh Plains is one of the most attractive places in the world to live. This is an ancient wheat growing area. Wheat has been growing there for 6,000 years. It is great land. It has got water with the Tigris River, and as Louay will tell you, it is sitting on top of a lake of oil. There is this tremendous amount of petroleum. The richest petroleum fields in Iraq are in the north and they go right into Mosul, so this is precious land. And also, it is empty, as Louay will tell you, a lot of people used to live there. They are gone, so there is a tremendous amount of real estate that is available to be resettled.
And it is great for truck farming. You were in the State Department, so the agricultural experts that I worked with in Baghdad said this place could be fantastic for truck farming just like they do in Israel, so my question to you is you talk about economic revitalization, but we know that would be very dangerous and very inhibiting for people to try to live in an area that is only 20 miles away from a country that is infested by killers who have hundreds of suicide bombers who just love to go kill farmers or kill industrialists. How do you see the repopulation of the Nineveh Plains without taking Mosul?
I think it is a great question. I think first you have a number of people who are going. I think the question is open as to whether or not the Islamic State will substantially reconstitute in North Africa and Libya, and so the dwindling number of ISIS fighters will make it easy for, well, let us be honest, it is going to be an American-led coalition to sweep Mosul. I do not know that I see that necessarily in the future. I do not know that that can be banked on.
What I would say is [I] have been to the front lines and [I saw] something very much approximating the western front in World War I, where you have a thousand-kilometer front trenches, fixed defensive positions, and no tanks to penetrate the lines. I think it was April or May of last year in Tesqopa, [when] ISIL in the middle of the night [at] about three o’clock in the morning packed up a truck with explosives [and] drove it through, so their tactics are very primitive. They are trying to pierce the line. The Kurds surged and repelled the attack.
And I think at some point even ISIS got tired of the suicide bombing approach, and it did not prove effective, so I guess what I am saying is you have a fixed defensive position that cannot be penetrated. I do not see ISIL coming into possession of tanks anytime soon. My point is simply that this is a defensive position that can be held, and so what is the threat at that point to a city like al Qosh? The threat is mortar or artillery. I think that is something that can be neutralized or lived with.
And I realize that you are talking about a tremendous risk for somebody who has to move back, you know, under that threat, but the simple reality is it is not sustainable, the IDP situation is not sustainable. I am aware that there are different views on this, and I completely understand and respect anybody who would not want to move back into a city that is still within mortar range of Mosul, but I do not think it is a realistic possibility to assume that ISIL is going to be moving north and east of Mosul anytime in the near future. I simply do not see that.
So I think what we are talking about is a crisis of confidence in the people, that they can go home and that it is safe to go home. Again, I do not feel quite comfortable telling people that it is safe to go back. I would never say that, but I think we will see that there are many who are willing to go back. And even when I was in Tesqopa, I saw people at their homes, driving out to their homes in Tesqopa where you can see the ISIS-occupied villages with your own eyes there. [They are] just a mile or two south on the road to Mosul. I hope I answered that question.
You mentioned on the IGE call there were a lot of angry people on the call. Have any of the issues they raised been dealt with at all, the expulsion of Syrian Christians in areas controlled by Kurdish forces?
I [was] referring to last Tuesday’s event at IGE. I was not on the call, so I am afraid I do not know what you are referencing there. I do know that there was some upset Assyrians in the room, and I think that is good. Voice your opinions. And I think that IGE would say the same thing, that what they want to hear is Assyrians. I saw Assyrians and Kurds having some respectful but intense conversations, and I think that is very healthy.
And frankly, I think we as Americans have a duty to, especially as the Kurds move toward independence, and I would never say that they should be denied their independence, but I would say if sovereignty is something that the Kurds are entitled to, then Christians are entitled to it, as well. And I think the request of Christians for greater self-governance and self-administration are perfectly reasonable because one of the things we have seen [is Armenia].
I think Armenia is a good example of a people who had no help from the outside, and they had to reforge their own nation out of Ottoman Turkey. And had they not done so at the Battle of Sardarabad in 1918, it was May 1918, there would be no Armenia, so these things can be very touch-and-go. I hope I answered your question, which is to say I am unable to answer your question. That is twice now so let us keep going.
Kanan Makiya was here two weeks ago, and the Kurdish question arose, and his opinion is that he thinks the Kurds are smart enough to understand [the situation]. They know how well they have been doing for the last 20 years, first of all under U.S. protection for much of that time, and that were they to declare independence, all hell would break loose with Syria, Turkey, Iran, etc., and that it would not behoove them to unilaterally move in that direction. What do you think of that?
Well, a few things have happened just in recent years. The Kobani siege was a very pivotal moment, and I say that because the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan are now watching what is happening in Syrian Kurdistan with great interest and a sense of nationalism, and a sense of a united people. And I do not know that that existed five years ago, so the nationalism is a very strong movement in Kurdistan right now, and it is only the government that is that is resisting it. If this were to go to a vote, I would say, you know, 98-99 percent of the Kurds would vote for independence. And I think that is very telling. Probably only civil servants could be convinced to vote against it. I think that is how popular it is, and that is the surge toward nationalism.
With respect to the Christian question there, my hope is that the KRG sees something that did not exist five or even three years ago in the United States, and that is highly mobilized and motivated series of advocacy groups on behalf of the Christians of the Middle East. Last night, for example, the KRG hosted a special event on the Hill, recognizing the great historic ties between the Jewish people and the Kurdish people, and their representative there was a woman. I think in most instances what we would say is a special representative who is a woman coming from the Muslim world, holding a special event to recognize the contributions of Jews within the framework of Kurdish culture is not insignificant. I mean, to borrow a phrase from Margaret Thatcher, these are people we can do business with.
However, what we have to be clear about, what this Christian advocacy apparatus has to be very clear about, is that we should be neutral the question of Kurdish independence because it does not directly touch the survival of Christianity in Iraq, but we are going to be watching very closely how the rights of Christians are protected and their willingness to in turn honor Article 35 of their own provisional constitution, which calls for special autonomy for Christians. What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and I think this is the standard we have to hold the Kurds to with respect to the Christians.
There is a great deal of distrust there. How can I possibly tell an Assyrian Christian he has no right to be skeptical of being governed by the Kurds when there is significant evidence on the ground that they were left, you know, to rot when ISIL came by Peshmerga forces.
Now, the Peshmerga are nothing like centralized or unified, right? I mean there are just [different groups], but that is something that is a helpful projection to the West, but they are governed by more or less by political parties. There is increasing centralization, and there is a movement toward independence, but they are trying to project more orderliness, I think, than exists in reality. I hope I answered that question.
Being at the House, you were there with the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the one phrase that struck me from Ambassador [David] Saperstein was he talked about [how] we are trying to seek a pluralistic, democratic Iraq. How are these ideas in policy circles working of Kurdish independence or an autonomous zone?
I think the autonomous zone is somewhat consistent with what is called the Biden-Gelb, Joe Biden’s 2006 co-authored piece in The New York Times with Leslie Gelb, calling for, in essence, the Dayton model to be implemented in in Iraq. It is not calling for the breakup of Iraq. It is calling for decentralization, a more federated governance structure, more regional autonomy. I think certainly a step in that direction is what is called for. I can certainly appreciate that Ambassador Saperstein might not be comfortable, deviating from the talking points at State, and I certainly would agree with that.
This is what we would all like to see, a pluralistic Iraq, but it is simply not the reality right now, and we have to deal within the framework of reality. I do not know that the U.S. government can fund a program that is going to cause Iraq to transcend sectarian and tribal violence anytime in the foreseeable future. I do not even know what that program would look like, so I guess what I am saying is we have to deal within the framework of reality.
And I was there, and I did hear some [things]. Robbie George’s remarks were wonderful, of course. I did hear some people discuss the limits of state action and the possibilities of NGOs, but also how much of this means engaging in civil society, and there I believe Rabbi Saperstein did talk about the importance of engaging something like what Chris Seiple would advocate, relational diplomacy, really at the at the town, and in the village, and the individual level for these communities to reconcile. And I think that really is what is going to be necessary. I hope I answered your question.
I have a question about the language you use in discussing issues of violent extremism, language itself has a certain origin and as a certain verity that generates that kind of generates also, I would say, questionable outcomes and questionable oppositional tensions, so that, for example, when we are talking about the Wahhabis, and then they are extreme, or we are talking about certain Sunnis, and that might be extreme, or what the Kurds are doing, that then becomes extreme. There is something underlying violent extremism, which can be explained in terms of just basic Islam. Is there any cutting through the dance of violent extremism, any attempt to actually really connect the dots and say here is something completely authentic?
You know, Bob and I were talking before we started out here. It was earlier today that we were having a conversation, and I said every conference I go to, it was true last week, every conversation I am a part of, people are moving around. It seems they are unable to quite put their finger on what the problem is, and I think the Regensburg address hits it, nails it, spot on.
And it is very rare that I would say publishing a book is courageous, but The Closing of the Muslim Mind by Bob comes very directly to this point. What we are seeing is a crisis of reason. When you read this, what you are reading about is a crisis of reason, and my own belief is that violence before it is carried out with the wielding of a sword or the firing of a gun, it is first an act of violence against reason. In other words, it is a form of violence against reason.
And this is what we are seeing. What we are seeing is violence to reason. I am not keen to jump into the plausibility of your revealed religion against the plausibility of my revealed religion. I think what ought to strive for is a notion of common reason, and by that what I mean is what can you and I and the next person agree to, independent of revealed texts and revealed faith, about our common humanity, and that in a word is Hellenization. So I think Bob answered that better than I possibly could.
Robert R. Reilly:
That was a very good presentation. Andrew, thank you very much. I want to acknowledge the presence in the room of Drew Bowling, as I mentioned Congressman Fortenberry’s great role in the congressional resolution as having introduced it. And Drew worked so hard to bring this to fruition that he is owed a great deal of thanks along with IDC and all the other organizations that work for this.
And I should mention in that respect our office mate here at Westminster is Barnabas Aid, and you may see in the next room the literature from Barnabas Aid and the work they have done to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere, and also to bring greater attention to this. And in fact, with Drew’s help Barnabas Aid will be presenting Congressman Fortenberry with the tens of thousands of petitions they also signed to help draw attention to the same issue as does IDC. So thank you very much for coming.