Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil offered a grim prediction for the future of Christianity in the Middle East, saying recurring Islamic purges will inevitably lead to the extinction of Christians.
Although the Islamic State invasion of Iraq in 2014 led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians from historical homelands and despoiled the Christian community of homes, employment, and churches, this event was far from unique, Archbishop Warda told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need this week.
“This was an exceptional situation, but it’s not an isolated one. It was part of the recurring cycle of violence in the Middle East over more than 1,400 years,” he said, which is leading to the gradual eradication of Christians from the area.
“With each successive cycle the number of Christians drops, till today we are at the point of extinction,” Warda said. “Argue as you will, but extinction is coming, and then what will anyone say? That we were made extinct by natural disaster, or gentle migration? That the ISIS attacks were unexpected, and that we were taken by surprise? That is what the media will say.”
“Or will the truth emerge after our disappearance: that we were persistently and steadily eliminated over the course of 1,400 years by a belief system which allowed for recurring cycles of violence against Christians, like the Ottoman genocide of 1916-1922,” he declared.
The interview with Archbishop Warda marked the fifth anniversary of the Islamic State invasion of the Nineveh plains on August 6, 2014. Christians were driven from the area and were only able to return in the fall of 2016.
While Christianity has been present in the Nineveh plains in Iraq since the first century, the arrival of Islam came centuries later.
There have been indeed been periods of Muslim tolerance of Christians in the area, Warda declared, but violent persecution always returns.
These moments of toleration “have been a one-way experience: Islamic rulers decide, according to their own judgment and whim, whether Christians and other non-Muslims are to be tolerated and to what degree,” the archbishop said. “It is not, and has never, ever been a question of equality.”
“Fundamentally, in the eyes of Islam, Christians are not equal. We are not to be treated as equal; we are only to be tolerated or not tolerated, depending upon the intensity of the prevailing jihadi spirit,” he said.
“The root of all of this is the teachings of jihad, the justification of acts of violence,” he said.
Muslims engaged with Christians and Jews in respectful dialogue from the 8th century until the 14th century, Warda said, helping to create the Arab Golden Age and “a flowering of science, mathematics, and medicine.” But the imposition of Sharia law put an end to all that.
“The imposition of Sharia law saw the decline of great learning, and the end of the Golden Age of Arab culture,” he said. “A style of scholastic dialogue had developed, and this could only occur, because a succession of caliphs tolerated minorities. As toleration ended, so did the culture and wealth which flowed from it.”
“The truth is that there is a foundational crisis within Islam itself, and if this crisis is not acknowledged, addressed and fixed then there can be no future for civil society in the Middle East, or indeed anywhere Islam where brings itself to bear upon a host nation,” he said.
The archbishop’s view of the future for Christians in the Middle East is not a hopeful one, unless Islam undergoes major internal changes. And in his mind, the West is complicit, for its failure to take anti-Christian persecution seriously.
“When the next wave of violence begins to hit us, will anyone on your campuses hold demonstrations and carry signs that say, ‘We are all Christians?’” he asked. “And yes I do say, the ‘next wave of violence,’ for this is simply the natural result of a ruling system that preaches inequality and justifies persecution.”
“The equation is not complicated,” he said.