A risky special treatment

On 1 November 2010, 46 Christian worshippers were killed in a terrorist attack against a church in central Baghdad, Iraq. In a statement in which the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for these attacks, the Al Qaeda splinter cell declared that “all Christian centres, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen wherever they can reach them” (France 24, 3 November 2010).

These attacks, and the persistent insecurity of Christian communities in Iraq, have been condemned worldwide. Following even more recent attacks against Christian communities in Iraq, the Security Council of the United Nations as well as the Vatican have strongly condemned the violence against these local communities and have called Iraqi authorities to provide them with greater protection (La Libre Belgique, 10 November 2010).

The exposure of these communities to violent attacks such as the one of 1 November 2010 in central Baghdad, have accelerated an important exodus and the sudden risk of dissemination of these communities in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole, which had already been greatly weakened by persistent marginalisation and discrimination throughout the region. In Britain, leading Christian personalities have called on remaining Christian believers to flee Iraq (BBC News, 7 November 2010); while, Eric Besson, France’s Immigration Minister, has granted asylum to 150 Christian victims of the attacks of 1 November  (Le Monde, 11 November 2010).

Unquestionably, unequivocal condemnation is, and must be, the appropriate reaction to these dramatic set of events in Iraq. However, the treatment and attention given to victims of sectarian violence in Iraq must not differ according to the victims’ ethnicity. Hosham Dawod, anthropologist and columnist for Le Monde, sheds light on such potential shortcomings (Le Monde, 9 November 2010). M. Dawod points to the seemingly humanitarian action carried out by France’s Immigration Minister, Eric Besson, who granted asylum to 150 Iraqi victims of the attacks on 1 November. M. Dawod condemns a “shocking” selection of victims by French authorities, who had previously not offered such special treatment to numerous other Iraqis victim of daily terrorist attacks since 2003. For M. Dawod, all victims of terrorism should be dealt with equally, whether they are Muslim, Christian or of any other religious origin.

Terrorist attacks carried out by Al Qaeda in the name of Jihad have systematically fed collective reactions and a sense of collective identity. Granting asylum and special attention to Iraqi Christians victim of terrorist attacks may be a humanitarian response, but doing so differently to any other victim of terrorism may also enhance the differentiation of the “other” along religious lines and, most crucially, play in favour of Al Qaeda’s simplistic association of Christianity with the West.  Such amalgams may only expose Christian communities in the Middle East to further animosities and intensify Al Qaeda’s global crusade against the West.

Andrew Bower