December 27, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 3473

Qatari Liberal 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari: 'The Perpetrators of the Massacre at the Baghdad Church are 'the Children of the Culture of Hate'

December 27, 2010
Qatar, The Gulf | Special Dispatch No. 3473
In an article titled "The Children of the Hate-Culture and Its Victims," Qatari liberal Dr. 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari responded to Al-Qaeda's murderous attack on the Baghdad church, in which dozens of innocent civilians were killed. He asked why it is that Iraq's Christians face terrorism, persecution, and discrimination, as do other non-Muslim minorities throughout the Muslim world, when Islam itself preaches tolerance towards non-Muslim minorities. After reviewing several possible explanations, Al-Ansari concluded that the reason for this is the culture of hate which is spread in Muslim countries by extremist preachers and is fueled by radical religious discourse and by a climate of social strife. He called on the Iraqi government to take substantial measures to protect the country's religious minorities, and on intellectuals and civil society organizations to reject the culture of exclusion and hate for the other.

The following are excerpts:[1]

"Why Are the Christians of Iraq, and [Other] Religious Minorities in Our Region, Under Attack?"

"The survivors of the horrible massacre at the church of Our Lady of the Salvation [in Baghdad] on the Night of All Saints [October 31, 2010] expressed feelings of bitterness and sadness as they described the mental anguish they had endured for six hours: the scenes of horror and terror [they had witnessed during] the attack on the church by a group of armed terrorists belonging to the [Al-Qaeda-affiliated] organization called the Islamic State of Iraq. The attack came while the Assyrian Catholic congregation was performing the evening mass. One of the parishioners said: 'As soon as the armed men stepped into the church... they entered a state of frenzy and started to shoot indiscriminately, as though they had come for one purpose only, namely to kill and kill and kill.'

"Father Athir was reading from the Bible when the gunmen came in. He said to them: 'Kill me and let the parishioners be,' and they murdered him. [Then] Father Sabih begged them to have mercy on the worshippers, and they pushed him down and shot him. The terrorists, who spoke in [non-Iraqi] dialects, behaved like wild beasts and refused to hold any negotiations. They started to execute the hostages one by one and slaughtered more than 40 of them [in addition to the] two priests, in cold blood. Had the Iraqi security forces not broken in and rescued the hostages, paying with seven of their own lives, the number of victims would have been much greater. [Eventually], this terrible [attack] ended with 52 dead, including five of the terrorists.

"This massacre, the most murderous attack on Iraqi Christians since the U.S. invasion in 2003, poses a huge challenge for the causes of tolerance, inter-religious dialogue, and the strengthening of common denominators, and it confronts us with several questions: Why are the Christians of Iraq, and [other] religious minorities in our region, under attack? What were Al-Qaeda's goals [in perpetrating] this aggressive attack?... What [about] the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens? And why have some of our children reached this bestial level of criminality?

"The first question challenges our claim that we are tolerant towards the People of the Book. In many religious, academic, and media forums, we proudly repeat that Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace, which despises violence and hate and obligates us to be kind towards members of other religions, as confirmed by [Allah's] words in the Koran: 'Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them [Koran 60:8].' The Prophet himself, peace be upon him, said: 'Whoever harms a dhimmi [a non-Muslim entitled to protection under Islamic law] – I will be his adversary on the Day of Judgment.' The Prophet also provided the most magnificent examples of tolerance, even towards the worst of his enemies. When he first arrived in Medina in the year 622 CE, he made an agreement with the Jews there and signed a covenant with them, called the Constitution Medina, which guaranteed [them] equal rights and duties, [and established the] relations [with them] upon [principles of] cooperation and mutual protection and good neighborliness. There is no need to elaborate by enumerating all the magnificent examples of tolerance by Muslims towards the members of other religions, or the various covenants made by Muslim leaders with people of other religions, in which they undertook to guarantee their safety and to protect them and their churches and crosses. For 14 centuries, the Islamic state never neglected its responsibilities towards minorities, even in the worst periods of those long centuries."

"What Has Happened to Muslims Today that Their States Fail to Protect Their Christian and Other [Non-Muslim] Citizens?"

"So what has happened to Muslims today that their states fail to protect their Christian and other [non-Muslim] citizens? All international reports confirm that religious minorities throughout the Islamic world suffer various kinds of discrimination and violation of rights... [as well as] expulsion and terrorism. Their lives and the lives of their families are threatened, as are their places of worship. Once we spoke of the unjust treatment of Christians. Today we speak about their right to survive and live in safety and security. If this is not deterioration, what is?

"Al-Qaeda [recently] announced that Christians have become legitimate targets for the jihad fighters, which brings us to the second question, about [Al-Qaeda's] goals in attacking Christians in Iraq and elsewhere. Some analysts believe that [its] goal is to empty Iraq of its Christians by means of terrorism, threats, and expulsion. The massacre at the church was followed by a new series of attacks on Christian homes in various parts of Baghdad, aimed at sowing fear among them and making them flee the country. It should be noted that in recent years, after Christians became a target for attacks by religious extremists, their numbers dwindled to less than half of what they were. In 2003 they were 1.4 million, [and now] their numbers have dwindled to only 600,000. Most of them have left Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul for Kurdistan, where they are safe. As for the Jews, they left long ago. A report issued by an international organization... warned about the dangerous situation of the historical minorities that have been living in Iraq since time immemorial. It stated over the last five years, 80% of the Mandaeans and 60 % of the Christians fled [Iraq] because of the wave of fundamentalism and the increasing threats and attacks against them.

"Other observers believe that Al-Qaeda has intensified its aggression [against Christians] for propaganda purposes, [i.e.,] in order to assert its existence and power. [This assumption seems plausible] because the killing of Christians, [even] by the dozen, will never cause them to emigrate. The Cardinal of the Assyrian Church, who led… the funeral procession of the attack victims, declared: "We are not afraid of death and threats. We are children of this country, and we will stay in Iraq, hand in hand with our Muslim brethren, for the glory of this country's name... Father Botrous, who survived the attack [on the Church], said: 'We will [live] here [until we] die. It is inconceivable that we should leave this country. There is also a third explanation: the goal of Al-Qaeda is to internationalize the conflict [in Iraq] by goading other countries to interfere [in it] under the pretext of protecting the minorities. A fourth explanation is that [Al-Qaeda] wants to deal a blow to national unity, and still others say that [its] goal is to realize electoral achievements.

"I believe that the main goal of all Al-Qaeda operations is to sow fear, undermine stability, and demonstrate the [organization's] presence and media impact, and at the same time to expose the weakness of the state apparatuses and the fragility of [the country's] security. That is why Al-Qaeda always looks for weak points in the [state's] defenses and breaches [these defenses by] targeting vulnerable spots like markets… hotels, restaurants, cemeteries, mosques, and churches… where lots of people congregate… It is in accordance with this strategy that they chose to attack the World Trade Center…

"Thus it becomes clear that Al-Qaeda attacks Christians and their churches and homes because they are a vulnerable part of [Iraq's] social system. This brings us to the third question, of the states' responsibility for protecting its citizens, especially the Christians. Indeed, [Iraq's] highest Shi'ite [religious] authority, [Ayatollah 'Ali] Sistani, denounced the criminal act [of the attack on the Baghdad church] and called on the state to discharge its duty [towards the Christians], and the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, also denounced the criminal attack… and called on Muslims to assume responsibility for protecting the places of worship of all other monotheistic religions."

"It Is a Laughable Paradox that We [Muslims] Demand... to Protect Religions from Offense, While We Are Unable to Protect the Followers of Other Religions [in Our Countries] from Total Destruction, Let Alone from Insults…"

"The Iraqi government has implicitly admitted that its security apparatuses failed [in their duty] and that it is [therefore] responsible for what happened. [Accordingly,] it has decided to form an inquiry committee and hold to account those who had been negligent, and also to treat the wounded, pay compensation [to victims], and to rebuild the church. This, of course, is the least that must be done… Some Christians have demanded international protection, similar to [the protection granted to] the Kurds after the events of 1991, as long as the government is unable [to protect them]. But this is not an appropriate solution. What is needed is clear and determined measures on the part of the Iraqi government, not just promises and declarations. What is needed is practical measures to assuage [the fear] of Iraq's remaining Christians and the other minorities that have no armed militias and tribes to protect them…

"It is a laughable paradox that we demand of the international community to protect religions from offense, while we [ourselves] are unable to protect the followers of other religions from total destruction, let alone from insults… One wonders: what is the role of society [in all of this]? What is the role of intellectuals, civil society organizations, and political parties? What is their role in inculcating a culture of tolerance and rejecting the culture of hate for others? This leads us to the fourth question: Why is it that some Muslims adopt a bestial criminal behavior towards the other? The reason is the culture of hate, which has taken root in the social infrastructure thanks to religious [preachers] who are bent on cursing the Christians and Jews… from the pulpit every Friday. Those who broke into the church and turned it into an arena of bloodshed and torn limbs are the children of the culture of hate… of hostile thinking, of inciting pulpits and fatwas. They are the children of a wretched social climate full of tension. Our children, the terrorists, are the product of our environment and society. They imbibed the ideology of hate with their mother's milk… They are obedient [pupils] of a religious discourse loaded with hate for the other… a discourse of supremacy and extremism, which holds that it alone has a monopoly on the truth.

"The political excuses about the Muslims' grievances against the West are the most dangerous factor that perpetuates terror, [because these excuses are false]: it is not only Christians who are victims of terror; most of the victims are Muslims."


[1] Al-Jarida (Kuwait), November 15, 2010.

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