The Courage to Be a Catholic in Iraq

Interview with Middle East Expert Camille Eid

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MILAN, Italy, OCT. 11, 2002 ( What is life like for Catholics in Iraq? Lebanese Camille Eid, expert in Middle East affairs and contributor to the Italian newspaper Avvenire, tried to answer that question in the following interview.

On Thursday, Eid took part in a debate on «Horizons of the War in Iraq: Is to Prevent, Better Than to Cure?» organized by Milan’s Polytechnic University. The interview took place shortly after the journalist spent a day with the Latin-rite Bishop Jean-Benjamin Sleiman in Baghdad.

Q: Is there religious liberty in Iraq?

Eid: The Catholic who must go to Mass is free to do so; he is free to build churches. However, Christian schools, especially the Catholic, were nationalized about a decade ago. There is relative liberty. Compared to the Gulf countries, Iraq is in the vanguard. If contrasted with life here in Italy, obviously much is needed to attain real liberty.

Q: How do Catholics live this reality?

Eid: What torments the Church at present is the question of the exodus of Christians. Over half of the Assyrian Church, which is not Catholic, is in Detroit. And many Chaldeans have left the country over the past 10 years. Many of them have gone to Jordan first, and from there they have gone, afterward, to Australia, Canada and other countries.

Q: Is it similar to the tragedy of Christians in the Holy Land?

Eid: Indeed, just as has happened to Palestinian, and Lebanese Christians, in all the countries of the Middle East Christianity has been destroyed. In Iraq there still was a millennial Christianity. [But overall] it is really too bad.

Q: Would it be possible to reinforce an internal opposition in Iraq to prevent an external war?

Eid: There are 3 or 4 million Iraqis abroad; there are opposition groups. It is not known to what degree they are popular in the interior. According to press reports, they have found a leader in the person of Ahmed Chalabi, an opponent who has good presence, but he must unite all the Kurds, the Shiites.

Q: Is war inevitable?

Eid: We must look at the causes. John Paul II has pointed out the remedy, which is the elimination of injustice in the world, in order to avoid war.

No one denies that Saddam’s regime is merciless. It is well known how he got to the summit of power in 1979. Meeting in a room with 200 persons, he gave the names of those who should be eliminated. What we challenge is the method. We need a focused point of view; we have principles. The United States wants to establish the rules — all right, it can do so. But they must be applied to all countries, not here yes and there no.

What surprises me is that a couple of weeks ago, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s adviser, said that the war against Iraq will finally take democracy to the Arab countries; hence, it would be a door of entry. Let’s hope so, because Iraq is surrounded by dictatorial countries, whether friends or enemies of the United States.

Three days ago, an Israeli deputy returned from Washington and revealed details of her meetings with the U.S. administration. According to this deputy, someone told her that, once Saddam Hussein has been overthrown, the Americans will put another dictator for five or six years, adding: «This is better for you and for us.»

One cannot help but ask, why? First you speak of democracy, human rights, the freedom of the Iraqi people, and then you speak of another dictator.

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