The call by Archbishop Athanasios Dawood for Christians to leave Iraq and be given asylum in Britain is likely to be heard far more clearly in Iraq than it is here.

The recent terrible events – the attack that left 50 dead at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad followed by roadside bombs set off in predominantly Christian areas of the city – are the culmination of a campaign of intimidation against Christians to which the Iraqi government has been largely indifferent.

Lacking money, guns or political influence, and associated in the minds of many with the ‘crusade’ launched against them by Western forces, these Christians have increasingly been targeted for beatings and murders. Many have already left, and al-Qaida has warned of more attacks. Against that background, the call by a Baptist pastor, Nabil Sara, for Christians to stay for the sake of their Christian witness demonstrates enormous bravery.

The archbishop’s words, however, may well give the green light to many who were wavering – and no one could blame them for leaving if they can. They will find no welcome in Britain, however.

Britain’s treatment of asylum seekers has been shabby at best compared with other European nations, and the idea of tens of thousands of Assyrian Christians descending on this green and pleasant land – whether they had a well-founded fear of persecution or not – would give our political masters the conniptions.

Nevertheless, honesty compels us to admit our responsibility for their plight. The coalition led by America and Britain brought down Saddam Hussein and left Iraq a broken nation where fanatics ruled by atrocity and the most powerful armed forces in the world were impotent to stop them.

Whatever one thinks of the decision to invade, the folly and incompetence of the West’s subsequent dealings with Iraq have been universally acknowledged. It is a bitter irony that our failure should now result in the extinguishing of Christian witness in a land where it had endured for 2,000 years.

While the likelihood of Britain agreeing to large-scale immigration from Iraq is vanishingly small, we – and even more so the United States – still have levers to pull there. The British government is in a position to insist that the Iraqi authorities place the security of the Christian minority at the very top of its agenda.

If it cannot defend the weak and protect the innocent, a government has failed in its primary and fundamental duty to its citizens. We will not believe the rhetoric which speaks of progress, stability, economic growth and political maturity while our brothers and sisters in the faith are being slaughtered.

We should hear the call from Pastor Sara and urge our elected representatives to offer every support of which they are capable to Christians in Iraq.

Mark Woods is editor of The Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.

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