Iraq's Muslims and Christians: A Widening Divide?

An Iraqi Catholic priest on Muslim-Christian relations in Iraq -- and how fundamentalist groups are targeting churches

| August 5, 2004

Fr. Clarence Burby is an Iraqi Jesuit priest, a leader of a minority religion that received protection under Saddam Hussein's regime. When the war in Iraq began, Fr. Burby expressed concerns that religious tolerance in Iraq might be threatened by a regime change, and his fears came to fruition on Sunday, August 1, 2004, with the bombing of several Baghdad churches. Fr. Burby claims that because of the chaos and insecurity caused by Saddam's overthrow, Iraq is in far worse condition under the American occupation.

Since churches no longer receive protection against fundamentalist Islamic groups, churchgoers are now under constant threat of violence. Women have been attacked and kidnapped on the way to church, and anonymous threats against Christians are common. Fr. Burby fears that fundamentalist Islamic groups are exploiting the unemployment and unrest in the country and that violence against Christians may increase as time goes on. The continuing influx of foreign evangelical groups also sparks resentment against local Christians, who are becoming increasingly and unwillingly associated with pro-U.S., pro-occupation forces. Though there is hope that a secular, moderate government might take power in Iraq, the country's growing unrest and unemployment, coupled with fundamentalist Islamic influence from outside and within, suggests that further violence against Christians may erupt from the chaos.
-- Brendan Themes

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