ERBIL, Iraq (Christian Examiner) – The world has all but ignored the plight of more than 250,000 Christian refugees in Iraq, says an Iraq-born Dallas pastor who pleads for American Christians to wake up.
Jalil Dawood can't understand why there isn't more being done for those who have been persecuted for their faith – families driven from their homes who now live in tents, abandoned buildings, and even on the streets – in cities like Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, or in Baghdad where some of the refugees have straggled in to live with the few who remain.
"This is a direct hit at the church, and all I hear is a lot of prayers, which are wonderful, but we need to take action," Dawood told the Christian Examiner. "I'm very surprised at the lack of reaction, primarily by those in the church."
Dawood fled Baghdad during their war with Iran in 1982 and has consistently ministered to a steady stream of refugees and immigrants as pastor of the Arabic Church of Dallas since 2007. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and the University of Texas in Dallas.
Grandson of Chaldeans who barely escaped the 1936 Simile massacre of Christians in Kurdistan, Dawood relates keenly to the persecution faced by those now in Erbil in northren Iraq. Refugees have been sheltered there after fleeing attacks by the Islamic State (IS) in Mosul and other cities and towns throughout Iraq this past year.
Waving aside arguments that people in the Middle East have been fighting each other for centuries, Dawood said the Christians were attacked simply because of their faith – and that the actual fighting has been between Muslim factions.
"They didn't have arms to fight any enemy," he said of the Christians, and of Yazidis — an ancient sect whose plight has been much publicized for haven been driven out of Mosul. "They are perceived as being weak because they are not armed."
Dawood, who still has family members living throughout Iraq, said after 2003 the persecution of Christians in Iraq intensified, despite the U.S. promotion of democracy. Statistics bear out that at least a million have fled Iraq since 2003, he says, because of persecution.
With the "new window of freedom in Iraq," Dawood said Christians were increasingly victimized.
"Christians are perceived as westerners because America is perceived as an ally and a Christian nation — and our Bible has Jewish names and Jewish history, so we are perceived as a Jewish--Christian connection — an infidel by the hard core Muslims," he said.
The same thing happened 1,400 years ago when Islam took over, the pastor said, and Christians were told to convert, die, or pay taxes. Then, like now, Muslims did not give Christians the opportunity to work so they could pay taxes — and the Jihadists took away their daughters and wives for sex slaves.
Dawood said he is shocked by the lack of response by American Christians given a massive outpouring of people into the streets in Europe that raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the misplaced in Gaza.
"We need to do something visible and challenging in both the political and humanitarian spectrum," Dawood said.
"What is the status quo?" he asked, "That America will leave Iraq a nation without salt and light and salvation?"
In the Middle East, Dawood said the enemy is only at its "beginning point" and with recent events in Canada and the beheading of an American in Oklahoma by a radical Islamic terrorist, what is going on in Iraq is "not an Iraqi problem, it is a universal problem," with IS terrorists targeting Christians and anyone who does not share its mentality.
"Even though the problem appears to be local, the implications are global," Dawood warned. "If it is not dealt with seriously, it will come to our door fast. When the Arabs and Muslims send troops; that should tell us they are concerned about it. If it were a local problem, they wouldn't have been worried about it."
The bottom line for Christians is whether or not they will act, Dawood said.
The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR reports there are one million displaced persons in Iraq — refugees and asylum-seekers from Iran and Turkey, of Kurdish origins, and Palestinians who live in camps, settlements and urban areas — also mainly in Kurdistan. Syrians also represent the growing number of refugees being assisted.
HELPING IRAQI CHRISTIANS
Last year Dawood started World Refugees Care, Inc., a non-profit organization that has assisted in the resettlement of people who have fled to North Texas primarily from Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey. Today he is channeling funds through that organization to doctors in Iraq affiliated with the United Bible Societies. It has teams building a mobile medical unit to deploy among refugees living on the streets and transitionally.
The hospitals are overloaded in Erbil, the pastor said, and people don't have transportation anyway. The mobile unit will allow doctors to drive to where people need medical attention and care for them inside the unit, rather than have to administer IV's and other care in the open.
"It's a matter of concern, it's a matter of the heart," Dawood said. The organization has sent $5K toward the $30K needed for the vehicle, and $7K to Erbil and Baghdad for other needs, he said. His church has sent $9K and is sending another $3K soon, but is running out of resources.
"We need action and prayer," said Dawood, who in September led a protest at the John F. Kennedy Memorial in Dallas. He is an advocate of special visas for some of the tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis who seek emigration, pointing out that they have become so traumatized they are worse than prisoners in their own country at this point, with no place to go.
"We cannot do nothing when there is so much suffering in the Middle East," Dawood said. "If we don't respond to it, we really have become callous and are just concerned about our stuff here."
Call or write your U.S. senator to ask for action now.