Open Doors USA President and CEO Dr. David Curry says Christians are on the verge of extinction in Iraq but also that the intense persecution started long before the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
Open Doors USA is one of the leading international organizations assisting persecuted Christians around the world. It has a team actively involved inside Iraq, but Curry admits ISIS clearly has believers there running for their lives.
“I think they’ve largely succeeded in driving out Christians in many of these areas to the north of Baghdad,” he said.
While ISIS presents the most intense and most immediate threat to Christians in Iraq, Curry said Christians have been targeted ever since the Iraq War began in 2003.
“Christianity has been under attack for a long time in Iraq. This has been more than just what’s happened this summer. Over the last 10 years, you’ve gone from what amounts to about a million Christians in Iraq to maybe a few thousand by some of our estimates,” said Curry, who added that physical conditions for Iraqi Christians are very bleak.
“Our team is telling me on a daily basis that it’s just very uncertain for these folks,” he said. “Many of them moved two and three times even before the Islamic State. With that new (ISIS) push since this summer, there’s a feeling that maybe there isn’t a place for Christians in Iraq. So that’s very discouraging to them.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Dr. David Curry:
Life for Christians throughout much of the Middle East carries dangers far beyond ISIS and much closer to home. Curry said Islamic culture poses a major threat to believers.
“Culturally, there are some issues that these Muslim countries are facing,” Curry said. “A lot of times, when you have someone from the Muslim faith who has converted to Christianity, there’s pressure within the family. They can be ostracized. So you see not just violent outbursts like we’ve seen with Islamic State, but overall within the region there are more underground points of pressure on Christians or people who are seeking to convert their faith.”
Over Thanksgiving weekend, Pope Francis visited Turkey and, along with the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, urged Muslim clerics and political leaders to promote religious tolerance and to protect religious minorities in their countries. Curry is thrilled to see the pope speak out on the issue and believes is could very well do some good.
“I think he carries a lot of influence, and I think he’s speaking for a lot of people that it is something that is important to healthy society, that we honor religious minorities,” Curry said. “In this case, it’s Christians within a Muslim context, but in many countries around the world religious minorities are persecuted, and I don’t think it makes for a good society. I know it’s not healthy.”
Will a dialogue with Muslim leaders actually lead to better treatment of Christians in Muslim countries? Curry believes it can.
“I think we’re wrong if we think that everybody within the Muslim community is reflected in the Islamic State,” he said. “This is a splinter group. There are Muslims who would be willing to talk about, and I think would welcome, protection of religious minorities within their country. Remember, in some countries like India, Muslims are persecuted for their faith.”
Curry said there are two things Americans can do to assist the persecuted Christians in Iraq and elsewhere. The first is to pray for them.
“We encourage people to pray for the safety of these families and for these kids, that some security and stability comes to the region,” he said. “We certainly are praying for that.”
Donations are also welcome to pay for food, water and clothing for Christians on the run as winter sets in. Those interested can visit OpenDoorsUSA.org.