Responding to the crisis in Northern Iraq
Over the last few weeks we have witnessed a tragedy of historic proportions unfold in Iraq with thousands of innocent people at immediate risk of death for no other reason than their religious beliefs. It is impossible not to be profoundly dismayed by the barbaric acts carried out by ISIS fighters that threaten to alter permanently the county’s complex and ancient religious heritage. The forced and bloody exodus of Christians and other religious minorities from Mosul and more recently Qaraqosh, the heart of Christian civilisation in the Nineveh region for almost 2,000 years, underline in very clear terms the appalling inhumanity of the perpetrators of these crimes.
We should not allow, however, the magnitude of the crimes we are witnessing to paralyze us from responding prayerfully with Christ-like love and compassion or from pressing the international community to accelerate and intensify their own humanitarian and diplomatic efforts. As the Archbishop of Canterbury made clear in his recent statement on the subject no effort should be spared to protect all groups forcefully displaced by this conflict. Where necessary the Government must make provision to provide asylum to those that are unable to return to their homes for fear of persecution and death.
To help the Church respond collectively and with purpose to the crisis in Northern Iraq a dedicated Iraq Crisis resource page has been set up on the Church of England’s website. The page includes prayers, details of how people can contribute to a variety of Church based emergency appeals and an advocacy action to help keep this crisis squarely before the eyes of the international community. Please take what ever steps you think appropriate to bring this resource to the attention of others in your diocese. The Iraq Crisis resource page can be found at the following web link: https://www.churchofengland.org/our-views/international-affairs/north-africa-and-the-middle-east/iraq.aspx
With the United Nations designating its highest level emergency for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, it is already clear that this will be a sustained crisis and support will be a needed for the long term as well as to meet immediate needs now. The Iraq Crisis resource page on the Church of England’s website will be refreshed on a regular basis in order to enable the Church to express its solidarity for the vulnerable and marginalised communities in Iraq both now and in the future, and to help us coordinate our prayer and practical response.
We are, of course, aware that the events in Northern Iraq, as well as in Gaza/Israel are affecting community relations in this country. Although Muslim leaders in the UK and around the world have condemned ISIS in the strongest terms, the claim by that group to act in the name of Islam fuels suspicion and prejudice, and the level of hate crimes against Muslims continues to be high. Also many Jewish people are feeling extremely insecure following incidents in which individuals, communities and businesses have been targeted for attack, and due to language by politicians and other leaders in relation to Gaza which makes them feel unwelcome either if they support Israel or simply because they are Jewish.
At this time when community relations are so fragile, please may I encourage you to reach out especially, where appropriate, to Jewish and Muslim communities in your diocese to offer your support and solidarity? Further, it could be important, where appropriate; to use your office and contacts to open or strengthen a space in which leaders from different faiths can come together and demonstrate that even when we differ greatly we are still committed to relationships of respect, and to a mutual vision for peace and justice.
Please encourage witness to the three priorities we see in our Lord’s own ministry: prayer, practical action, and a radical commitment to all who suffer and struggle in times of crisis.