“Everywhere militants were blowing up Christians … the message to these ‘infidels’: You don’t belong in Iraq. Leave, pay the penalty to stay, or be ready to die.”
By Carey Lodge, Christian Today.
Journalist and editor of WORLD magazine, Mindy Belz, has reported on the ground in the Middle East for more than a decade. Having traveled extensively in and around Iraq since before the beginning of the Iraq invasion of 2003, she’s had an insider’s view of the way that the war has affected civilians, in particular Christians.
The ultimatum above features on page one of her new book, They Say We Are Infidels (Lion Hudson, £12.99). It refers to war-torn Iraq in 2006 – long before the catastrophic rise of Islamic State – and reveals the heartbreaking decision faced by Christians all over Iraq and Syria.
A believer herself, Belz has compiled the harrowing, and often inspiring, accounts of the Christians she’s met throughout the region while covering the war and its aftermath. People like Insaf Safou, an Iraqi Christian wife and mother who travelled throughout the country with packets of donated money to give to families in desperate need. Odisho Yousif, who was shot and kidnapped by Islamist militants in 2006 while trying to deliver aid. And Fr Najeeb Michaeel, who packed up and transported hundreds of ancient, priceless documents from his church in Mosul which was later overtaken by ISIS militants, and is now working to preserve church history by digitising them.
Belz says she “stumbled upon” the persecuted Christians of Iraq and was drawn in by their resilience. “It’s embarrassing to admit because I am a Christian and should have been more aware of the ancient roots that our religion has there, and yet I wasn’t,” she tells Christian Today. “I began a whole long journey that I didn’t expect; it was a door opening onto a community that I think most of us in the West have little appreciation and understanding of.”
Christians have long been persecuted in the Middle East. Though the world woke up to the plight of religious minorities in 2014 with the overrunning of Mosul, they had suffered for years under brutal regimes and extremist groups. “We didn’t fully pay attention… until ISIS came in in 2014 and started beheading people, hanging Christians on crosses, taking women as slaves and doing all of these unspeakable, atrocious things,” Belz said. “[This is the] kind of persecution that Christians have been facing all along. They haven’t had a seat at the table, their voices haven’t been heard.”