Of Mayonnaise and Minorities

A recent article in the UK Telegraph offered insights into the many ways that Islamists in Baghdad are making life, by increments, miserable for citizens of the city. Ice producers, crucial in helping people survive in Iraq's 115 degree summer heat, have recently suffered several murders from their ranks.  The reason:  Their product was not available during the time of Mohammed.

Street venders who sell the popular Middle Eastern food falafel have also lost two of their own in the past few weeks, with other venders now closing their stalls.  The same reason is offered by the Islamists, namely, that falafels did not exist at the beginning of Islam.   Those who laughed off the warnings are now lying in Baghdad cemeteries.

Islamists have also warned Baghdad residents who wear goatees to shave or else.  That prohibition, subject to a visit from a vigilante death squad, is due to the fact that goatees originate from a 'Jewish facial hairstyle.'  The article states that barbers have been busier than usual, after a 17 year old was murdered the other month for ignoring the no—goatee warning.

Mayonnaise is also in the sights of the self—appointed morality police.   Like goatees, mayonnaise has a Jewish connection.  Mayonnaise is made in Israel.  Therefore, it, too, joins the long list of things haraam, forbidden to Muslims, according to the Islamists' playbook.   Needless to say, most restaurants are holding the mayonnaise, with or without the customer's request.

Holding the mayo is something that non—Muslims, living in post—Saddam Iraq, would gladly do if that would give them security and peace.  A report, released with little fanfare in October by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is remarkable in its consistency.  All non—Muslim religious communities in Iraq have been targeted by radicals in the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish ranks in the past two years.  And, for the most part, their fate has gone unnoticed by the evolving Iraqi government or the Coalition forces.

Although the exact numbers are uncertain, Christians in Iraq comprise between 8 and 12 percent of the population.  Christians are made up of several groups, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Armenians.  They face increased discrimination in the job market, stepped—up attacks on churches and individuals, and mounting pressure on Christian women to conform to Islamic dress codes.  Shops owned by Christians who sell alcohol, CDs or videos have experienced bomb attacks and looting.  In February, 2005 a Christian nurse in northern Iraq was kidnapped and beheaded.  In the past year a Syrian Catholic archbishop in Mosul was kidnapped and a Christian general in the Iraqi Army was murdered.   Christians are regarded as infidels and collaborators with the Coalition forces.  Thus, their harsh treatment is justified by the Islamists, despite the fact that the Christians, like other minority religions in Iraq, preceded Islam by centuries.

The Mandaeans, also known as the Sabeans, are a monotheistic, pacifistic religious community who are recognized as followers of John the Baptist. The Mandaeans once numbered about 30,000, living mostly in southern Iraq.  They, too, have been attacked by Islamists, who loot and burn their shops, kidnap and rape Mandaean women, and murder the men without fear of retribution by government authorities.  Mandaeans are particularly vulnerable during their religious services, which by custom, are held outside, near rivers.  Several fatwas, issued by Sunni clerics, have given the green light for increased persecution and violence.   As a religious group, they are not counted as 'People of the Book,' a favorable, if often meaningless designation given by Muslims to Christians and Jews.  Mandaeans have been accused of being 'impure,' guilty of systematic adultery and sorcery.   Since the onslaught of increased violence against them, many Mandaeans have fled the country, mostly to Australia.

The Yazidis are a monotheistic religion community whose origins date back 4,000 years.  According to the UNHCR, it is estimated that more than half of their adherents, about 550,000, live in Iraq.  Many survive in the mountainous region of Jebel Sinjar, near the Syrian border.  Considered to be part of the Kurdish ethnic group, the Yazidis came under pressure during the Saddam years to be Arabized.  Since the fall of the old regime, Islamists have increased pressure on the Yazidis in their familiar pattern.  Declaring all Yazidis to be 'impure,' leaflets have been distributed in Mosul, calling for the killing of all members of the Yazidi community.  Several Yazidi men were beheaded near the city of Talafar during Ramadan, allegedly for not following a ban on smoking put in place during the Muslim holy month.  Numerous acts of violence and murders have been recorded since 2004 against the Yazidis.

Jews in Iraq once represented a sizable, thriving community, a historical presence that dated back 2,600 years. Following the creation of Israel in 1948, the persecution of Jews by the Iraqi government forced many to flee their homes and businesses.  In 1968, after the execution of six Iraqi Jews, accused of espionage for Israel, the number of Jews fleeing Iraq increased.  By the end of the Saddam regime, only several hundred Jews remained in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad.  They quickly came into the sights of Islamists, accused of collaboration with the Coalition forces.  Most Jews left in the months following the establishment of the American—led provisional government. Today, it is estimated by the UNHCR report, approximately 20 Jews remain in Baghdad.  No rabbi is present for religious services; for the sake of their own fragile existence, the remaining Jews have disappeared completely from public life.

The recent death of Abu Musab al—Zarqawi is only a speed bump on the Islamists' road to domination.   Despite heroic efforts by the Coalition forces and the promises of the newly formed Iraqi government, the fanatics are forging ahead.  The ongoing, internal conquest by the Islamists must be dealt with forcefully by the Iraqi government, whose stated goal is democracy and security for all Iraqis.  The Coalition forces should address the violence against religious minorities and not regard them merely as an inconvenient detail.  Their fate is a harbinger for all Iraqis, Muslim as well as non—Muslim.

Islamists are changing Iraqi society, down to the smallest details of everyday life.  Just ask any Muslim restaurant owner in Baghdad about his next shipment of mayonnaise.

Fr. Roderick is the Washington Representative of Christian Solidarity International, Secretary General of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights and Episcopal Canon for Persecuted Christians in the Diocese of Quincy. 

A recent article in the UK Telegraph offered insights into the many ways that Islamists in Baghdad are making life, by increments, miserable for citizens of the city. Ice producers, crucial in helping people survive in Iraq's 115 degree summer heat, have recently suffered several murders from their ranks.  The reason:  Their product was not available during the time of Mohammed.

Street venders who sell the popular Middle Eastern food falafel have also lost two of their own in the past few weeks, with other venders now closing their stalls.  The same reason is offered by the Islamists, namely, that falafels did not exist at the beginning of Islam.   Those who laughed off the warnings are now lying in Baghdad cemeteries.

Islamists have also warned Baghdad residents who wear goatees to shave or else.  That prohibition, subject to a visit from a vigilante death squad, is due to the fact that goatees originate from a 'Jewish facial hairstyle.'  The article states that barbers have been busier than usual, after a 17 year old was murdered the other month for ignoring the no—goatee warning.

Mayonnaise is also in the sights of the self—appointed morality police.   Like goatees, mayonnaise has a Jewish connection.  Mayonnaise is made in Israel.  Therefore, it, too, joins the long list of things haraam, forbidden to Muslims, according to the Islamists' playbook.   Needless to say, most restaurants are holding the mayonnaise, with or without the customer's request.

Holding the mayo is something that non—Muslims, living in post—Saddam Iraq, would gladly do if that would give them security and peace.  A report, released with little fanfare in October by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is remarkable in its consistency.  All non—Muslim religious communities in Iraq have been targeted by radicals in the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish ranks in the past two years.  And, for the most part, their fate has gone unnoticed by the evolving Iraqi government or the Coalition forces.

Although the exact numbers are uncertain, Christians in Iraq comprise between 8 and 12 percent of the population.  Christians are made up of several groups, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Armenians.  They face increased discrimination in the job market, stepped—up attacks on churches and individuals, and mounting pressure on Christian women to conform to Islamic dress codes.  Shops owned by Christians who sell alcohol, CDs or videos have experienced bomb attacks and looting.  In February, 2005 a Christian nurse in northern Iraq was kidnapped and beheaded.  In the past year a Syrian Catholic archbishop in Mosul was kidnapped and a Christian general in the Iraqi Army was murdered.   Christians are regarded as infidels and collaborators with the Coalition forces.  Thus, their harsh treatment is justified by the Islamists, despite the fact that the Christians, like other minority religions in Iraq, preceded Islam by centuries.

The Mandaeans, also known as the Sabeans, are a monotheistic, pacifistic religious community who are recognized as followers of John the Baptist. The Mandaeans once numbered about 30,000, living mostly in southern Iraq.  They, too, have been attacked by Islamists, who loot and burn their shops, kidnap and rape Mandaean women, and murder the men without fear of retribution by government authorities.  Mandaeans are particularly vulnerable during their religious services, which by custom, are held outside, near rivers.  Several fatwas, issued by Sunni clerics, have given the green light for increased persecution and violence.   As a religious group, they are not counted as 'People of the Book,' a favorable, if often meaningless designation given by Muslims to Christians and Jews.  Mandaeans have been accused of being 'impure,' guilty of systematic adultery and sorcery.   Since the onslaught of increased violence against them, many Mandaeans have fled the country, mostly to Australia.

The Yazidis are a monotheistic religion community whose origins date back 4,000 years.  According to the UNHCR, it is estimated that more than half of their adherents, about 550,000, live in Iraq.  Many survive in the mountainous region of Jebel Sinjar, near the Syrian border.  Considered to be part of the Kurdish ethnic group, the Yazidis came under pressure during the Saddam years to be Arabized.  Since the fall of the old regime, Islamists have increased pressure on the Yazidis in their familiar pattern.  Declaring all Yazidis to be 'impure,' leaflets have been distributed in Mosul, calling for the killing of all members of the Yazidi community.  Several Yazidi men were beheaded near the city of Talafar during Ramadan, allegedly for not following a ban on smoking put in place during the Muslim holy month.  Numerous acts of violence and murders have been recorded since 2004 against the Yazidis.

Jews in Iraq once represented a sizable, thriving community, a historical presence that dated back 2,600 years. Following the creation of Israel in 1948, the persecution of Jews by the Iraqi government forced many to flee their homes and businesses.  In 1968, after the execution of six Iraqi Jews, accused of espionage for Israel, the number of Jews fleeing Iraq increased.  By the end of the Saddam regime, only several hundred Jews remained in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad.  They quickly came into the sights of Islamists, accused of collaboration with the Coalition forces.  Most Jews left in the months following the establishment of the American—led provisional government. Today, it is estimated by the UNHCR report, approximately 20 Jews remain in Baghdad.  No rabbi is present for religious services; for the sake of their own fragile existence, the remaining Jews have disappeared completely from public life.

The recent death of Abu Musab al—Zarqawi is only a speed bump on the Islamists' road to domination.   Despite heroic efforts by the Coalition forces and the promises of the newly formed Iraqi government, the fanatics are forging ahead.  The ongoing, internal conquest by the Islamists must be dealt with forcefully by the Iraqi government, whose stated goal is democracy and security for all Iraqis.  The Coalition forces should address the violence against religious minorities and not regard them merely as an inconvenient detail.  Their fate is a harbinger for all Iraqis, Muslim as well as non—Muslim.

Islamists are changing Iraqi society, down to the smallest details of everyday life.  Just ask any Muslim restaurant owner in Baghdad about his next shipment of mayonnaise.

Fr. Roderick is the Washington Representative of Christian Solidarity International, Secretary General of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights and Episcopal Canon for Persecuted Christians in the Diocese of Quincy.