By Adhid Miri, PhD
The Iraqi community in the United States and more specifically, the Chaldean American community in Michigan, opened their homes and hearts to many Iraqi political leaders that visited our community organizations and churches over the years.
Every politician knows that the key to winning the hearts and mind of our community is to make great promises on Christian and minority issues as well as promoting business and political collaboration. A classic promise is building bridges with the community, attracting investment and defending Christian rights.
On issue after issue, most visitors have made sweeping promises, and all have blatantly betrayed them. In many ways, Iraqi Chaldeans are eternal optimists who can’t learn from experience. We want to believe politicians will improve our people’s lives back home, then reality strikes and we are left wondering why we believed that somehow, this time, the outcome would be different.
Regrettably behind each visit and visitor lies just an illusion of a better future for Iraqi Christians and a false promise.
“When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything.”
The frequent visits are usually marked with the same promises by almost all Iraqi politicians. The ranking of the elected official seems correlated with the size of the promise.
There is no need here to detail the many broken promises that have accumulated throughout history. With constant change and lack of political and administrative continuity in Iraq, this problem reoccurs with new faces and new political figures. Visiting politicians attempt to extract additional support to their agendas by promising to improve a specific problem that is near and dear to our hearts.
Christians represent an essential component of Iraq. From the dawn of Christianity until the fall of the regime in 2003, they defended the values of citizenship, formed an effective model for democracy, and preserved their towns, churches and monasteries.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Christians were attacked by terrorists, abducted, killed and their churches were blown away. In 2014, Christians were driven away from their homes when ISIS occupied Mosul and the Nineveh Plain towns. ISIS burned historic churches which reflected a deep-rooted and prosperous Christian presence in this region. Today, despite the liberation of these areas, Christians have not received any support from the Iraqi Government for the reconstruction of their homes and rehabilitation of infrastructure. Moreover, the conflict has been intensified on this land to change its demography, causing escalation of Christian worries and fears.
The tendency to hope for a better future through politics and politicians is nothing new. Promises of change abound, yet little seems to change.
What is the problem?
Although we realize this deep down, we continue to fall for lies again and again. We think this time will be different. So, we lay out the money, spend the time, become parts of an endless treadmill and continually allow these political characters to seduce us into believing there will be change. But can such hope ever be fulfilled? Or is it merely part of a cycle, a cynical exploitation of short memories and emotional partisanship? In the end, this leads to nothing!
A recent visit by the Iraqi parliament speaker to the U.S. and the load of promises displayed classic examples of failure to engage the community. The outcome was nothing more than a conference room on WhatsApp! Basically, a rosy wish list without real mechanisms or effective procedures.
Iraqi politicians run their power engine on the fuel supply of fake praises and false promises. This kind of governance can do nothing good for the country, its citizens or democracy.
They promise to do all they can to cure the ills of society including persecution, religious rights, freedom of expression, property rights, etc. and upon their return they will bring about vast improvements in equal rights, education, employment, infrastructure, and the economy.
For well over 15 years, the Iraqi government and legislative body have used their power in the wrong way and would bend public policy to suit their purposes and profits. They have done nothing to protect the Christians or ethnic minorities. They make heroic statements in the USA and hide away in Baghdad.
To sum up, our community members have lost patience and are determined not to be fooled by any further false promises. Now, all that is left are feelings of distrust and betrayal towards politicians and all whom are associated with these pretenders.
These politicians fail to see the available success stories and model contributions of other communities in the USA to their homeland. They fail to understand the magnificent contribution of other ex-pats like the Irish, Indian, Italian, Israeli, Lebanese communities and their remarkable contributions to their ancestral homeland. Iraqi Americans are a precious asset. We have strength in every sector: education, health, law, business administration, banking, and engineering. We have thousands of talented specialists willing and ready to help. It takes 30 years to produce a single PhD recipient. We have hundreds of able scholars and candidates. Some would be willing investors and economic developers in Iraq if the government was not corrupt and deceptive.
It would be easy to blame all of this on politicians, who will say anything to be accepted and supported. But we, the people, are at fault also. We continue to embrace politicians who make outrageous promises, fail to deliver on them, and then allow them to use the same promises to get another invitation to visit or join our events.
Are we to believe today’s promises any more than we should have believed the false promises that were given in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and beyond?
There are two fundamental problems with our thinking system. First, we tend idolize politicians because they tell us they will fix the problem for the Christians in Iraq. These officials are merely civil servants. It is their job to support their citizens. They work for the people and should be treated as such.
Second, politicians that make promises that are either too vague to measure or so unrealistic must be held accountable.
We can’t expect the politicians to change the system that brought them to power. We need to drive change ourselves, change our thinking and our level of cooperation.
A major correction is needed in the course of Iraq if it is to survive as a multiethnic nation. It is needed first and foremost in the composition of the Parliament and Supreme Court. Now is the time for truth and courage. Now is the time for all Iraqis to stand up to the powerful on behalf of the people. The choice, not just in rhetoric, but in reality. Applying the principles of pressure politics might be just what Iraqi politicians need.
We are very concerned about laws that have been enacted in the Iraqi parliament that hurt minorities, specifically Christians. The new Iraqi parliament developed unfair laws that infringe on civil rights, property rights, citizenship rights, cultural, educational rights, religion choices for the young newborn from mixed marriages to religious freedom.
The demographic changes that are taking place in the Nineveh plain region and all around our villages are tragic. The constitutional role of majority in defending minorities is a standard in all emerging democracies.
We should fight for “the forgotten Christians and minorities of Iraq’’ against the powerful forces of greed and corruption. Standing up for “vulnerable people against the powerful’’ should be our community meaning and mission in the United States. The suggestion from some in our community that we should cut all cooperation and abandon the relationships is wrong in principle and in practice.
We must have a process we can believe in and measure. From now on we will no longer ask, “What will you do for the Christians?” but the question will be, “What have you done?” if they dare to ride our coat tails to meet with U.S. politicians to further their agenda. We will keep a balanced perspective on an effective relationship process for the sake of the next generation in the U.S. and protect our unfortunate people in Iraq.
We need to express our opinions in favor of reasonable laws and actions. We must demand that Christians be treated with dignity and given equal rights to Muslims and all other citizens in Iraq. The fate of our people is hanging by a thread and future generations will not forgive or forget our failure to act.