In an analysis of the interim Iraqi constitution passed on March 1, 2004, I wrote a pessimistic analysis, "Islamic Law Rules in Iraq" arguing that "When the interim constitution does take force, militant Islam will have blossomed in Iraq."
One sign that my pessimism was warranted came today, in an article, "Christians Begin Exodus from Iraq," by Ken Joseph Jr.
Of course, the constitution is not the only problem facing Iraqi Christians; others include the June 30 deadline for a transfer of power, and the community's failure to receive any positions other than the (symbolically apt?) Ministry of Emigration. But making of Islam the "official religion of the state" also had something to do with this exodus.
Joseph quotes a deacon observing that "On a recent night the church had to spend more time on filling out baptismal forms needed for leaving the country than they did on the [worship] service. ... In recent days nearly 400 families as far as we can tell have filled out baptismal forms to leave the country. Our community is being decimated."
No less despairingly, a 31-year-old named Robert observed: "We thought the Americans were going to bring us freedom and democracy. Instead, they are promoting Islam. We do not understand it. ... We love the Americans! We are so grateful for them removing Saddam and giving us back our freedom. We do not want their effort to be a failure if the dictatorship of Saddam is replaced by the dictatorship of Islam."
"We want to stay. This is our homeland," says a priest. "But if we do not have a place where we can go, if we will be persecuted daily by Muslims again we cannot stay."
Comment: Christians leaving Iraq fits into a larger pattern. "Disappearing Christians in the Middle East" was the title of a special issue of the Middle East Quarterly in early 2001. As I noted in my introduction to it, "At the present rate, the Middle East's 12 million Christians will likely drop to 6 million in the year 2020. With time, Christians will effectively disappear from the region as a cultural and political force." (May 28, 2004)