The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is gravely concerned about the plight of Christians and other religious communities in Iraq, Syria, and beyond who are threatened since the rise of the extremist, self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). Recent months have seen the emergence of an unprecedented disregard for human life and a surge in group-targeted violence—specifically toward religious communities, including Christians, Shi’a Muslims, Shabaks, Turkmen, and Yazidis.
According to the United Nations, more than 1.5 million Iraqis have been displaced by the conflict since June 2014, most of them forced to flee because of their religious beliefs. Intentionally targeting a religious group for destruction constitutes genocide.
“This Was Preventable”: An Eyewitness Account
On September 15, 2014, we invited the Reverend Canon Andrew White to the Museum to address this increasingly dire situation. Canon White is the chaplain of Iraq’s only Anglican church and founder of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME). He was accompanied by Dr. Sarah Ahmed, a medical doctor who directs FRRME’s projects and tends to those currently displaced. Together Canon White and Dr. Ahmed toured the Museum and briefed a small private group of policy makers, religious leaders, and Museum officials.
Known to many simply as the “Vicar of Baghdad,” Canon White has dedicated his life to fostering reconciliation between religious groups in a region where religion itself is one of the primary dividers of people. He is an eyewitness to the dangers so many face in a country that has seen ongoing sectarian conflict for more than a decade. For his efforts, he has endured great personal danger and has seen his staff targeted and even killed for their work.
Canon White first went to Baghdad in 1998, where he took over the helm of St George’s Church. Since then, he has transformed its congregation into a thriving community that now includes hundreds of Iraqi Christians. He was named the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special envoy to the Middle East, has served as a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, and has received numerous awards, honorary degrees, and recognition for his reconciliation efforts.