Iraq

The Middle East’s Mental Health Crisis

Brain Illustration

Brain illustration, Maxim Gaigul / Shutterstock.com

National Minority Mental Health Awareness month is upon us in the U.S., and never has the scope and impact of mental health issues threatened to affect the long-term security of our country and world than now.

This year, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 10.8 million people are affected by the conflict in Syria, with 4 million refugees having fled the country. This is the largest refugee population coming out of any one conflict in over a generation. Similarly, in early 2015, UNHCR estimated that the total population of concern, due to the conflict in Iraq, exceeded 3 million people. Millions of people have experienced the unimaginable trauma of political and religious conflict and persecution in the Middle East, especially women, whom the Iraqi Ministry of Health determined were disproportionately affected by mental health illness due to the recent conflict. The scale and depth of the trauma demands a multi-faith, multi-sector, multi-discipline response, before it is too late.

Fear and Learning in Kabul

Image courtesy Kathy Kelly

Image courtesy Kathy Kelly

Essentially, when Voices members go to Kabul, our “work” is to listen to and learn from our hosts and take back their stories of war to the relatively peaceful lands whose actions had brought that war down upon them. Before we'd even departed, the news from Afghanistan was already quite grim. Several dozen people were dead in fighting between armed groups. There was a Kabul hotel attack on international businessmen the week before. We earnestly wrote our friends with a last-minute offer to stay away, in hopes that we wouldn't make them targets of the violence. “Please come,” our friends wrote us. So we're here.

 

Iraq, ISIS, and Our Need for Repentance

DavidTB / Shutterstock.com

DavidTB / Shutterstock.com

What we have yet to hear from Republican presidential candidates or the habitual hawks is the appropriate spiritual response to the war in Iraq — repentance. Instead, we hear this defensive language: “Everybody got it wrong.” Well that’s not true. The people who ultimately made the decision to invade, occupy, and completely destabilize Iraq did indeed get it wrong. But so far, they have been unwilling to admit their incredible mistakes that we all now have to live with: the enormous number of lives lost or permanently damaged; the extremely dangerous exacerbation of the sectarian Sunni/Shia conflict that now rules the entire region; and the creation of the conditions that led to ISIS. Except for Rand Paul, none of the Republican candidates has been willing to admit that ISIS is a consequence of our complete devastation and destabilization of Iraq — leaving us with the greatest real threat the international community has faced for some time. Yet we’ve heard not a word of apology for mistakes or any spirit of repentance from the neoconservative hawks.

5 Takeaways from the New Report by U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Photo via Nestor Aziagbia / RNS

A man in the Central African Republic shows a bandaged arm after an attack in the violence. Photo via Nestor Aziagbia / RNS

Despite much gloom and doom, there were a few silver linings in the report. Religious freedom and harmony have improved in Cyprus, resulting in greater access to houses of worship across the Green Line separating north from south. Nigeria witnessed its first peaceful democratic transfer of power earlier this year when Muslim northerner Muhammadu Buhari ousted Christian southerner Jonathan Goodluck at the polls. And Sri Lanka’s new government has taken positive steps to promote religious freedom and unity in the face of violent Buddhist nationalism.

The Power of Peacebuilding

THE PEACE MOVEMENT needs a stronger response to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It is not enough merely to oppose deepening U.S. military involvement. We must also identify viable diplomatic and political options for countering the ISIS danger and reducing violence in the region.

President Obama has said there is no military solution to the crisis in Iraq, but his administration has relied heavily on bombing as its main response to ISIS. Since August, the United States and about a dozen other states have launched more than 1,900 air strikes against ISIS and militant groups in Iraq and Syria. Approximately 80 percent of the strikes have been conducted by U.S. forces, mostly jet fighters but also armed drones. The strikes have had the effect of halting further ISIS encroachments into Iraq and have enabled Kurdish fighters to regain some ground in the northern part of Iraq. In Syria, however, ISIS reportedly has continued to gain ground despite the U.S.-led attacks.

U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Syria is having unintended effects that could make matters worse. Battling the United States gives ISIS a transcendent objective beyond its political agenda in Iraq and Syria and distracts local attention from its brutal policies. It allows ISIS to portray itself as the victim and to claim that it is defending Islam from Western attack. After the start of airstrikes in August, support for the group increased. The strikes in Syria have also targeted the al Nusra Front and have generated pressure for rival groups to close ranks. Unlike al Qaeda, ISIS has not declared war on the United States, but it may now rethink its strategic focus and plan attacks on the “far enemy,” to use al Qaeda’s term.

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Resisting ISIS

IN JULY 2013 in Raqqa, the first city liberated from regime control in northeastern Syria, a Muslim schoolteacher named Soaad Nofal marched daily to ISIS headquarters. She carried a cardboard sign with messages challenging the behaviors of members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as un-Islamic after the kidnapping of nonviolent activists. After Nofal was joined by hundreds of other protesters, a small number of activists were released. It is a small achievement, but an indication of what communities supported in responsible ways from the outside could achieve on a larger scale in areas controlled or threatened by ISIS.

In the fight against ISIS, unarmed civilians would seem to be powerless. How can collective nonviolent action stand a chance against a heavily armed, well-financed, and highly organized extremist group that engages in public beheadings, kidnappings, and forced recruitment of child soldiers and sex slaves? One whose ideology sanctions the killing of “infidels” and the creation of a caliphate?

Nonviolent resistance alone cannot defeat this radical scourge. The global response must be multifaceted. Still, as the international anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States considers nonmilitary options to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, it should focus on empowering local civil society in Syria and Iraq with targeted resources, technologies, and knowledge to build resilience and deny ISIS the moral and material support it needs to wield effective control. Public and private investments in independent media and local self-organization initiatives, including those led by women, are two key ways to counter ISIS influence.

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4 Questions to Ask Before We Wish Death Upon ISIS

ISIS image search, aradaphotography / Shutterstock.com

ISIS image search, aradaphotography / Shutterstock.com

With the unimaginable evils being committed by ISIS and other terror groups around the world, many Christians are calling for their violent destruction — some even voluntarily taking up arms.

At first glance this may seem like a heroic, brave, and honorable act, but before we start killing our enemies, Christians must ask themselves four very important questions:

1. Did Jesus clearly tell you to kill these people?

In the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly instructs his followers to avoid violence and promote peace.

Jesus states things like:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matt. 5:9 ESV)

And …

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matt. 5:38-39)

And …

'God Always Provides'

REV. KHALIL JAAR is a warm, passionate, and energetic man—and he needs to be. As the spiritual leader and “go to” guy for the 150 Iraqi Christian refugees living in his church in Amman, Jordan, he needs all the energy he can get.

When I met with Father Jaar at St. Mary, Mother of the Church congregation in Amman, it quickly became obvious how much he loves the refugees who now call this church home. Jaar, himself a refugee, knows something about the trials and tribulations of being forced to leave your home. He is the son of Palestinian refugees of Honduran descent. (His birth name is Carlos and he took the name Khalil when he became a Catholic priest.) He also knows something about the terror of war. Shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, he was abducted in Baghdad where he was serving, and “only by the grace of God was I freed,” he says.

Jaar is especially dedicated to the education of the Iraqi children forced to leave everything they knew, including their schools. In his overcrowded office, full of stacks of papers and files, Jaar pulls out a large binder. This is his personal reference book, with a page for each child in his care. It includes a photo, a short history of their family and background, their education to date, and also notes about their extracurricular activities and likes, such as soccer and music. It is important to know as much  as possible about each child, he says, and make sure that they continue their education.

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Collateral Damage

THE U.S. AND other nations are increasingly aware that the so-called Islamic State is a serious, long-term threat to Middle East stability. And it has become clear that there are few good options for addressing the situation without the willingness and ability of the Iraqi government to promote inclusion and weed out corruption.

In the midst of all this, the plight of Iraqi Christians has taken center stage. Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, more than two-thirds of the Iraqi Christian community has left the country, with many fleeing as a result of violence and religious persecution.

This exodus has only increased as the reach of the Islamic State, or ISIS, has expanded and its reputation for brutality become widely known. The militant group has publicly beheaded hostages for propaganda purposes, committed mass killings, and given Christians the ultimatum: Convert to Islam, pay a fine, or face death if they remain faithful to their beliefs.

Followers of Christ have existed in the area now called Iraq since the earliest days of Christianity. Now there is a serious debate as to whether the faith has a viable future in this ancient of lands.

Writing in The Washington Post in September, Daniel Williams asserted that “Christianity in Iraq is finished.” He based this claim on conversations with Iraqi Christian refugees who had given up hope of living peacefully in their homeland after years of persecution and torment. The rise of ISIS was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, but the fear and frustration have been building for more than a decade. According to Williams the only reasonable option is to facilitate the safe removal of the remaining Christians from Iraq.

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The Long Reconciliation: Iraq In the Time of ISIS

The Iraqi flag, shattered. Image courtesy MyImages - Micha/shutterstock.com

The Iraqi flag, shattered. Image courtesy MyImages - Micha/shutterstock.com

Elsewhere, Courtney describes the effect as recognizing the blood of your enemies physically pumping in your veins. It is a striking example of interdependence — physically and metaphysically.

Perhaps what’s spiritual is what’s biological. In the midst of the ongoing violence, Preemptive Love Coalition performed its 1,000th heart surgery last month.

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