‘Tis the season to be jolly?

It’s that time of year again. The time for giving and receiving, for enjoying the company of family and friends, and perhaps for some reflection on another year gone by. The holiday season, whether you call it Christmas or Festivus is not important, is a time for many people to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

For the purposes of this short note, whether you are Christian or not is unimportant, but rather what is important is that we recognize the right of others to manifest their faith. Christmas, along with the Lenten season, represents one of the two most significant times of year for Christians of all denominations, as they reflect on the birth of their saviour, and we should (and, generally, do) respect that.

Unfortunately for Iraqi Christians, Christmas has been cancelled. Not even a peep from the secular symbol of Santa Claus will form part of their celebrations this year. The traditional midnight mass has also been cancelled and Christian leaders have strongly encouraged their followers not to deck the halls with Christmas decorations. But why?

The fascist Islamic organization of al Qaeda has, according to reports, issued new threats to Iraq’s Christians, and following a spate of recent attacks targeted at Christians, all that remained to be done was heed these warnings.

This, however, must be viewed also through the prism of the individual right to freedom of religion, which the Iraqi government, albeit newly formed, must guarantee to people of all religions within its jurisdiction. This duty must (and does) include the obligation to protect members of minority faiths from violence and intimidation perpetrated by members (that is, private individuals and groups) of others faiths. At present, it would seem that the newly formed Iraqi government is utterly failing in its obligation to its people.

In all fairness, the situation in Iraq is not stable and is unlikely to change in the near future. And, groups such as al Qaeda have increased their influence there. This is a situation that has not been lost on Iraqi Christians, whose numbers have dwindled by some 800,000 since the US-led invasion began in 2003 (to put that number in perspective, Slate Magazine reported that there are now some 400,000 Christians left in Iraq, one-third of the original 2003 number).

While the Iraqi government (and its security forces) must shoulder some blame for failing to ensure the safe celebration of Christmas for the minority Christians in the country, we must not forget that it is the disgusting intimidation and acts of violence committed by al Qaeda and similar groups that have caused Christians in Iraq to abandon celebrations on perhaps their holiest day of the year.

So, while we sit by the fire, opening presents and enjoying a glass of Christmas wine, let’s remember just how fortunate we really are. And, while you sing carols at home or psalms at Church in communion with other believers, spare a thought for those who are not able to, for those who have been forced to hide their faith for fear of violent persecution. If you don’t believe, be grateful that you are in a place where you’re actively able to say that you don’t believe. It’s not a privilege, it’s your right.

Happy holidays to all.

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