Despair

Future of Iraq: Despair is Not an Option

Luma Simms | November 9, 2016

My heritage is mixed: Arab, Assyrian, Chaldean and quite possibly Jewish on my paternal grandmother’s side. No one knows for sure, but names in particular tend to be telltale signs. Our family, having been in Mosul (a pluralistic city) for a few generations, spoke Arabic with a Moslawi dialect. Both sets of grandparents eventually moved to Baghdad, and my father’s family moved there the summer before he started high school. My mother’s family also moved to Baghdad when she was in high school, but since my maternal grandfather traveled to different towns for work, their stints in Mosul were brief. When my parents took our family out of Iraq in 1977, they had no idea how widespread the diaspora would become. The Moslawieen are now scattered across the world.

The Iraqi people in diaspora worldwide tend to gather in communities, forming a subculture within their respective naturalized countries. This is how Middle Eastern markets, bakeries and other businesses that serve the needs of this particular demographic sprout up. It is natural, and it happens with many immigrant groups, becoming an important contributing factor in the passing on of ethnic dishes, traditions and customs. Of course, there are also immigrants who have no desire and feel no need to maintain ties to their ethnic community, seeking instead total and complete integration into a Western identity. Many of these folks have their own reasons for disinterest, avoidance or rejection of their origins. To be honest, I experienced several years of wanting nothing to do with my Iraqi heritage. I had my own personal motives. Immigration and assimilation are complex issues to which I will return.

Those of us Iraqi Christians who are Arabic speakers – like the Syriac speakers – are also in danger of losing our ethnic identities through assimilation. The Syriac speakers have one great benefit: They can understand their ecclesiastical language since, for the most part, the liturgy is said in Syriac. The preservation of a unique language is a cultural rallying point that gives the Assyrians an advantage in survival. And yet both communities may be in danger of fading, as the younger generations give in to the pressure of total and complete integration with the host country.

The only answer to the very real annihilation of this unique people group is to provide an option for the diaspora to return to the land of their heritage. I have previously written about the need for Christians to have a land of their own, like the Jewish people. While Arab Christians wait for a homeland, there are many lessons we can learn from Israel in diaspora. In another Philos Project article, Evon Sworesho mentioned one: the refrain “Next year in Nineveh.” Why is something as simple as this so important? Because it brings about a different mindset in the individual – from despair to hope, which is one of the most consequential lessons we Iraqi Christians can learn from Israel, our elder brother in the faith.

Growing up in the Iraqi Christian subculture. I know well that despair is rampant among the people. That despair mixes with cynicism and those who have hope are looked upon as foolish. The oft-repeated refrains “El Iraq rahhitt!” Or “El Iraq intahitt!” (which translate to “Iraq is gone!” and “Iraq is finished!”) are for many not only a realistic statement of the political and physical state of the country, but cries of despair.

We Christians are allowed to lament. Scripture is full of examples of God’s people crying out to God in sorrow. But it is not despair! The psalmist cries out:

Why do you stand afar off, O Lord?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Or,

How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

No matter how disquieted the psalmist was, Scripture shows us his soul journeying from lament to praise and thanksgiving:

O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
you will strengthen their heart, you will
incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike
terror no more.

And,

But I have trusted in your merciful love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Although St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8 – 11 spoke of his affliction and despair, nonetheless, he did not stay in that despair, but moved into praise for God’s deliverance.

I understand how tempting it is to look at the situation in Iraq and feel hopeless. Many from the professional classes have abandoned the country. Buildings are broken-down and in disrepair. The country’s infrastructure is weak or nonexistent in some places. Iraq has been in a state of war of one type or another since Sept. 22, 1980 – 36 years. Thirty-six years of war, death and destruction. The Iraqi people have suffered under sanctions and insurgencies. The population is fatigued, demoralized and in cultural and economic distress. Despair is the natural response to these woes.

But we cannot afford despair. Despair leads to death, and I want to live to see an Iraq that is thriving again. Furthermore, despair leads to acedia, one of the seven deadly sins. What happens to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ if we give in to sloth? Reject the despair. Reject sloth. Put away the idea that “El Iraq rahhitt.” I invite you to shake off the complacency that settles too easily in the presence of peace, leisure and wealth.

Here in America, we will soon celebrate a national holiday: Thanksgiving. Be thinking about your brethren now in Iraq. They have no turkey. They may or may not have a tent or a plywood cubicle to live in. While we feast, they fast. While we accumulate, they are depleted. This is not a guilt trip. It is reality. The answer is not to be joyless and reject God’s gifts. The right response is to stop despairing and to cultivate thankful hearts. We can both rejoice in our bounty and work to heal Iraq.

Overcoming despair begins with prayer. Start by praying against the temptation to give in to despair; then move to prayer for the people of Iraq. Prayer needs to lead to action. To combat sloth, find ways to do acts of mercy. Ask at church if there are new refugee families in need of help. Look for reputable organizations like the Iraqi Christian Relief Council and make tax-deductible donations to them. If you are from Iraq, cook ethnic dishes, learn about your heritage, and teach your children. Conquering the vices of despair and sloth over Iraq begins “shwaya shwaya.” Giving in and giving up is not an option. Imagine what can be accomplished if each person did something small. Pray, preserve and persevere; but do not despair.