“Amid all this should the world have been silent? Should such a miserable and humiliating position be tolerated?
“The mass media have not exaggerated in their judgment of the situation,” Fr. Benoka said. “Actually, they have missed many of the injustices that continually take place in the villages of Christian majority populations.”
Fr. Benoka said the Iraqi ambassador’s remarks reflect the government’s desire to cover up its failure to protect Christians.
Christians, he said, “are abandoning the nation because of the evil that have suffered and the indecent life there. It is not because of what is heard indirectly through the mass media.”
Estimates vary on just how many Christians have emigrated. A Feb. 21 Human Rights Watch report estimated there to be 675,000 Christians in Iraq, down from over 1 million in 2003. A U.S. State Department puts the current number between 400,000 and 600,000.
Fr. Benoka expressed disbelief at the ambassador’s claims that Christians received special government privileges worth $15 million for rebuilding their destroyed churches and other building.
“Since when?” he said. “Why be close to them after the attack and not before?”
Other privileges like tax breaks on electricity and water the ambassador spoke of are still in place from Saddam Hussein’s regime and are shared by all religions. In any case, Fr. Benoka said, electricity is scarce these days.
Fr. Benoka also rejected the ambassador’s idea that Iraq’s new constitution “guarantees Christians full equality of rights and duties.”
The constitution, which establishes Islam as Iraq’s state religion, is “ the biggest obstacle to religious freedom of all the non-Muslim religions,” he said. It also bars any “law that contradicts or opposes fundamental Islamic principles.”
Fr. Benoka asked, “With this strong affirmation on Islam, how could one speak of a religious liberty or of equality of law among all citizens of the same Iraq?”
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He pointed to specific and practical examples of how this could affect non-Muslim citizens.
In matters of inheritance, he said, women are only entitled to half the share of men. In court, the testimony of two women equals that of one man.
In addition, a woman divorced from her husband can only remarry him if she has married and divorced another man. This clashes openly with Catholic teaching in which neither man nor woman can marry another after divorce.
Another example is that any citizen may convert to Islam, but all Muslims are strictly prohibited from converting to other religions. If one parent converts to Islam, his or her underage children are automatically converted with them.
Fr. Benoka said that there are many other example of laws based on Islam included in the constitution that are applied to all citizens even if these laws “sometimes contradict the fundamental principles of their religions.”