Iraqi-Americans use close ties to advocate for peace

Iraqi-Americans use close ties to advocate for peace

Susan Dakak
Susan Dakak

.- Susan Dakak learned of the shocking Oct. 31 attack that killed 70 people and wounded 75 at Baghdad's Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation before the world heard the news. As the attack took place, worshipers trapped inside the captured church sent her their reports via cell phone.

Dakak is a member of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq and a board member of the advocacy group, Iraqi Christians In Need. During the attack on Our Lady of Salvation, she told CNA that members of the Women's Alliance were “receiving phone calls, throughout the ordeal.” She said several hostages inside the cathedral “basically walked us through the whole thing,” sending e-mails and text messages detailing the captivity from which many never re-emerged.

Iraqi Christians, she said, are accustomed to this close contact with their friends and relatives who have emigrated to America. “We have people on the ground … sending us e-mails all the time, to let us know what's going on in Iraq.” Last week they had more to report, as a series of bombings targeting Christian neighborhoods killed three and injured dozens.

She received a video from another man in Baghdad, who described the experience of receiving a message from his son from inside Our Lady of Salvation. “He ran to help them … he went and stood outside the church, and there wasn't anything he could do.” Suicide attackers would eventually kill the man's son. Even the police, he told Dakak, had arrived too late to stop them from killing or seriously wounding nearly everyone inside.

Susan Dakak left Iraq for America decades ago, during the 1970s. At first, she said, it wasn't clear why she should have escaped the misfortunes others had to stay and endure. But as time went by, she realized the extent to which she could advocate for the rights of Iraqis. Now, because of technological advances, she has “real-time contact with them,” receiving reports of anti-Christian persecution and other daily struggles in the war-torn country.

She said some Iraqi Christian victims of religious terrorism express “forgiveness, talking about how we are all Iraqis, (and) these (attackers) are just criminals.” Others are “just sitting there, with their hands up, saying 'God, why have you forsaken me?'”

Many of the messages Dakak receives describe the Iraqi Christians' struggle to forgive their persecutors. They recount how groups of extremists, acting in the name of Islam, seek to drive out Iraqi Catholics whose church existed centuries before Muhammed was born. Adherents of Islam write to express sorrow and regret for the attacks, but Dakak said they won't take the risk of condemning them publicly.

Dakak noted she had just finished responding to an e-mail from one Iraqi Christian woman, telling her she had no choice but to forgive those terrorizing the church. She reminded the woman of how Pope John Paul II immediately forgave the man who shot him, in 1981. “That's what Jesus taught us to do,” she said.

In Iraq, the faithful are undergoing a constant course in the hardest part of discipleship. About an hour after CNA spoke to Susan Dakak on Nov. 15, the country's foreign minister reported two men had been killed in an attack targeting Christian homes in Mosul.

Iraqi Christian immigrants have begun raising their voices to tell the world what they're hearing from home. They've held rallies in centers of Iraqi Christian immigration, from Detroit to Brussels, and a march on Washington, D.C. is planned.

But two Chaldean priests who have relocated to America –Fr. Michael Bazzi of California, and Michigan-based Fr. Manuel Boji– both told CNA this week that even a worldwide awakening won't resolve Iraq's long-running religious and political crises.

That outcome, they say, will require a combination of internal reform and external diplomatic force, in addition to worldwide advocacy from Christians and human rights groups.

For her part, Susan Dakak intends to keep working behind the scenes. She hopes that her strategy of applying steady political pressure to Iraqi, American, and international officials will bear fruit, providing protection to allow Chaldean Catholics to remain in their homeland.

She has begun forwarding reports from her Iraqi contacts, not just to a variety of U.S. officials, but also back to government officials in Iraq. By gathering reports to deliver to the government of her native country, she hopes to lobby on behalf of Iraqis for whom the daily business of survival takes priority over political activism.

“The parliament and other members (of the government) that we know in Iraq, we're sending them emails, we're bombarding them with letters and information, and saying 'You've got to do something about this, you know, this cannot keep going'.”

She also wants Muslims in Iraq and around the world to do more than just lament terrorist attacks as they happen. “I keep telling them, no one is going to solve this problem, if you don't step up and condemn these acts. If you don't tell the terrorists that they are not (authentic) Muslims, and take religion away from them, they're going to take your religion away from you.”

But so far, she said, her Muslim contacts “just tell me how sad they are, and how bad they feel, and they wish this whole thing will go away.” She said she's still waiting for Islamic authorities to do their part for peace, by taking decisive and direct action against terrorists within their religion.

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