Sunday, May 8, 2016

Book Review-They Say We Are Infidels

Journalist Mindy Beltz shows us a snapshot of life in parts of the Middle East over the last 10 years. Partnering with local natives, she travels into war zones and places of devastation to give us a realistic picture of the suffering of a people displaced and longing to live in freedom, politically and religiously.  We see behind the scenes of our media driven depictions of Saddam Hussein being toppled, U.S promises to build a democracy in a new Iraq and the decision to withdraw U.S. troops.

The book begins in 2003 as Mindy is entering Iraq with Insaf, an Iraqi eager to return to her country after having lived in Canada since fleeing the Iran/Iraq war in the late 80s.  She, along with many others returning, are filled with high hopes that things are better and that a bright future looms on the horizon. Yet American government was backing groups like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who were seeking a theocratic government, directly against what President Bush was promising and U.S. troops were trying to protect. As America withdrew its presence before establishing a secure government and military, Islamic militants began to infiltrate the void.

Much of Mindy's travels focus on Christians who continued to be harassed after Saddam's fall. Militants were targeting Christian communities. Some estimated 40,000 Christians left Iraq in 2006 because of violent attacks and threats of death. Saddam's execution only increased hatred and desire for vengeance among the sectarian divides. Mindy followed the plight of displaced families seeking to learn how they live and what the future looks like for them. She literally put her life in the hands of the network of Christians who helped her, building goodwill among them and growing her own faith. 

As the violence focused on Mosul in 2008, Mindy accompanies Eveline, a member of a provincial council over the area, into Mosul to try and understand what made the Christians keep going in the face of so much violence. Eventually, millions of Iraqis would flee to Syria, Christians making up 30 percent of the refugees. Some Christians would stay.  One bishop felt his presence gave historical context to the region and he was doing his duty in being a witness.

America seemed reluctant to get involved with any part of the Iraqi conflict, downplaying its severity, wanting to bring a quick end to the war, and failing to act when terrorists crossed the red line of violations the US had set.  ISIS would become bolder. June 2014, ISIS seized Mosul. President Obama's response two days later not only said we would take our time to do things right, but never stated any support for Iraqi Christians. By late July, 45 churches including some historic Christian landmarks had been destroyed.

The book includes touching stories of brave attempts to fight back.  An American soldier sent home who goes back to Iraq with weapons bought with his own savings. Or Gill Rosenberg, a Canadian-born Israeli citizen who declared that fighting ISIS was worth any personal risk, that this was not a regular war, but something beyond anything she had previously witnessed.  And like Father Najeeb, a Dominican friar born in Mosul who was determined to preserve ancient manuscripts.  He loaded material into a car every evening and had them transported to a safer town, twice, preserving 55,000 volumes of Scripture and dated works on science and medicine.

Mindy closes the book with appreciation for all she has learned from Christians who have and continue to suffer much. Christianity's "people took mustard seeds and with them moved mountains....Destruction brought comfort, in the words of the prophet Nahum; impossible hardships became possible to endure, and death became life-giving. Augustine said it well: 'For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.'" p. 296.

I found the book enlightening, and I now have a better understanding of the happenings in Iraq in the last decade. This is not an easy book to read.  The contents describe disturbing atrocities.  It was challenging to follow the timeline of events, remember all the unfamiliar names of characters and cities when they were repeatedly mentioned, and absorb all the details that are packed into the 10 years the book spans.  A helpful timeline of events is included in the back of the book, as well as a few pages of photographs inserted into the middle.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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