Bassam Jacob lived in a mixed neighborhood in central Baghdad. For
his whole life he watched Shite and Sunni Muslims vie for power. Usually
it was at the expense of each other, but sometimes it was the Christian
minority that suffered injury or loss of life and property.
It was a way of life.
to Bassam, the situation was already terrible in Baghdad. The school
had closed down. People were routinely killed. Basic commodities like
food and fuel were increasingly in short supply.
He had lived in Baghdad his whole life, so he has “seen it all.”
“Life under Sadaam wasn’t easy, but at least he allowed the Christians to worship.”
He was among those who cheered his overthrow, as any kind of opposition to the dictator was met with swift punishment.
But the dictator also played his heavy hand smartly, holding rival factions at bay.
Things just got worse
Sadaam Hussein’s removal by a world coaltion, the vacuum created a
power grab. Many players entered the market, including Al Qaeda. The
withdrawal of U.S. forces only hastened the chaos as even more extreme
groups entered the arena.
“We were happy with the American
presence. For us, when they left, it got worse,” said Bassam. “They
should have kept our soldiers there. They should have stayed until
things were stable.”
But the insertion of Daesh, also known as
ISIS or ISIL, changed things. The term “Daesh” is a word is an acronym
of the group’s full Arabic name al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa
al-Sham. It’s an expression which means “a bigot who imposes his view on
It’s meant to be an insult, and most Iraqis I spoke to have no problems using it.
When they moved in Bassam’s neighborhood it brought a new level of threat that went beyond harassment.
If you don’t leave, we will kill you
worked for a printer, delivering menus, guide books and promotional
materials to businesses. It wasn’t a job that threatened anyone and he
thought he would be left alone to provide for his family.
that changed one day when a man with a mask commandeered his truck. He
drew a knife and issued a threat. “We know who you are. We know who you
The man also issued a threat to kidnap his children, “for the cause.”
“And then, if you don’t leave, we kill you.”
The “we” was Daesh, and Bassam knew they meant business.
was, as he put it in Arabic – “The straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Yes, it’s a shared expression with the English language, but one that is
best understood from a Middle Eastern perspective. Camels are great
beasts of help and industry, but they reach a breaking point. Put too
much weight on them and they will drop to their knees and quit. For
Bassam, the expression had a different outcome – he took his family and
His family consisted of a wife, Maysoon, and two boys and a
girl. They had lived their whole lives in Iraq. It was home for
generations of his family and they never thought of leaving. They were
Assyrian Christians, a Roman Orthodox faith group that is among the
The kidnapping threat was real. The children of
their pastor had already been kidnapped. The ransom money was paid and
the family promptly moved to Lebanon. So horrific was her time, the girl
didn’t speak for a week.
“If that happened, I wouldn’t be able to pay a ransom since we were so poor.”
No money. No work. Just hope of immigration
Maysoon is wistful as she recalls their departure a year ago.
miss my family – we all left at the same time and went different
directions,” she said. “I’m not upset about what we left behind. I’m
just happy to be here with my husband and children.”
doesn’t regret their decision, but their last year has been difficult.
They live in a small apartment in Jordan. They are not allowed to work,
so they depend on money sent by friends in the West. The United Nations
gave them about $60 in April.
Their only hope is an immigration
application filed with the United Nations. They hope to settle in the
U.S., Canada or Australia. They had two interviews with officials, the
last one was about six months ago. They were told to wait.
A child-like trust
Despite the upending of their lives, their faith hasn’t wavered.
faith has never, never, never become less,” said Maysoon. “Sometimes I
am tempted to doubt. But we are believing family. Jesus has been in this
house from the beginning.”
“For most of I life, I didn’t want to
learn all the details of my religion,” she said. “It was like a sea,
that goes very deep. I was just fine being on the water.”
As she has bonded with U.S. aid workers and other refugees, she has seen her faith deepen. But she still has a child-like trust.
“I am satisfied because we are safe,” she said.
Are they angry?
will compensate them according to what they have done,” said Bassam.
“We don’t think of those who’ve wronged us. When we decided to leave,
our Muslim neighbors didn’t want us to go. They were our friends.”
Their mind is never far from those still in Iraq.
“We want you to pray,” Maysoon said. “Pray for the good people – Christians and Muslims – who are suffering”
stories are part of a ten-day trip David Rupert recently took to Jordan to hear
first-hand from Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq.