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Terrorist, tacos and St. Thomas the Apostle…on the Chaldeans

28 May 2007

Frank Rich writes in today’s New York Times (taken from the “free” excerpt in Editor and Publisher:

Iraqis are clamoring to get out of Iraq. Two million have fled so far and nearly two million more have been displaced within the country. (That’s a total of some 15 percent of the population.) Save the Children reported this month that Iraq’s child-survival rate is falling faster than any other nation’s. One Iraqi in eight is killed by illness or violence by the age of 5. Yet for all the words President Bush has lavished on Darfur and AIDS in Africa, there has been a deadly silence from him about what’s happening in the country he gave “God’s gift of freedom.”

… The easiest way to keep the Iraqi plight out of sight, after all, is to prevent Iraqis from coming to America. And so we do, except for stray Shiites needed to remind us of purple fingers at State of the Union time or to frame the president in Rose Garden photo ops.

Since the 2003 invasion, America has given only 466 Iraqis asylum… A bill passed by Congress this month will add another piddling 500, all interpreters.


While like any half-way decent human being, I recognize how appalling this is, it really doesn’t have much to do with Mex Files, does it?


In a roundabout way, it does. It has to do with the Catholic Church and the Jews. And the Mexicans.


The Chaldeans are the descendants of one of the first – if not the first – Christians. The Church was founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle (“doubting Thomas”) but, being outside the Roman Empire, they developed a very different liturgy and tradition than either the Roman, or the Orthodox Churches. They did not fully reunite with Rome until 1994. The best known Chaldean was Tarik Aziz, Saddam Husain’s Foreign Minister.


Stalin once asked “how many divisions does the Pope have?” The answer is how many does he need? Had John Paul II been in better health, there is some speculation he might have, say, ordered every Catholic school and hospital in the United States, Spain and Britain to close, and forbidden Catholics to participate in the invasion. If anyone remembers, the then Pope was practically immobile by then, but the U.S. administration was worried enough about the possibility that they sent neo-Con Catholics to lobby the poor old guy. He should have whacked them with his walker. And told them – officially – to go to Hell.


Saddam was an tyrant, but an equal opportunity tyrant. The Chaldeans (already a small minority in Iraq) left him alone, and he left them alone. They’d outlasted the fall of the Persian Empire, the Islamic invasion, the Mongol invasion, the Ottoman invasion, etc. etc. etc. over the past two millenia. Then came…


Mission “Iraqi Freedom” [which] appears to be emerging as a civil war between the minority, formerly dominant, Sunni Muslims who seek through violence to prevent the inevitable emergence of the majority Shia Muslims to the position of power and control of the state and its oil and gas reserves. As for the Christian minorities in Iraq, their situation as infidels in a Muslim country grows ever more precarious. Christians are publicly harassed; their women are insulted for not dressing as Muslims; their businesses destroyed; and their churches are bombed, with the result that many are fleeing abroad.


(The Chaldean Church: The Christians in Iraq)


To where? Not the United States, obviously, except by stealth.

This is where the Jews come in. Saddam’s political party, Ba’ath, was modeled on the Nazi Party. Since the early 1930s, Mexican foreign policy had been anti-fascist (it describes itself as the first anti-fascist country) and, will still admit anyone fleeing fascism. When Saddam was still technically the head of state in Iraq, Iraqis claiming persecution were admitted (it helped that the few stopped at the U.S. border found a sponsor in the person of a fellow Arab Catholic named Carlos Slim).


Mexico, everyone forgets, or was never taught, saved more Jews from Hitler than the rest of the allies put together. Mostly by simply looking the other way. Jews poured into Mexico and the Central American Republics on sometimes very dubious papers, the dubious papers having been issued on orders from Presidents Lazaro Cardenas and Miguel Avilla Camacho by the Mexican embassies throughout Europe up until Mexico declared war on Germany in May 1942. Even afterwards, Jews showed up throughout Central America thanks to a network of Central American diplomats working out of the Mexican embassy in Switzerland.


How many of these Jews later crossed into the United States isn’t known, but a good number stayed. It never occurred to me that the Prepa boys on my bus in the morning were anything but ordinary Mexican teenage kids. It wasn’t until they all got on wearing “cappas” (and I had to figure out it was one of the Jewish holy days) that it ever occurred to me that they were the grandchildren of people no one thinks of when they think of Mexico.


And, today, it’s Chaldeans. Every once in a while you hear some tale of Iraqis “sneaking across the border” into Texas. It’s true. They do. Todd Bensman writes about them in the San Antonio Express-News:


U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures show only about 100 Iraqis have been caught at the borders between 9-11 and the end of last year, more than 60 of them along the Southwest border and about 20 in Texas.


But there are not the Al Quadas of a Minuteman’s wet dream, or even Arabs recruited by Hugo Chavez (a tale I heard today). These are people like George and Baida, and their two children.


They had done what hundreds of thousands of other Christian Iraqi families have since the American invasion: sold everything in the face of horrific and systematic religious persecution, and fled north to Damascus, Syria, or Amman, Jordan.

Out of options, the family joined an increasing number of such refugees who are proceeding toward America, bent on crossing the border illegally.


Chaldean Christian refugees in the U.S., Syria and Jordan say the American-led war unleashed Islamic militants who have targeted them because of their religion in vicious campaigns of murder, kidnapping for ransom and forced property expropriations.

Ordinarily, religious persecution can qualify victims for U.S. resettlement visas. But the U.S. State Department hasn’t issued visas to Chaldeans and won’t recognize them as especially persecuted for their religion, asserting that they are among many groups amid Iraq’s sectarian strife who could make the claim. So they wait.

While most are sitting out the war as refugees in Syria and Jordan, other Chaldean Christians have chosen not to.

They are coming illegally to Texas, and to other border states, sometimes getting entangled along the way, in entire families, pregnant women, single mothers and young men going it alone or in small groups.



But maybe the Minutemen and Lou Dobbs are right. It is a conspiracy:


Umru “Crazy Tiger” Hassan, an interpreter for the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq until Islamists threatened to kill him, personifies the situation. Hassan, a Christian, divulged to the Express-News in Damascus that he was on his way to Texas. …

He left his military job and went to Damascus about six months ago, where he and his sister make a subsistence living running a tiny laundry called “Iraq Cleaning.” He was frustrated there with the lack of opportunity and money.

So Hassan decided a more prudent course was to plot a route to Texas.

He said Hispanic soldiers with whom he was serving told him how easy it was to cross the Mexico-Texas border, and they offered the help of their own families in Mexico. He plans to take advantage of the offer.

“If I make it successfully in this way, I’m going to bring my family the same way,” said Hassan, who has a young daughter still in Iraq.


George and Baida and their two very young children, George and Toni, are awaiting a hearing on their refugee status. Even the Border Patrol realized terrorists usually don’t travel with babies and the family is staying with relatives in Detroit, where Chaldeans have settled for years (Detroit and San Diego have had Chaldean communities for years. Saddam Hussein contributed 1.5 million dollars to help build Sacred Heart Church in Detroit).

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find Tijuana and Mexico City added to the list. My old neighborhood Santa Maria de la Ribera had Dutch and German and Spanish residents in the 30s and 40, and now a Congolese internet cafe and a couple of Russian restaurants (serving very good tacos, by the way!) and Ethiopians and Brazilians working in the “Cuban” cafe. I’ll betcha Crazy Tiger Hassan can sling a mean taco and his kids would be – like the Dutch, and German and Spanish and Congolese and Ethiopian and Brazilian immigrant’s kids, Mexicans.

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