The Yazidi and the Christians in Iraq

My heart cries out for the Yazidi people and the Christian people in Iraq. Both are threatened with genocide by the Islamic State. Hundreds of Yazidi have been killed, some even buried alive. The rest have fled to the Sinjar Mountains without food or water, desperately trying to save their lives. Thus, the United States instituted humanitarian airdrops of food and water.

The Yazidi are a small religious group with roots in ancient Mesopotamia. They have a syncretic religion, one that blends elements of several traditions, including Zoroastrianism from ancient Persia, Christianity and Islam. They revere both the Christian Bible and the Quran. They are peaceful, no threat to anyone.

Yet both the Yazidi and Christians, who have been in this region since apostolic times, are victims of uprooting and horrific violence by the Islamic State.

By anyone's standard, these are war crimes.

But watching such horrors, even at a distance, can give us a new appreciation for what "religious freedom" means and what it means to separate religion and government. A friend of mine, a Pakistani Muslim who is now an American citizen, said to me once, "From my perspective, the greatest gift of our founders was separation of church and state."

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When we ponder how religion has been, and can be, used to enflame passions that can lead to all sorts of violence, genocide or "wars of religion" or pogroms or crusades, it should make us pause.

For an antidote is within our reach: Studying each other's religious traditions and respecting them -- even if we don't understand them fully -- is fundamental to peace in today's world. "Interfaith dialogue" is not merely a nice phrase. It can be a life-saving practice in a world bleeding from religious persecution.

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