“Daniel Williams has given us a vivid portrait of what he rightly calls 'not only a human tragedy but a historic cataclysm.' His compelling blend of historical perspective and on-the-ground reporting in Christian communities across the Middle East gives authority to his practical proposals. This book should be required reading for policymakers in Western capitals.” —Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor, The Washington Post

“Veteran Mideast correspondent Dan Williams provides a gripping account of the ongoing persecution and destruction of the Middle East’s ancient Christian communities, while Western leaders continue to look the other way. Forsaken is required reading for anyone who cares about the survival of Christianity in the region of its birth or the fate of Christians forced to flee.”
                                                            —Trudy Rubin, Worldview columnist, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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About the Book

Across the Middle East, Christian communities today find themselves the victims of widening repression: massacres, expulsions, and brutally enforced restrictions on the right to worship have all become commonplace. Such persecution has now reached the point where, in the region that was once its birthplace, Christianity’s very existence is under threat.

Radical armed groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) justify their offensive against the “infidels” with reference to new interpretations of jihad, the Islamic tradition of holy war, that have burgeoned in the region since the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq at the beginning of the century.

The impact on Christian communities is visible for all to see. In Iraq, the Christian population has withered from well over one million to just 300,000. In Syria, where the word “Christian” was first coined more than two millennia ago, at least half a million Christians, one third of the total, have fled their homes. In Egypt, where the Coptic Church, with its seven million adherents, is as old as the Church of Rome, Christians are emigrating in waves after being squeezed between those who blame them for the 2013 ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood government and a new military dictatorship that is heedless of their civil rights.

In this compact, fast-paced survey, Dan Williams pulls together extensive, first-hand reportage, salient historical antecedents, and intelligent political analysis to trace the contours of an unfolding tragedy. The situation of the Christian communities, he notes, has always been a barometer of turbulence in the Middle East. On this reading, storms clouds are today gathering fast.

Publication March 10, 2016 • 216 pages
Paperback ISBN 978-1-682190-34-0 • E-book 978-1-682190-35-7

About the Author

daniel williams author photo

Photograph © Antonia Williams-Annunziata
Daniel Williams was for 30 years a correspondent for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News in the Middle East, Europe, Russia and Latin America. Most recently, he served as a senior researcher with the Emergencies Division at Human Rights Watch, focusing on rights abuses during the Arab Spring, as well as in Russia, Central America and Nigeria.

Read an Excerpt

In Qaraqosh, the old, the weak, and the sick were stranded. Aida Hanna Nour, forty-three, a mother of four, stayed behind to take care of her blind husband. “We were ten days in Qaraqosh. We stayed because we thought Daesh would leave. There was no electricity and no water. We were afraid. We asked for water and sometimes they gave it, sometimes not.

“After a few days, they asked us to convert or leave. Then they ordered us out by a certain day. If we refused, they would kill us. We were helpless. But we did not want to convert”.

“Some Daesh wore black cloaks. One was an imam from a nearby village. They pointed out who had money. On August 22, a mini-bus came. ‘We will treat you well,’ the people with rifles said. They were lying. They took everything, the gold, money, and documents, everything except the clothes we were wearing.”

“Then a man in black grabbed her three-year-old daughter,” Hanna Nour said, and burst out in tears. “He gave her to an imam, an old man with a long beard. The girl cried and cried. I said, ‘Why do you take her?’ He said, ‘If you come a step closer, I will shoot you.’ I went to the bus.” One young man, who was 20, and stayed to care for his parents, was also taken away.

“We were dropped at a checkpoint, then walked for seven hours. We crossed a river on foot and then the desert. I didn’t care. I just wanted my daughter. When we got to the peshmerga, they gave us water. They then let us pass.

“I heard that my daughter is with an Arab. They want $20,000. My brother-in-law is in touch with them. We will give the money if we can get it.”

Ghazala al-Najjar, eighty, was left alone with a sick and unmarried sister-in-law. “I’ve had five operations and my eyes are bad. We didn’t have much contact with our neighbors and so I woke up one day and discovered everybody’s gone. No one told us. The streets were empty. I went to the church, the door was locked. The shops were closed and I saw a Daesh man in black. I went back home. We stayed inside for four days. When our water ran out, we came outside,” she said.

Al-Najjar saw three Islamic State men and one in a Saddam military uniform. “They asked me, ‘What are you doing here? Why aren’t you gone?’ They gave us water. We didn’t need food. The man in the uniform said we should go to the old people’s home in Mosul. Don’t be afraid.

“I said, if I am to die, I’d rather die here. Then three others from Daesh came. They were in Afghan uniform, but they were Arabs from Mosul. They had rifles and opened shops and stole everything. They filled cars with gas. For ten days, they pressured me to convert. I said dig a hole and bury me. I will never be a Muslim.

“ ‘You need to be Muslim to go to heaven.’

“ ‘I don’t want your heaven,’ I answered. “We prayed to Jesus and the men left. We found another stranded family. They had a disabled boy. They too were told to become Muslim. The mother of the boy told Daesh, if you bring your mothers here to be Christian, I will become Muslim.

“At 6:30, they took us to an Arab village. There, the Arabs treated us well and the village head asked a young man to take us to Kurdistan. We ran into a Daesh checkpoint. They asked our driver to bring all the gold from us.”

An old couple, Delailah, seventy, and Najib Daniel, seventy-five, who said they had lived in Qaraqosh “forever,” recounted a similar exit. “On August 20, they came to our house and told us to convert”. I said, ‘I don’t change religions.’

“They put us, ninety-three people, on a bus. I don’t know where they let us off, but then we had to walk for eleven hours. A boy carried me across a river. A woman couldn’t go on. Another boy carried her on his back for three hours”.

“My husband’s feet began to bleed. Dogs came and bit at them. We walked and walked and got to a Daesh checkpoint.”

At this point in her recollection, she began to weep.

“They took the thing I treasured. My earrings. I had worn them since my wedding. Since then I had never taken them off. It was fifty years ago.”

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