We Want Our Dignity Back

February 7, 2017

A recent World Council of Churches delegation to Iraq [1] reported on the complex feelings and wrenching dilemmas of Christians there.  They quoted one woman named Lubna Yusef, who I will let speak for herself here because her voice, unsettling as it is, deserves to be heard.

“What did we do to deserve this? I hate traveling and immigration, but today, for the sake of my children, if I had a chance to emigrate I would,” she said.

“If there was protection for us back home, this wouldn’t happen. But how long can we go on living where we are now? I am young but I feel like my life is over. Yet what about my children? Who can guarantee that something even worse than ISIS will not come along and destroy the life of my children?” she asked.

“Our priests are telling us to stay because this is our country, this is our civilization. But why do we repeatedly have to start from zero? If I go to Europe or the United States, would they accept the diploma that I have from here? Of course not. So don’t bring any material things for us. We don’t want that stuff. I will work hard and I will buy what I need. But I can’t buy my life. I want security. I want to sleep at night without worrying about the morning,” Yusef said. “We don’t want you to help us rebuild our houses. Even more important, we want our dignity back.”

Her story and complaints, like those of many other Iraqi Christians, don’t fit neatly into any ready-made political narrative.  This suggests that something may be missed when public discourse remains only at the level of keep-them-out vs. let-them-in arguments.  The cry for dignity, in particular, echoes other such demands from surprising places. [2]  Then again, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising, since a dignified life is a fundamental human need (and, according to Catholic Social Teaching, a fundamental right).

Mind you, I come down firmly on the side of welcoming the stranger [3], as I believe all Christians should.  But for this to even be sustainable, there are whole deep webs of intersecting concerns, problems, and outright crises – the circumstances that drive people to the desperation of leaving places they love, often at the risk of their lives, to seek safety in places where they may be made unwelcome; and those that drive people to scapegoat the stranger out of all-too-tangible fears for their own physical and economic security – that need to be addressed at the root.

The social concerns involved are overwhelmingly complex.  But somewhere at the heart of it all is the need for dignity.

Julia Smucker


This article previously appeared in Vox Nova