An international crisis was created after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) told Christians in Northern Iraq to leave the region or risk death. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled their homes, sparking criticism and concern from Westerners. Reports surfaced that many Christian homes in the region were being marked with the Arabic letter “N,” which stands for “Nazarene” or “Christian,” as a way to target those residents.

But Jeremy Courtney, an American living in an undisclosed location in Iraq who started the popular #WeAreN hashtag, says the media isn’t telling the whole story. Courtney is the founder of Preemptive Love Coalition, an organization that provides life-saving heart surgeries for children in Iraq, and author of Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a TimeHere, we discuss what he’s experiencing in Iraq, what the media misses, and who he thinks should be blamed for the crisis.

RNS: You say the American media isn’t reporting the whole story about Christian persecution in Iraq. What are we missing?

JC: What Americans don’t quite understand is that what we call the “Christian community” in Iraq has strong nationalistic aspirations. The American media often assumes this ancient Christian community is evangelistically vibrant and is being persecuted because they are trying to convert Muslims. But this is false.

RNS: What is the importance of Iraqi Christians’ “nationalistic aspirations?”

JC: One way the new Islamic state and the neighboring legitimate Kurdistan regional government could perceive the Christian community as a threat is that the Assyrian Christian community longs to see an Assyrian state rise again. There are strong nationalist desires, and many want a federal solution to carve out an Assyrian state. Some would say that’s why the Kurds have all too cynically welcomed the fleeing Christians–because they can Kurdify them.

This doesn’t mean that the persecution is justified. They shouldn’t be subject to genocide. They shouldn’t lose their homes. But Western Christians want to view these issues only through Christian evangelism, while overlooking Christian nationalism, Christian politics, and Christian violence abroad—all of which are real things.

RNS: So why are these Iraqi Christians being persecuted then?

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Written by Jonathan