This is an old story with new intensity. The elimination of Christians from their earliest homes is at epic proportions.
My files on this go back years. In less than six months, they’ve more than doubled. I regularly have guests on the radio show talk about latest updates from around the world, always with something people can do to help make a difference for persecuted religious minorities worldwide. But lately, I’m beating that drum almost daily, while also covering the Israel-Gaza conflict, the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and other US and geopolitical news. It’s been awfully busy.
There’s too much to cover in one post on the effort by militants to eradicate Christians from Iraq alone, so look at the past week or so chronologically, when ‘Christian cleansing’ reached a new fierce, brutal, in some places final level. Without much of the world even noticing.
Mark Movesian noticed, warned that a line had been crossed in Mosul, and signaled what that meant for Christians everywhere.
Say goodbye to one of the most ancient Christian communities in the world. Last week, members of ISIS—the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” a Sunni Islamist group that recently has captured parts of Iraq and declared a new caliphate—began going through the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter “Nun.” “Nun” stands for “Nasara,” from “Nazarenes,” a word that refers to Christians. The implications were clear. Mosul’s Christians faced the same fate the Christians of Raqqa, Syria, had when ISIS captured their city last spring. “We offer them three choices,” ISIS announced: “Islam; the dhimma contract—involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.”
In other words, convert, pay punitively, leave or die. Or omit ‘leave’ as an option, and face the other three.
By last week, most Christians in Mosul had already taken a fourth option—evacuation. Their departure marks the end of a continuous Christian tradition in Mosul. For thousands of years, Mosul has been a center for Christians, particularly for Assyrians, an ethnic group that predates the Arab conquest of Mesopotamia. Indeed, the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, where the Prophet Jonah preached, lies across the Tigris River. Christianized in apostolic times, Assyrians have divided over the centuries into a number of communions that reflect the history of the religion: the Assyrian Church of the East, a small body, historically associated with Nestorianism, which once spread as far as China; the Syriac Orthodox Church, a member of the Oriental Orthodox family; and the Chaldean-rite Catholic Church, in communion with Rome. A small number of Assyrian Protestant churches exist as well, the legacy of nineteenth-century American missionaries.
As recently as a decade ago, tens of thousands of Christians lived in Mosul, some of them descendents of victims of the genocide the Ottoman Empire perpetrated against Assyrians, as well as Armenians and Greeks, during World War I. After this weekend, virtually none remain. On Saturday, ISIS expelled the fifty-two Christian families still in the city, after first requiring them to leave behind all their valuables. For good measure, ISIS also burned an 1800-year-old church and the Catholic bishop’s residence, along with its library and manuscript collection.
What ISIS has done in Mosul is a worrying hint of Islamism’s possible future.
That, for another post. This crisis of Christian extermination continues to grow more grave, if that’s possible.
Some of the few media people paying any attention to this humanitarian story have called out the Pope to intervene, saying he’s ‘only calling for prayer’ and has to step in and do something. However, Francis is ‘putting his money where his mouth is’, Vatican expert John Allen told me on radio this week. He’s sending relief and opening centers for refugees, among other things.
Meanwhile, what’s the US government doing? Specifically, the president the world is watching? Nothing noticeable. Elizabeth Scalia has been writing frantically for days and weeks about the situation, which the White House saw coming, as it turns out.
The group’s operations “are calculated, coordinated and part of a strategic campaign led by its Syria-based leader, Abu Bakr al Baghadi,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk told a House committee on Feb. 5, four months before fighting broke out in Mosul. “The campaign has a stated objective to cause the collapse of the Iraqi state and carve out a zone of governing control in western regions of Iraq and Syria.”
The testimony raises an obvious question: If the Obama administration had such early warning of the Islamic State’s ambitions, why, nearly two months after the fall of Mosul, is it still assessing what steps, if any, to take to halt the advance of Islamist extremists who threaten U.S. allies in the region and have vowed to attack Americans?
In fresh testimony before Congress this week, McGurk revealed that the administration knew three days in advance that the attack on Mosul was coming. He acknowledged that the Islamic State is no longer just a regional terrorist organization but a “full-blown” army that now controls nearly 50 percent of Iraq and more than one-third of Syria. Its fighters have turned back some of the best-trained Iraqi units trying to retake key cities, while in Syria, it’s seized nearly all that country’s oil and natural gas fields and is pushing the Syrian military from its last outposts in the country’s east.
“What started as a crisis in Syria has become a regional disaster with serious global implications,” Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday.
And the president has said little. Scalia called it ‘a threat ignored‘:
Bin Laden was a Western-educated terrorist looking for the big statement but lacking a substantive plan beyond mayhem. ISIS is a home-grown movement — “calculated, coordinated” per our intel, and apparently well-funded — seeking caliphate. Who is going to stop them? Turkey? Europe?
The unchecked, unprotested aggression of ISIS — now called “Islamic State” — is the story to watch; unlike the border immigration story, or the perennial Gaza headlines, this is the story that will go global, while the people in power do little, say nothing.
Ed Morrissey at HotAir says time is either running out for Christians in Iraq, or already has. That was on July 25th.
The Christians in Mosul have already fled, and those remaining in Nineveh and other areas of Iraq have until Saturday to make their choice to pay jizya, convert, or be put to death. While ISIS conducts an ethno-religious cleansing of Iraq, the ancient Christian communities there wonder when the West will at least speak out:
He and the rest of northern Iraq’s multitude of Christian sects have plenty of reason to worry about the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate that’s taken hold in much of northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria since Mosul fell to the Islamic State on June 9. The men who lead the caliphate adhere to the most austere and literal interpretation of Islam, one that subscribes to the notion that improperly pious Muslims can be killed and that Christians, Jews and other monotheistic minorities must pay a protection tax or face a similar fate…
Bitterness abounds. In Qarakosh, where fighters from the Kurdish peshmerga militia maintain a front line just a mile or so from Islamic State positions and regularly come under sniper and mortar fire, one refugee from Mosul said he knew exactly whom to blame for the situation.
“Goddamn George Bush,” Abu Fadi spat out in English as he stood in line in the 100-degree heat to register for aid. “He removed Saddam, and this is all his fault.”
Then, in Arabic, he turned his anger on the current U.S. administration, which is still formulating what, if anything, it will do in response to the rapid advance of the Islamic State.
“Tell Obama I lost my house because of America, and now he’s a coward and won’t come save us from these animals,” he said.
McClatchy reports today that the earlier reports that the US had been taken by surprise by the ISIS sweep through Nineveh was no surprise at all. The Obama administration knew that ISIS had planned its invasion and seizure of western Iraq, but didn’t take any action to prevent it despite the obvious consequences…
At the end of the post, Morrissey quoted
Christian Kaldo Oganna, who is living in Iraq.
“Our people are under the threat of killing, ethnic cleansing,” he said. “We are all in fear. The Jihadis are going to attack.”
Oganna begged for condemnation of the violence and begged the United States to stop ISIS before things get worse.
The US has been much more focused on trying to stop Israel from crippling Hamas, for some reason. Maybe they’d prefer that people don’t ask too many questions about how Iraq went from an Obama administration success story in 2011 to a genocidal charnel just three years later.
But the people have done an end run around politicians and even media, however silent they choose to be on the crisis in Iraq. Tod Worner provides this excellent fact checker and updated factual indictment of a disengaged government in the face of a violent onslaught against innocent minorities. Sometime between Elizabeth Scalia’s post and Ed Morrisey’s post, ISIS blew up a sacred site in Ninevah, where Christians not only lived but many had taken refuge.
If you flee, you leave your home, your possessions, your community and your culture. What little you carry is soon stripped and looted from greedy militia men. You leave with your lives and the clothes on your back. But what if you can’t or don’t leave? What awaits you? Beheadings, amputations, gunshots and crucifixions. Unbending Sharia law including women and girls forced to undergo compulsory genital mutilation and to don the most conservative of clothing. You know these are bad people when even Ayman al Zawahari, al Qaeda’s de facto leader, disavows them finding them too difficult too control.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Large swaths of previously secured Iraqi land and resources have fallen. Cultural and religious treasures have been destroyed. The Iraqi Army is in disarray and the Iraqi Government has been shaken up.
ISIS blew up the Tomb of Jonah in Ninevah, and the international community is doing what? Scalia cited the Washington Post as finally getting the picture, though barely:
The problem: In Iraq, the Islamic State is advancing. If it’s willing to destroy anything other religions — even other Muslims — hold sacred, what’s next?
Some Congressmen, led by Jeff Fortenberry, humanitarian rights advocate, tried to rush through last minute legislation for emergency relief before Congress went on recess.
And Commentary magazine laments, no one cares.
With reports of how the doors of Christian homes were ominously marked by Islamists so as to streamline this campaign of ethnic cleansing, with incidents of Christians having been crucified–yes, crucified–you might have thought that some of those avid humanitarian activists attending the recent anti-Israel rallies could have at least organized a sub-contingent to highlight the terrible fate of the Iraqi Christians, but no, that might have risked detracting in some way from the anti-Israel political objectives of these protests.
It’s a political chess board and Christians are the pawns. Even though many innocent Christians are in Palestine, which is getting Western media and activists’ attention, the Iraqi Christian holocaust is getting very little.
Kirsten Powers highlighted it in her USA Today column on July 29th.
Iraq’s Christians are begging the world for help. Is anybody listening?
If that sounds dire, it’s because it is.
Human rights lawyer Nina Shea described the horror in Mosul to me: “(ISIS) took the Christians’ houses, took the cars they were driving to leave. They took all their money. One old woman had her life savings of $40,000, and she said, ‘Can I please have 100 dollars?’, and they said no. They took wedding rings off fingers, chopping off fingers if they couldn’t get the ring off.”
“We now have 5,000 destitute, homeless people with no future,” Shea said. “This is a crime against humanity.”
For the first time in 2,000 years, Mosul is devoid of Christians. “This is ancient Nineveh we are talking about,” Shea explained. “They took down all the crosses. They blew up the tomb of the prophet Jonah. An orthodox Cathedral has been turned into a mosque. … They are uprooting every vestige of Christianity.” University of Mosul professor Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a Muslim, bravely spoke out against ISIS’ purging of Christians and was executed.
Lebanon-based Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, who heads the Syrian Catholic Church, called the crisis “religious cleansing” in an interview. “I want to tell American Christians to stand up, wake up and no longer be a silent majority. American-elected representatives need to stand up for their principles on which the U.S. has been founded: the defense of religious freedom … and respect for human rights.”…
Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf has taken to the House floor three times in the past week to plead for action from the U.S. and world community.
Wolf told me, “The Kurds have done a good job, but they are bearing the burden. President Obama should thank and encourage the Kurds for protecting the Christians. He also needs to provide (humanitarian aid), including funds for water and food.”
But he hasn’t done those things. Relief organizations and religious groups are doing what they can, and Scalia is giving these causes all out attention.
The Nineveh plains to which many Iraqi Christians fled are within the sites of the Islamic State; water and electricity are already cut off.
Patriarch Louis Rafael I Sako denounced IS as worse than the country’s Mongol invaders during the medieval period.
“This has never happened in Christian or Islamic history. Even Genghis Khan or Hulagu [the Mongol destroyer of Baghdad in 1258] didn’t do this,” he said, according to Reuters, at a church service in Baghdad where 200 Muslims joined in solidarity.
“We are seeing great swatches of Christianity wiped from the Middle East,” said Edward Clancy, Aid to the Church in Need’s director of evangelization and outreach. He said IS enforces “the strictest and most brutal interpretation of sharia,” including “little children having their hands hacked off” for stealing food out of hunger
“They have no problem with crucifixion, and they have done it,” he said.
Clancy said Aid to the Church in Need confirmed IS’ atrocities with priests and bishops on the ground through its regional coordinator.
“Simply put, it is all true: They are kidnapping, there are crucifixions, beheadings, beatings and enforced conversions,” he said.
Citing another writer, she concludes:
Their witness stirs our conscience, too. We Americans want the world to take care of its own problems, but now Mosul’s Christians, along with many other embattled religious minorities, remind us that we can not wish away evil.
John Allen reports on those cries for help from Mosul’s Christians.
“We have to ask the world: Why are you silent? Why do you not speak out?” said Catholic auxiliary bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad last week.
“Do human rights exist, or not? And if they exist, where are they?” Warduni said. “There are many, many cases that should arouse the conscience of the whole world: Where is Europe? Where is America?”
Others are pleading with their fellow believers to act.
“We need the solidarity of Christians worldwide, not to be afraid to talk about this tragedy,” said Archbishop Amel Nona of Mosul.
On Wednesday, Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking him to pressure the international community to step up assistance to Iraq’s Christians and other minorities targeted by militants.
It’s up to the people to act, contact members of Congress (in their home districts at this point), media, relief organizations, anything they can do to help. People are finding ways.
Members of ISIS have been marking Christian homes in Mosul with the Arabic character N, which stands for “Nazarene,” meaning Christian, Sichko said. “It is reminiscent of the Star of David that marked Jews in Nazi Germany.”
Because of that, “St. Mark in Richmond, Kentucky, today has marked our Church doors with the the Arabic letter N in solidarity with our brothers and sisters” in Iraq and around the world, he said.
“We are all Iraqi Christians,” Sichko said. “As Catholic Christians, the members of St. Mark stand together in defiance of genocide, of persecution, of hate and the slaughter of Christians anywhere.”
It takes a village? The part that’s on fire urgently needs relief from the rest of the ‘international community.’