Why the silence on Christian elimination?

Pope, patriarchs and prelates are crying out for intervention. Where are the presidents and prime ministers?

I’ve known Maronite leader Monsignor Sharbel Maroun for many years, talked with him on radio in 2006 after Telelumiere was nearly destroyed in the Lebanon War that summer, and many times before and after then about the ongoing work of unity and mutual respect of Christians and Muslims in the Middle East. He just returned from Lebanon recently, we talked again this week, and he is despondent. What he said is captured well here.

Catholics in the Middle East are being persecuted and slaughtered while the world watches and remains silent, said the leader of an Eastern rite Catholic community.

“It is a very heartbreaking situation, affecting everybody but mainly Christians,” said Msgr. Sharbel Maroun, pastor of St. Maron Maronite Parish in Minneapolis. “The Middle East is an erupting volcano, causing so many people to be wounded, displaced, injured and killed. There is a wave of persecution — I think it is a systematic persecution — that the church hasn’t seen since the early ages.”…

“It is devastating that the international community is just watching, doing nothing,” Msgr. Maroun said.

Several weeks ago, Christians were told to get out or be killed, and the international community said nothing and did nothing.

“I am talking about the international community in general, including the super powers,” he said. “By not doing anything, you are as guilty as those who are killing Christians. This is plain English.”

Msgr. Maroun said it is similar to the silence of the world when Jews were persecuted, rounded up and murdered wholesale in Nazi Germany.

“The Christians have been appealing, crying, begging the world to do something about this situation in the Middle East,” Msgr. Maroun said.

Those three statements tie together some important pleas by other leaders and leading voices.

Consider them in reverse order.

Pope Francis, other Vatican representatives and several Patriarchs have appealed to the United Nations and the international community to intervene in the most dangerous places for minorities, in what is clearly a sweep of maniacal genocide.

Some Jewish leaders see with clarity history repeating itself, and have cried out about the silence as it unfolds in sheer, graphic, and now widely known brutality. Like Ronald Lauder in the New York Times, asking Who Will Stand Up for the Christians?

Why is the world silent while Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa?

As the leader of the World Jewish Congress, Lauder

slammed global apathy to persecution of Christians in the Middle East and other parts of the world, saying more countries should be moved to action.

“The general indifference to ISIS, with its mass executions of Christians and its deadly preoccupation with Israel, isn’t just wrong; it’s obscene,” wrote Ronald S. Lauder in an Aug. 19 New York Times editorial.

“The Jewish people understand all too well what can happen when the world is silent,” he said. “This campaign of death must be stopped.”

Lauder stated that while the international community has rallied to defend the persecution of other minorities in other conflicts…“the barbarous slaughter of thousands upon thousands of Christians is met with relative indifference.”

Noting a range of offenses against “Christian communities that have lived in peace for centuries” in the Middle East and parts of Africa, he decried a lack of action…

“Historians may look back at this period and wonder if people had lost their bearings,” Lauder warned. He noted that international organization have mostly remained quiet on “the Nazi-like wave of terror that is rolling across” Iraq.

Additionally, he said, celebrities or public figures have not spoken on the persecution, and he wondered “why doesn’t the slaughter of Christians seem to activate their social antennas?”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. wondered the same thing out loud, with a profoundly heavy heart. His closing remarks at the opening of the new Catholic University of America school year rattled everyone who heard it live and in its reverberations since he uttered his brief but deeply felt message last Thursday.

Where are the voices?” he asked.

Why a silence?

Today our solidarity with brothers and sisters of our faith and of other faiths in a part of the world where there is clearly an effort to eliminate them is something that we simply cannot in conscience ignore. Often we’re asked, “How is it possible that in human history atrocities occur?” They occur for two reasons. Because there are those prepared to commit them and there are those who remain silent. And the actions in Iraq and Syria today, what’s happening to women, children, men, their displacement – as the least of the things happening to them – is something that we really are not free to ignore and sometimes all we have to raise is our voice.

That’s quite profound, when you consider it. So is the rest of what he said.

I’m sharing these thoughts with you because I don’t want to have on my conscience that I was complicit in something as horrendous as this simply by being quiet. And I ask myself where are these voices? Where are the voices of parliaments and congresses? Where are the voices of campuses? Where are the voices of community leaders? Where are the voices of talk show hosts and radio programs? Where are the voices of the late night news? Where are the voices of editorial columns? Where are the voices of op-ed pieces? Why a silence? I think each one of us has at least the power to raise our voice and be in solidarity with people distant from us, unknown to us, not a part of this campus, not a part of this family, not a part of this university, not a part of our nation. But they are a part of our human community. I think it should rest on the conscience of each one of us. Atrocities happen because there are those who commit them and those who simply remain silent.

‘Mr. Obama’s war’

What is its strategic goal?’ Does the president yet have one?

So asks the BBC, among other news outlets and voices in media punditry. It sounds trite, the ‘economy of the media’ in some ways. Because it’s a large, historic, confrontation with evil. But since that has to be carried out by world leaders, beyond the real ‘shoes on the ground’ of the heroic relief organizations who have been there far longer than the media have been paying attention, this is how the story is being reported.

All three of President Barack Obama’s predecessors in the White House were involved in one way or another with military conflicts in Iraq. Now, having set out his stall as the president who would end Washington’s foreign interventions, Mr Obama has a new Iraqi conflict of his own.

True, for now, the US role seems limited and circumscribed. Mr Obama has made it clear that it is up to the Iraqis to do the fighting. There will be no US “boots on the ground”, at least in terms of combat troops.

A further 130-strong US assessment team of military advisers has been despatched to Irbil – in addition to the US trainers and liaison people who are already there. But the aim is to bolster the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to enable them to hold the line against the advancing Islamic State (IS) tide.

The humanitarian crisis afflicting Iraqi minorities – the Christians and the ancient Kurdish Yazidi sect – has formed the ostensible reason for American involvement. Accordingly the US action has been as much humanitarian as military.

Indeed the number of actual air strikes on IS vehicles and positions has been small – enough to send a clear warning that an advance on Irbil would bring much heavier US action.

For now, at least on this front, the US demonstration may have contained the pressure on the Peshmerga, though it has clearly done nothing to put the IS advance into reverse.

Fanned by factionalism
This, then, raises the most fundamental question about Mr Obama’s war: what is its strategic goal?

Is it to try to defeat IS – a group that holds a huge swathe of territory in both Syria and Iraq and one that is already being hailed as the next great strategic threat to the region and beyond ?

If so, then according to Mr Obama’s critics, US action has been both too little and too late.

But there are significant constraints on US action and Mr Obama’s caution may indeed be well advised.

The message coming from Washington is that Iraqis must do the heavy lifting here themselves.

This is complicated, but the president waited a long time to say or do anything, and then only when the Yazidis cried for help from the Sinjar mountaintop did this administration respond. Democratic pundit Kirsten Powers takes issue with that.

It wasn’t until Aug. 5 that the administration acknowledged the crisis in Iraq. It was done in the form of a statement, condemning attacks on religious minorities, by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.

By last Thursday, the largely Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh had fallen to the Islamic State.

Finally, later that night — and two full months after the crisis began — President Obama announced airstrikes in Iraq and for the first time acknowledged that Christians are being driven from the homeland of their faith. But the Christians garnered a passing mention, while the religious minority of Yazidis seems to be what moved the president to act.

An Iraqi Christian leader lamented to me that his people would have to convert to get the administration’s attention.

Homeless Christians

The Yazidis deserve protection and humanitarian aid, but so do the Christians who number in the hundreds of thousands in Iraq. While the Yazidis received air drops of food and water, nothing has been dropped to the Christians who are homeless and in dire need of food and water. Each day that passes is a matter of life and death.

Powers has been an Obama defender on many issues over the years of his two terms of administration. And though humanitarian crises should never be politicized, they are de facto in today’s world.

To world powers that are engaged (and many are not), political realities determine what else might be done.

The danger is that it will be the IS actions that determine the pace and scale of US intervention.

Mr Obama must also contend with the broader strategic picture.

IS is a transnational organisation in the sense that it is fighting in both Iraq and Syria. Indeed the geographical ambitions of its caliphate may be even broader. It has taken on the Lebanese army in the border region and potentially threatens Jordan too.

The US needs to establish a broader coalition in the region to contain the IS advance.

And in this light it cannot avoid thinking again about Syria.

Syria, after all, provided the launch pad for IS. And the failure to halt its growth there meant that it was able to export its violence across the border into Iraq.

Whatever the political realities, it prompted the US and UK governments to declare, suddenly, that the relief mission was over.

Christian leaders don’t see it that way. The Vatican has been outspoken on the need to meet this catastrophic crisis with international intervention. This document clearly enumerates the consequences.

This Pontifical Council, together with all those engaged in interreligious dialogue, followers of all religions, and all men and women of good will, can only unambiguously denounce and condemn these practices which bring shame on humanity..

No cause, and certainly no religion, can justify such barbarity. This constitutes an extremely serious offense to humanity and to God who is the Creator, as Pope Francis has often reminded us. We cannot forget, however, that Christians and Muslims have lived together – it is true with ups and downs – over the centuries, building a culture of peaceful coexistence and civilization of which they are proud. Moreover, it is on this basis that, in recent years, dialogue between Christians and Muslims has continued and intensified.

The dramatic plight of Christians, Yezidis and other religious communities and ethnic minorities in Iraq requires a clear and courageous stance on the part of religious leaders, especially Muslims, as well as those engaged in interreligious dialogue and all people of good will. All must be unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and in denouncing the use of religion to justify them. If not, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility can the interreligious dialogue that we have patiently pursued over recent years have?

Religious leaders are also called to exercise their influence with the authorities to end these crimes, to punish those who commit them and to reestablish the rule of law throughout the land, ensuring the return home of those who have been displaced. While recalling the need for an ethical management of human societies, these same religious leaders must not fail to stress that the support, funding and arming of terrorism is morally reprehensible.

That said, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is grateful to all those who have already raised their voices to denounce terrorism, especially that which uses religion to justify it.

Let us therefore unite our voices with that of Pope Francis: “May the God of peace stir up in each one of us a genuine desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is never defeated by violence. Violence is defeated by peace. “

Francis urged the United Nations to intervene. It’s a reminder of the duty to protect stated in the UN’s founding Charter.

The Catholic Church for millennia has taught that war must be a last resort to resolve problems. But it continues to recognize the right of people to defend themselves and, particularly since the pontificate of St. John Paul II, the church has taught that the international community has an obligation to intervene — with force, if necessary — to defend the lives of innocent people at risk of genocide.

“When all other means have been exhausted, to save human beings the international community must act. This can include disarming the aggressor,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva.

The duty to defend the innocent explains how Pope Francis can appeal for peace and, at the same time, his representative in Baghdad can welcome President Barack Obama’s decision to begin using military force against Islamic State positions in northeastern Iraq in early August.

Asked about the U.S. military airstrikes, Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, told Vatican Radio Aug. 11, “This is something that had to be done, otherwise (the Islamic State) could not be stopped.”

The Islamic State, defined as a terrorist group by the international community and by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has captured a wide swath of territory in Iraq and Syria, torturing and massacring civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands of people — particularly Christians, Yezidi and other minorities — from their homes.

Given the brutality of the terrorists, Archbishop Lingua’s comments were in line with papal statements and Catholic social teaching.

CNEWA, one of the many organizations doing the best on the ground relief operation at the local level, everywhere Christian and minority communities are threatened, reports that some Muslim leaders are speaking out against these crimes as well.

Faced with the unrelenting reports about the sufferings of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, even Christians who are friendly toward Muslims can be perplexed and ask, “Why aren’t Muslims speaking out against these atrocities?” The answer is: Muslims have been speaking out in the strongest terms, condemning the crimes against humanity committed by ISIS (or, as it is increasingly called, IS) and others in the name of Islam.

So, why do we not hear more of this?

The first reason is because Islam is not a structurally centralized religion. Unlike, for example, Catholicism, there is no one person or institution that can speak with authority for all Sunnis or even all Shiites — to say nothing of speaking for all Muslims around the world.

The second reason is that there is a huge number of newspapers in Muslim countries throughout the world. Many, if not most, of these newspapers appear in languages unfamiliar to people in the West. Sometimes, it is not a question of Muslims speaking out, but of others just not hearing. Often, the “not hearing” happens because people do not have access to sources or just do not speak the same language. But the voices are out there. And an important media monitoring group has turned up the volume, to make sure more hear them.

MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute), which could never be accused of being apologetic to Islam or Muslims, has just published a “Special Dispatch,” in which it gives a platform to several significant editorials written by Muslims in important Middle Eastern newspapers — condemning the atrocities taking place in Syria and Iraq in no uncertain terms.

I’ve spoken with scholars waiting to hear this, and it’s good news that people of intellect and good will agree on how to live together with civil, respectful and humane treatment of each other.

Meanwhile, Princeton Professor Robert George is not waiting on the sidelines to see what happens. He has issued a plea on behalf of victims of barbarism in Iraq, and launched a campaign to join high level and grassroots voices to speak with the strength of numbers and influence and intent to help those in harm’s way.

Here’s the distinct site to sign on and join your voice to the plea for humanitarian relief.

President Obama was right to order airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL to stop its advance on key cities, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to people fleeing their assaults. Much more needs to be done, however, and there is no time to waste.

We, the undersigned, are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We are conservatives, liberals, and moderates. We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief. None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force. Where non-military means of resolving disputes and protecting human rights are available, we always and strongly favor those means. However, the evidence is overwhelming that such means will not be capable of protecting the victims of the genocide already unfolding at the hands of ISIS/ISIL. That is why Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch Sako has requested military intervention.

Therefore we call upon the United States and the international community to do everything necessary to empower local forces fighting ISIS/ISIL in Iraq to protect their people. No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table. We further believe that the United States’ goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in ISIS/ISIL’s path. Nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.

We call upon President Obama and the Congress of the United States to expand airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL with a view to eroding its military power, and to provide full air support for Kurdish and other forces fighting against ISIS/ISIL. Further, we endorse the Washington Post’s call for the United States to provide arms, ammunition, and equipment to Kurdish forces, Sunni tribesmen, and others who are currently hampered in their ability to fight ISIS/ISIL by a lack of sophisticated weapons and other resources. The U.S. should also assist with intelligence. We are hopeful that local forces, with adequate support and assistance from the U.S. and the international community, can defeat ISIS/ISIL.

The expansion of humanitarian aid to the displaced and fleeing is also urgent. Local churches and aid agencies are overwhelmed, and we have grave concerns about how these victims of violent religious persecution will be cared for this winter. The U.S. can and should take the lead in providing food, water, medicine, and other essential supplies.

We must be mindful that in addition to stopping the genocide, the U.S. and Europe have very concrete interests in disabling ISIS/ISIL. As the Washington Post has warned:

“The Islamic State forces, which have captured large numbers of U.S.-supplied heavy weapons, threaten not only the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, but also Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. With hundreds of Western recruits, they have the ambition and capability to launch attacks against targets in Europe and the United States.”

It is also worth bearing in mind that our own nation is not without responsibility for the plight of victims of ISIS/ISIL genocide. What is happening to these people now, and the further threats they face, would not be happening but for errors and failures of our nation’s own in Iraq. This can and should be acknowledged by all, despite disagreements we may have among ourselves as to precisely what these errors and failures were, and which political and military leaders are mainly responsible for them. The point is not to point fingers or apportion blame, but to recognize that justice as well as compassion demands that we take the steps necessary to end the ISIL/ISIS campaign of genocide and protect those who are its victims.

So well written. So let it be done.

‘A return to the Middle Ages’

Barbarism has returned in a supposedly civilized world. What can we do?

How do you dialogue with a fanatic,” asks an Iraqi Patriarch in the middle of insane violence.

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako says he is working with the government of Iraq to bring Christian refugees to Baghdad.

The majority of Christians who have been driven from villages and towns in the Plain of Nineveh are living in dangerous conditions, in makeshift facilities that are now overflowing. In the Iraqi capital, there would be greater care in terms of hygiene, medical care and personal safety.

The Patriarch is also convinced that the American airstrikes are not enough to stop the pressure and advance of ISIS troops.

Here’s part of the fuller interview with Aleteia.org.

Is it true that ISIS militants are asking Christians to pay a tax in order to save their lives and are likewise abducting women and taking them as their wives?

These two reports are true. Christian women have been abducted, and taxes have been demanded. In particular, these Islamic fanatics ask Christians for money to allow them to return to their homes. But the Christians don’t trust them. They are people who continually change their minds: they are unreliable. Perhaps today a Christian pays, returns home to stay there in peace, and tomorrow the militants attack him again, and one never knows what the consequences will be.

The government in Baghdad has accused ISIS Sunni jihadists of having thrown hundreds of Yazidis into mass graves, including women and children who were still alive. What can can you tell us about this?

What you’ve heard happened to the Yazidis is true. More than a thousand women have been kidnapped. A great many children are dead. The people have neither food nor water and they feel cut off from the world. They don’t know where to go or what to do.

In speaking about the crisis in Iraq, Archbishop Sivano Maria Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, has said that “military action at this time is needed.” What do you think about US military intervention?

Partial strikes are not enough. The solution to the crisis needs a broader agreement, with the involvement of the Kurdish government and the Iraqi central government. Without an overall strategy, the dream of seeing the people return to their homes will not happen.

And then this:

In your opinion, what will we see happen in the days to come?

I fear that the situation is worsening. There is a problem with the refugees and the humanitarian emergency, and another problem with the political order. For now I don’t see any prospects. The whole world must mobilize itself for the situation in Iraq; otherwise, a stable and permanent situation, in my opinion, will permanently slip away.

The Telegraph is reporting this dire situation, which is merely reporting the truth on the ground there.

The last day of Qaraqosh’s time as a Christian town, a time almost as old as Christianity itself, began with a mortar shell at nine in the morning.

It came through the roof of Melad and Marven Abdullah’s house on Wednesday, killing them instantly. Melad was nine; his cousin, Marven, four. The mortar struck Marven in the head as it landed. They found his arms and feet, crushed against the wall, but nothing else.

The family’s next-door neighbour, Enam Eshoo, had popped in to deliver some fresh drinking water; she too died where she fell.

The day ended with an order to evacuate. Within a couple of hours, the city’s tens of thousands of inhabitants were crowding the road to Kurdistan, fighting with troops manning checkpoints, trying to find shelter where they could.

The streets of the capital Erbil’s newly Christian suburb, Ainkawa, swelled by exiles from ten years of punishing terror and oppression in northern Iraq, are now full of stunned and helpless people. They are camping on the floors of church halls, in a building site, in the street. An old woman was sleeping in a flower bed. Another begged for help.

“Please take me home,” the woman, Azat Mansur, said. It was not clear what she meant by “home”; it sounded more spiritual than real, since her home is now under the control of the jihadists of the Islamic State.

“I can’t stay here any more, or anywhere else. They are going to kill us. They will cut our heads off, if we stay here.”

There is great fear that the advance of the jihadists of the Islamic State is not over, that even Erbil is not safe, two days after the jihadists advanced to within 30 miles.

Mrs Mansur knows them directly, having fled their June advance into Mosul, from where she and all the other Christians were expelled. The jihadists stole $2,000 and her mobile phone at a checkpoint before they let her go, she added…

Qaraqosh is, or was, the largest of a triangle of Christian towns north and east of Mosul, in fact the largest Christian town in Iraq.

It has been Christian since the earliest years of the faith.

Islamic State, the ultra-jihadist al-Qaeda off-shoot that now controls large parts of the country, first tried to attack in late June, after its sweep through Sunni areas of the north and west.

In that case, they were beaten back, or at least did not press their assault. It seemed for a while as if their forces were stretched thinly, bolstered by their allies in the primarily Sunni tribes of western Iraq but not able to reach into areas where those tribes had no interest, such as Kurdish or Christian regions. The promised attack on Baghdad never materialised, either.

But that assessment was wrong. In the last three weeks, IS has made substantial gains in both Syria and against the Kurds, seizing 17 towns in the last week alone, according to their own account, and Mosul Dam, the country’s largest.

Last weekend, they sent the entire population of another beleaguered minority, the Yazidis, into flight north-west of Mosul. Thousands are still camped out on a mountainside, surrounded, starving and awaiting some form of deliverance.

The residents of Qaraqosh had feared they were next in line, but even so, events happened faster than they expected.

Mr Abdullah, a member of the local home guard, was on duty when the mortar hit on Wednesday morning. “There was blood and flesh on the ground,” he said, as he stood in the gardens of St Joseph’s Cathedral in Ainkawa, a church of the Chaldean Catholics, one of Iraq’s patchwork of sects. He himself, like most in Qaraqosh, is from the Assyrian Catholic church.

Alongside Marven and Melad, who was killed by shrapnel in the head and chest, Anas, Mr Abdullah’s seven-year-old younger son, was also seriously injured.
The mortars landed all Wednesday, and families began to pack up and leave. The Abdullah family and the relatives of Enam Eshoo stayed on for the funeral, which was held in the Church of the Virgin Mary at 5pm.

There has been a church on the site since the earliest years; it was mentioned by travellers in the 12 Century.

Not long after the funeral, a mortar landed outside the church’s front gate.

Shortly after that again, a ticker tape notice on the satellite news channels flashed a warning, said one resident, Wissam Isaac. Mr Isaac worked at a Qaraqosh primary school, teaching the local Syriac language, derived from Aramaic, the language of Christ.

The ticker said the Kurdish army, the Peshmerga, on whom the residents had been relying for their defence, was withdrawing.

“Before this time, no-one really thought we would have to leave,” he said. “We trusted the Peshmerga. They said they would save us. They stayed in our houses. We can’t believe this has happened.”

No one can.

Today, ethnic cleansing has a feeling of permanence.

“Without our homeland, we face extinction as a people,” said Mardean Isaac, a British-Assyrian writer. “We are watching our last chance for survival disappear.”

Sitting on the floor of an Ainkawa church hall, watched over by a statue of the Virgin Mary, Bassma Yousef said she could barely find milk for her 20-day-old baby, Mervy, let alone food for the rest of her family. The thousands of people here are eager for hand-outs from aid organisations, the United Nations, or anyone who can help them, before they leave and move on, as they feel they must.

They are less interested in the two bombs that Washington finally dropped on the Islamic State on Friday, regarding them as too little, too late.

So American scholars and other leaders have launched a desperate relief effort, and anyone can sign on to help.

The so-called Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS/ISIL) is conducting a campaign of genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and others in Iraq. In its fanatical effort to establish a caliphate, ISIS/ISIL has engaged in crimes against humanity by deliberately causing mass starvation and dehydration, and by committing unconscionable acts of barbarism against noncombatants, including defenseless women, children, and elderly persons.

It is imperative that the United States and the international community act immediately and decisively to stop the ISIS/ISIL genocide and prevent the further victimization of religious minorities…

President Obama was right to order airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL to stop its advance on key cities, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to people fleeing their assaults. Much more needs to be done, however, and there is no time to waste.

We, the undersigned, are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We are conservatives, liberals, and moderates. We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief. None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force. Where non-military means of resolving disputes and protecting human rights are available, we always and strongly favor those means. However, the evidence is overwhelming that such means will not be capable of protecting the victims of the genocide already unfolding at the hands of ISIS/ISIL.

Read the whole thing and sign on if you agree. If not, at least be increasingly aware of what’s going on.

What is happening to these people now, and the further threats they face, would not be happening but for errors and failures of our nation’s own in Iraq.  This can and should be acknowledged by all, despite disagreements we may have among ourselves as to precisely what these errors and failures were, and which political and military leaders are mainly responsible for them. The point is not to point fingers or apportion blame, but to recognize that justice as well as compassion demands that we take the steps necessary to end the ISIL/ISIS campaign of genocide and protect those who are its victims.

So help us God, to do what is within our power.

Obama to Iraqi refugees: “Today, America is coming to help”

It’s about time.

Atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities have been perpetrated for months and have grown more ferocious and dire in recent weeks. Then overnight, the horrific account of the Yazidis running for their lives and stranded on a desolate mountain in Kurdistan finally got the world’s attention, those elite media and world leaders who were saying and doing next to nothing or nothing until now.

Elizbabeth Scalia has used her megaphone and all social networking media to call attention to the problem and point to possible avenues of relief. Take a look at just that handful of examples of Christian cleansing from their ancient homeland. With no government response and practically no media mention at all.

Then overnight, this happened and hit the collective consciousness.

Stranded on a barren mountaintop, thousands of minority Iraqis are faced with a bleak choice: descend and risk slaughter at the hands of the encircled Sunni extremists or sit tight and risk dying of thirst.

Humanitarian agencies said Tuesday that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians remain trapped on Mount Sinjar since being driven out of surrounding villages and the town of Sinjar two days earlier. But the mountain that had looked like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for their children.

Unable to dig deep into the rocky mountainside, displaced families said they have buried young and elderly victims of the harsh conditions in shallow graves, their bodies covered with stones. Iraqi government planes attempted to airdrop bottled water to the mountain on Monday night but reached few of those marooned.

“There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads,” said Marzio Babille, the Iraq representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”

…“Children have died because of dehydration and lack of food,” Vian Dakheel, a Yazidi parliamentarian from Sinjar, said through tears. “My people are being slaughtered,” she continued, referring to reports of mass killings of those who had stayed behind.

Tireless human rights activist Nina Shea had issued this warning about issuing only a statement on so massive a humanitarian crisis. And she describes it in more gruesome detail.

On Wednesday, Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, came under assault from the Islamic State, and all 50 to 60,000 of its residents have fled to Erbil in Kurdistan. In June, Qaraqosh’s residents had fled in terror when Mosul was taken but, some 80 percent of them had since returned. The recent exodus was triggered when jihadists’ mortars killed two children and a 30-year-old woman.

Yesterday, the Christian residents of other Nineveh towns and villages, Bartilla, and Bahzany, also left and sought safe haven in the monastery of Mar Mattai, as well as in Erbil and Duhok. Ba’ashiqa and the Ba’ashiqa Monastery are being evacuated by their inhabitants and the displaced civilians who had recently sought refuge there. The Yazidi and Christian families who lived in Ein Sifni are all fleeing.

The enormity of the humanitarian crisis of the cascading exodus from Nineveh was overshadowed, though, by the early reports indicating genocide is taking place against the people of Sinjar, who are mostly followers of the Yazidi religion but also include some Christians.

The Yazidi city of Sinjar and the towns of Tal Afar and Zummar, captured on Sunday by the Islamic State, remain under jihadi control. Some 200,000 of their citizens fled, mostly to Kurdistan. But about 40,000 are now in a truly desperate situation, trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they had fled on foot without provisions and are now dying. Quoting a UNICEF spokesperson, the Washington Post reports today: “There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads. There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”

Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana reports that Kurdistan’s High Commission of Human Rights airlifted ten shipments of aid, each with 20 tons of provisions, to those on Mount Sinjar today.

Others who did not manage to escape have been executed, abducted into sex slavery, or are being used by jihadis as human shields.

This is horrific. The ‘international community’ surely could not allow this to continue….one could only hope and pray.

The following is a description of their ongoing ordeal from a report sent today by Christiana Patto of the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq:

Yesterday 45 children died of thirst. Some families throw their children from the top of Sinjar mountain in order not to see them die from hunger or thirst, or not to be taken by the terrorists. 1500 men were killed in front of their wives and families, 50 old men died also from thirst and illness. More than 70 girl and women including Christians were taken, raped and being captured and sold. More than 100 families are captured in Tel afar airport. There is about 50 Christian families in Sinjar. The terrorists were able to control the Syriac church there and cover the Cross with their black banner. Till now we do not know anything about those Christian families.

Read these numbers as human lives, each and every one. Men, women, children, very young and very old, terrorized and driven by fear and self-preservation to the mountains with nothing but what they were wearing and who they could carry or help make the climb along the agonizing, torturous way. While we sit comfortably in the West either unaware of the ‘headlines’ (behind which there is so much massive human atrocity and unimaginable suffering) or aware and engaged but feeling helpless to do anything about it.

In booking Catholic Near East Welfare Association Communications Director Michael La Civita to come back on my radio program this Friday for the third time in three weeks, I learned that listeners had opened their hears and resources to respond to the persecuted religious minorities in dire need, and they were so grateful. But guest after guest on radio, experts all, expressed frustration at the lack of attention to the crisis by government and media.

I talked about it again on Thursday’s show, calling for awareness of a crisis of epic proportions that grew horrific overnight, citing Pope Francis’ latest appeal for relief. Its tone had increased in extreme urgency.

Pope Francis asked Catholics around the world to pray for tens of thousands of Christians from villages in northeastern Iraq who were forced from their homes in the middle of the night by Islamic State militants.

The pope also made a “pressing appeal to the international community to take initiatives to put an end to the humanitarian drama underway, to take steps to protect those involved and threatened by violence and to ensure the necessary aid for so many displaced people whose fate depends on the solidarity of others,”…

Think about that, having your very fate in the hands of people in other parts of the world even noticing that you are in mortal need and then doing something to help.

Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters the pope was appealing “to the conscience of all people and every believer,” repeating what he had said July 20 after a similar forced exodus of Christians from Mosul: “May the God of peace create in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is not conquered with violence. Violence is conquered with peace. Let us pray in silence, asking for peace.”

Meanwhile, people were suffering the most extreme measures just to hang onto their lives.

This proved to be a turning point.

Overnight Aug. 6-7 fighters belonging to the Islamic State attacked the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh and other villages in Ninevah province, said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. “The Christians, about 100,000, horrified and panicked, fled their villages and houses with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

In an appeal, the patriarch described the scene as “an exodus, a real ‘via crucis'” or Way of the Cross. “Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat” toward Iraqi Kurdistan. “They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need water, food, shelter.”

The central Iraqi government appears incapable of protecting its citizens, the patriarch said, and there is no cooperation or coordination with the regional government.

The Islamic State fighters, he said, are taking advantage of the power vacuum “to impose their rule and terror. There is a need of international support and a professional, well-equipped army. The situation is going from bad to worse.”

That’s an understatement. The situation went from torturous to horrific.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the former nuncio to Iraq and current prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said the Islamic State militants are “chasing out thousands of Christians.”

“We are facing a serious humanitarian situation,” Cardinal Filoni told Fides, the congregation’s news agency. “These people have been left to their own devices with a closed border in front of them and they don’t know where to go.”

“The Christians had to abandon everything, even their shoes, and barefoot they were forced toward Iraqi Kurdistan,” a region already overwhelmed with displaced people, the cardinal said.

Relief organizations and some Christian and (few) sympathetic media had been calling on governments and citizens on different continents to intervene in this horrifying crisis. Pope Francis made an urgent appeal when the crisis grew catastrophic late this week, from August 6-7.

Something about the overnight turn of events, something in the Yazidi call for help that made it to the West, reached a US administration well aware of the ISIS problem for about a year. The president referred to that cry for help when he addressed the nation to announce a mission of humanitarian intervention had begun, finally.

The United States has authorized targeted airstrikes and carried out a humanitarian operation in northern Iraq, President Obama said Thursday night.

The aid mission dropped by aircraft 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water and 8,000 meals ready-to-eat to thousands of Iraquis who have been stranded atop a mountain, driven there by attacks from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Obama said he directed the military to “take target strikes” against ISIS to prevent the terrorist group from advancing in Iraq’s city of Erbil and threatening U.S. personnel there. “We plan to stand vigilant and take action if they threaten our facilities anywhere in Iraq, including the consulate in Erbil and embassy in Baghdad,” the president said.

“Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘there is no one coming to help,'” Obama said. “Well, today America is coming to help.”

He added: “We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”

News media coverage of that address and the aftermath of political analysis was in full swing breathlessly trying to come up to speed with a crisis some of us have been talking about and warning of in blogs and columns and news articles for weeks and months.

They played a sort of parlor game in advance of the president’s appearance Thursday night predicting what he would say and how he would say it. Having little patience for that sort of punditry, I turned the volume back on when Obama appeared…not behind the desk in the Oval Office looking squarely into the camera and addressing the world, as some of my colleagues noted, correctly, but at a podium with the left and right teleprompters he’s so used to and comfortable with, before the assembled world press. He looked and sounded determined and resolute, which is rare outside political campaigning for this president. I was impressed with his deliberation. He talked about “adhering to a set of core principles; to support allies when they’re in danger; to stay true to fundamental values, like human dignity’, which was great to hear. This isn’t the time to apply that to a test. And again he talked about “the dignity of our fellow human beings”, finally.

Secretary of State John Kerry said this about the US mission.

The stakes for Iraq’s future could not be clearer, and today’s crisis underscores the stakes profoundly. ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yezedi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide. For anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it. ISIL is not fighting on behalf of Sunnis. ISIL is not fighting for a stronger Iraq. ISIL is fighting to divide and destroy Iraq – and ISIL is offering nothing to anyone except chaos, nihilism, and ruthless thuggery. With a gut-wrenching humanitarian crisis unfolding, and the rolls of the starving and sick growing daily, there’s not a minute to waste. The United States is acting and leading, and the world cannot sit by and watch innocents die. We will continue to coordinate with our allies in the region and the international community to assist Iraqis to confront ISIL’s brutal ideology which poses a severe threat to Iraq, the region, and the United States.

In the news analysis following the president’s address, one military expert expressed this concern about President Obama’s intentions and tolerance for a protracted engagement: “What does he do next, even if he stops genocide? What will he do to stop march of ISIS toward Baghdad?”

That is for tomorrow. For today, the US government finally stepped up to the role of international relief and aid when the balance of the world seemed to be teetering between chaos and some reconstructed form of moral order. Help had arrived, we learned, and we will learn what will come in the days ahead.

Exterminating Christians: End game in Iraq, little government expression of concern, intervention

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.’

U.S. ignoring Mideast violence against Christians?

The administration has been, for a long time.

The outrage over humanitarian crises in Syria and Egypt is selective. And in Pakistan, Africa, and other parts of the world. Take a look at Persecution Report, an aggregator of current top news stories of atrocities committed against religious minorities in these areas, a stunning one page collection of headlines and links to the lives of so many innocent individuals terrorized for living their beliefs, and believing what they do in the first place. And last place, as so many are slaughtered for it.

I’ve had regular talks on radio with Nina Shea, Hudson Institute’s Director of the Center for Religious Freedom, and each one is more shocking than the last. She says the silence by politicians and the media is due to a misguided sense of multi-culturalism and an unwillingness to speak out about Islamist groups targeting Christians, and it’s overlooking one of the most massive human rights violations in the world today.

Secretary of State John Kerry has said nothing about the crisis of religious minorities in Syria, even in what was until last week the runup to a potential military strike, which is still possible. Shea points out the flaws in the ‘Damascus plan’ if the Assad regime were to collapse or be removed.

Another crucial point in the rebels’ strategic memorandum involves revenge killings. This is a major concern, as the Syrian conflict is at its core a civil war within Islam. The regime identifies with the minority Alawite sect that is allied with Hezbollah militias supported by Shiite theocratic Iran, while the rebels, largely Sunnis, are bolstered by al-Qaeda terrorists and other Sunni jihadist fighters and supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Sunni regimes. Christians, who account for 10 percent (or more, when Iraqi refugees are counted) of the population and who have not taken up arms in this conflict are viewed by the two sides as aligned with the regime. They are the most vulnerable, since they have no militias or army to protect them…

Protecting the Christians does not seem to figure into the strategic plan at all.

The stark truth is that

…few in Washington are even bothering to ask what impact American strikes will have on Syria’s sizeable but defenseless Christian minority.

The State Department even has an ‘Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom,’ who has said nothing about this crisis. Shea talks about it as a ‘double-helix’, with the press and politicians deciding which issues are reported and how they’re framed.

The story of Maalula got reported for a day, and virtually dropped after that. Others don’t even make the news, and there are so many other stories of churches being destroyed, Christians being tortured, beheaded and some having their throats slit if they don’t renounce their faith.

Congressman Frank Wolf called for a special envoy for religious minorities and has been trying for months to get support in Congress for his bill.

He said that Congress should pass legislation to create an envoy dedicated to advocacy on behalf of religious minorities in the Middle East and south-central Asia.

“This will send an important message to both our own foreign policy establishment and to suffering communities in the Middle East and elsewhere that religious freedom is a priority — that America will be a voice for the voiceless,” he said.

Journalist Rod Dreher issued a throwdown to everyone who claims concern for human rights to religious freedom, pointing to the example of Sen. Rand Paul and quoting his outspoken statements about the consequences of Syrian intervention on vulnerable, unprotected minorities.

So here is the nightmare. If the U.S., France, and some miscellaneous allies strike at the regime, they could conceivably so weaken it that it would collapse. Out of the ruins would emerge a radically anti-Western regime, which would kill or expel several million Christians and Alawites. This would be a political, religious, and humanitarian catastrophe unparalleled since the Armenian genocide almost exactly a century ago.

Nightmare indeed. If you are a Christian, why don’t you care? And if you do care, have you spoken to your pastor, your friends, and most importantly, your Congressman and Senators, about it? Rand Paul gets it. Do you?

If so, contact elected representatives (easy to find at either senate.gov or house.gov) and urge them to support Cong. Wolf’s special envoy bill, to take action to protect religious minorities and the international right to religious freedom.

Robert P. George, the new chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom took action this week in the form of a letter to the president.

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), I respectfully urge you to speak out clearly and forcefully about the unprecedented sectarian attacks committed against Christians in Egypt that proliferated at a frenetic pace on August 14 and the immediate days thereafter. It also is vitally important that the Egyptian interim government understands from you that it must promptly and thoroughly investigate violent incidents, prosecute perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law, and provide greater protections for Christians and their places of worship…

After former president Mohamed Morsi assumed office in June 2012, there was a noticeable increase in vitriolic, sectarian rhetoric targeted at religious minorities, particularly Copts and other Christians, as well as Shi’a, Sufis, and Baha’is. Following President Morsi’s ouster from office on July 3, there was an increase in violent attacks, which accelerated even more dramatically after the August 14 dispersals. Again, incitement against Christians was tolerated or even encouraged by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their belated attempts to condemn the violence and calm tensions have been inadequate. In addition, the military and interim government has failed to take adequate measures to protect the rights of those at risk.

USCIRF repeatedly has cautioned that religious minorities, particularly Copts, are among the most vulnerable to extremist and scapegoat attacks during the democratic transition. For years, USCIRF has faulted the Egyptian government for allowing sectarian violence to occur with impunity. Past large-scale attacks on Christians that resulted in the deaths of dozens and injuries to hundreds – such as in Maspero in October 2011, Imbaba in May 2011, and Alexandria in January 2011 – remain unpunished. In fact, the absence of prosecutions from past sectarian incidents targeting Copts has fostered a climate of impunity that encourages future attacks.

Mr. President, while USCIRF welcomed your August 15 statement condemning attacks on churches and calling for the rights of religious minorities to be respected, we urge you and your Administration to take additional action. In concert with the European Union and other allies, we hope you will press the interim Egyptian government to provide greater protections for Copts and other religious minorities and their places of worship and actively advocate for justice and accountability for the violence committed against them.

In its annual report last spring, the Commission recommended that your Administration designate Egypt as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in and tolerating severe, ongoing, and systematic violations of religious freedom. That recommendation reflects our deep concern about ongoing violations of religious freedom, and the Commission will continue to monitor closely actions by the interim government.

Coptic Christians in Egypt – numbering more than eight million people – constitute the largest religious minority community in the region. The United States must act to ensure this ancient religious community is secure both in the present and in the future.

And that doesn’t even get into the crisis in Syria. Or Iraq, Pakistan, Africa… But it’s something. And something that must be done.

‘A ruthless campaign of religious cleansing in Egypt’

It’s about Islamic purification, and it’s about time for world leaders and media to address it.

Humanitarian and human rights advocate Nina Shea says it, full stop.

Led by the Muslim Brotherhood, and joined by various other Islamist groups, some hoisting al-Qaeda flags, a ruthless campaign of religious cleansing, of Islamic “purification,” is well underway in Egypt. As jihad has come to the Arab world’s largest country, our foreign-policy leaders and press ignore this turn of events at our peril.

But as she noted in an earlier piece, the US has been indifferent. And Coptic Church leaders have called out media that are either indifferent to the devolving reality in Egypt or worse.

Egypt’s Orthodox Coptic Church lashed out at Western media coverage of the recent violence in its country, saying “read objectively the facts of events and [don’t] give international and political cover to these terrorist and bloody groups.”

But they are, and the violence has grown to historic proportions.

CNN:

For 67 years, the Virgin Mary Church has been a peaceful refuge for Shenouda El Sayeh, much like the Giza province village of Kafr Hakim where it rests and where he has lived all those years.

But, as he swept its floors on Thursday, it was painfully obvious things had changed.

The night before, a mob — chanting against Coptic Christians such as El Sayeh and calling for Egypt to become an “Islamic state” — had torched and looted the Virgin Mary Church.

“I didn’t expect this to happen,” El Sayeh said.

He’s not alone. Christians all around Egypt are cleaning up in the aftermath of a spate of attacks, which came on the country’s deadliest day since the 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Or longer. The AP:

Egyptian scholar Samuel Tadros says Islamists enraged by the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi have attacked more than 50 churches, destroying at least 20 and setting many of them on fire.

Tadros, a Research Fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, says Wednesday appears to have been the worst single day of violence against Egypt’s Coptic church since the 14th century.

Catholic World Report personalizes the outrages.

For the first time in 1,600 years, Sunday prayers were canceled at the Orthodox Monastery of the Virgin Mary and Priest Ibram in Degla, south of Minya, because the three churches there were destroyed by the mob. In Cairo, Franciscan nuns watched as the cross over the gate to their school was torn down and replaced by an al-Qaeda flag and the school itself torched; Sister Manal, the principal, reported that three nuns were then marched through the streets as prisoners of war, as neighborhood mobs “hurled abuse” at them along the way.

Christians became the target of violence and vandalism in Egypt this last week, with dozens of churches being sacked and torched by Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi. Today the Associated Press carried this report from Hamza Hendawi:

After torching a Franciscan school, Islamists paraded three nuns on the streets like “prisoners of war” before a Muslim woman offered them refuge. Two other women working at the school were sexually harassed and abused as they fought their way through a mob. …

Sister Manal [the principal of the Franciscan school in Bani Suef] recalled being told a week earlier by the policeman father of one pupil that her school was targeted by hard-line Islamists convinced that it was giving an inappropriate education to Muslim children. She paid no attention, comfortable in the belief that a school that had an equal number of Muslim and Christian pupils could not be targeted by Muslim extremists. She was wrong…

“We are nuns. We rely on God and the angels to protect us,” she said. “At the end, they paraded us like prisoners of war and hurled abuse at us as they led us from one alley to another without telling us where they were taking us,” she said. A Muslim woman who once taught at the school spotted Manal and the two other nuns as they walked past her home, attracting a crowd of curious onlookers.

“I remembered her, her name is Saadiyah. She offered to take us in and said she can protect us since her son-in-law was a policeman. We accepted her offer,” she said. Two Christian women employed by the school, siblings Wardah and Bedour, had to fight their way out of the mob, while groped, hit and insulted by the extremists. “I looked at that and it was very nasty,” said Manal.

The incident at the Franciscan school was repeated at Minya where a Catholic school was razed to the ground by an arson attack and a Christian orphanage was also torched.

This toll is already a few days old, and growing.

Nina Shea updates as of Monday.

The litany of attacks is long: St. George Church, St. Mary’s Church, Good Shepherd’s Church, the Pentecostal Church, in Minya; St. Therese Church, Church of the Reformation, Church of the Apostle, Holy Revival Church, St. John’s Church, in Assiut; Church of the Virgin Mary in Cairo, St. Damiana Church, the Evangelical Church, and Joseph’s Church, in Fayoum; Church of the Archangel Michael, St. Saviors Anglican Church, the Greek Orthodox and Franciscan churches, in Suez; Fr. Maximus Church and St. George’s Church, in Alexandria. . .

As of Sunday night, some 58 churches, as well as several convents, monasteries, and schools, dozens of Christian homes and businesses, even the YMCA, have been documented as looted and burned or subject to other destruction by Islamist rioters. The Coptic Pope remains in hiding and many Sunday services did not take place as Christian worshipers stayed home, fearing for their lives. A dozen or so Christians have been attacked and killed for being Christian so far.

Sam Tadros noted the historic level of violence happening here. Nina Shea confirms it.

For the first time in 1,600 years, Sunday prayers were canceled at the Orthodox Monastery of the Virgin Mary and Priest Ibram in Degla, south of Minya, because the three churches there were destroyed by the mob. In Cairo, Franciscan nuns watched as the cross over the gate to their school was torn down and replaced by an al-Qaeda flag and the school itself torched; Sister Manal, the principal, reported that three nuns were then marched through the streets as prisoners of war, as neighborhood mobs “hurled abuse” at them along the way.

Fr. Rafic Greiche, spokesman of Egypt’s Catholic Bishops reported to the Vatican news agency Fides that of the destroyed churches, 14 are Catholic, while the rest belong to the Coptic Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant communities. While the anti-Christian attacks are occurring throughout Egypt, they are concentrated especially in the areas of Al Minya and Assiut, “because it is there that we find the headquarters of the jihadists,” according to Fr. Greiche.

Groups of the Left, of women, of students, of intellectuals, of businesspersons, of secularists, not to mention the military, all participated in the Tamarrud movement that supported the military’s ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood–affiliated President Morsi. But it is Egypt’s Christian community, who number 10 percent of the population, that is bearing the brunt of the Islamist anger.

Pope Francis is speaking out, frankly and clearly. “Faith and violence are incompatible,” he said. That should be stating the obvious. But it no longer is.

What are world leaders doing about this? What are the world’s media doing to call attention to it? What is our responsibility in this, and the violence in Syria, North Korea, the Central African Republic? First, be informed.

Pay attention to Egypt and Nigeria

In the US, we’re consumed with presidential campaigns, debates and primary elections.

We’d better keep an eye on what’s happening abroad. Where to being on that….there’s so much.

Most urgently, look at what’s happening in Nigeria.

A militant Islamic group whose almost daily attacks have put Nigerians on edge left the country stunned Saturday after a well-coordinated strike with disturbing echoes of Al Qaeda’s brand of mayhem.

More than 150 people were killed in the Friday evening carnage in the northern city of Kano. The group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attacks, whose targets included the secret service headquarters, an immigration office and a passport office.

It was the group’s most deadly strike, far exceeding previous death tolls.

Boko Haram, which wants to impose sharia, or Islamic law, on Nigeria’s 160 million people, killed more than 500 people in almost daily attacks last year. Before Friday’s violence, it had killed more than 70 people this month.

U.S. officials have expressed fear that the group, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege,” may be getting support and training from Al Qaeda affiliates on the continent, given the increasing sophistication of its attacks and growing use of suicide bombers.

Nigeria is divided between the mainly Muslim north and the oil-rich, mainly Christian south…

In other news

Anti-Christian violence continues in Egypt, according to local sources, the episodes are linked to the attempt of fundamentalist Islamic fringe – Salafis – to block the vote of the religious minority in the next election. On 19 January, a mob attacked the Coptic Christian community of the village of Kebly-Rahmaniya, near the town of Nag Hammadi, Qena governorate, Upper Egypt. The assailants, chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) attacked and burned down houses, huts, shops and businesses…

Witnesses quoted by Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) report that Egyptian security forces did not intervene promptly to repel the onslaught and defend the Christians. Even the teams of firefighters delayed their intervention, arriving only 90 minutes after the assault, and when most of the buildings were already in flames. A source adds that a hut belonging to a Coptic Christian was burned to make room for the construction of a mosque. Moreover in the area there are now 300 Muslim places of worship, compared to only one Christian church even though Christians are 50% of the local population.

According to the Copts, the anti-Christian violence is related to the upcoming parliamentary elections: the Salafis, in fact, want to prevent the religious minority from voting which, with its 20 thousand members, can shift the balance of power in the area. The Copts are close to the Muslim moderate wing, which opposes the Islamist front.

And this is important to understand in fuller context.

A new political era in Egypt began Saturday as Islamist parties won nearly three-quarters of the seats in parliamentary elections to inherit a nation mired in economic crisis and desperate to move beyond military rule and the corrupt legacy of deposed President Hosni Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s dominant political and religious force, won 47% of the 498 seats in the lower house of parliament, according to official final results. The ultraconservative Salafi Islamist party Al Nour won nearly 25%, followed by the secular parties New Wafd and the Egyptian Bloc, with about 9% each.

We need to see news not only as outbursts of events, much as they capture the world’s attention, but as signal events that alert watchful observers to changes of destiny in the course ahead.

The elections were a sobering lesson for young activists whose nascent parties were no match for the grass-roots networks and entwined religious and political message of the Islamists. The liberal activists helped ignite the revolution that brought down Mubarak but, winning only seven seats, they have been surpassed by more formidable political powers.

They didn’t foresee this in the euphoria of change.

The relatively moderate Brotherhood and the puritanical Salafis are likely to battle over how deeply Islam should shape the constitution and be ingrained in public life. Both parties have said social and economic challenges are the most pressing concerns, but the Salafis, who receive funding from Persian Gulf nations, are certain to push for an Egypt more rooted in sharia, or Islamic law.

The movements for change are sweeping the globe. Be careful what you wish for.

Save Pastor Joucef Nadarkhani

It’s a wonder he’s still alive. And just as astonishing to those inside Iran who know how these things go, shocking that the Ayatollah Khamenei has taken the case into his own hands to decide.

I spoke with the American Center for Law and Justice on radio to get the facts of this case straight and updated. There’s no doubt Youcef is still alive and his defense advanced because of the ACLJ and international religious leaders, government bodies and world media focusing attention on the threats to his life for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.

The Vatican is working quietly for his release.

Behind-the-scene efforts by the Holy See, among others, may be helping Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian pastor who was tried for abandoning his Islamic faith.

“As is usual in these situations,” the Holy See has been communicating with “the Iranian authorities through diplomatic channels,” Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office, told the Register early this week…

Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, concurred that the Iranian government may finally be responding to intense international pressure.

Ghaemi firmly believes that the only thing standing between the pastor and the executioner’s chair “is a sustained international protest, which has started with a number of countries making a strong protest.”

At this stage, he continued, “what can save his life is for the Vatican and the Pope to come forward and call for his release, as well as U.N. human-rights officials, including Navi Pillay and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Sustained international protests and attention is the most likely hope for saving Nadarkhani’s life.”

Like Christians and other minority religious groups throughout much of the Muslim world, Iran’s minority communities — including up to 300,000 Christians and 300,000 Baha’i — face the growing threat of fundamentalist Islam.

In a column in the Kansas City Star, Jennifer Marshall, director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, said the “increasing persecution” of Christians in the Middle East and their resulting emigration prompted the Catholic archbishop of Baghdad and other leaders to wonder “whether brutal religious oppression could extinguish Christianity in the region altogether.”

The ACLJ told me that’s a big concern that drives their advocacy. And two lead attorneys there, Jordan Sekulow and Tiffany Barrans, told me that international pressure is vital to the hope of protecting whatever religious freedom remains in the Middle East, where Christianity was born.

They strongly urged all people of goodwill to take action, and provide easy means to do that on their homepage by signing the petition or contacting Congress.

The bishops of North America are strongly urging the same thing.

Archbishop Brendan O’Brien of Kingston, chairman of the human rights committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, has called upon the government of Iran to respect the religious freedom of Youcef Nadarkhani, a Protestant pastor sentenced to death for converting from Islam. At a recent retrial, Nadarkhani refused repeated opportunities to renounce his conversion to Christianity.

“Now is the time to speak up and pray out loud for Christians placed in a stranglehold by oppression,” added Neville Kyrke-Smith, head of Aid to the Church in Need UK. “The decision to execute Pastor Nadarkhani is not justifiable in the name of any religion, it is a totalitarian act – one man’s life being ended to dissuade others from opposing the political regime … The Catholic community must not be struck dumb as such suffering goes on.”

Emphasis added. Because that warning has been recurring in my interviews lately on assaults to religious freedom and conscience rights: Christians tend toward passivity and silence in the face of grave danger, and there’s nothing the enemies of religious liberty want more than to silence them.

They’re targeting Christians

Though this is not new, it is intensifying.

While they’re dancing in the streets in America and especially college towns, they’re closing schools and hunkering down in Pakistani towns.

Amid security fears, Christian schools and other institutions closed in Pakistan following the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden. Additional police have been placed around churches in cities across the country.

“They have put us on alert, calling for the closure of our institutions and placing more police personnel in front of churches,” said Father Mario Rodrigues, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Pakistan. “Christians in Pakistan are innocent victims, even in this situation: any excuse is good to threaten or to attack.”

In Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden had apparently lived quietly for several years, a small Catholic community was on high alert after the US raid. The pastor of St. Peter Canisius church cancelled several services, and four police were on guard outside the building.

Note that this story opens with the presumption that a Christian was guilty of something, though completely unproven.

Following the discovery of a burnt copy of the Qur’an in a Christian cemetery, 500 extremists attacked a Christian neighborhood in Gujranwala, a city in Punjab province in northeastern Pakistan. Fearing for their lives, numerous Christians fled their homes.

The attack occurred on April 30, one day before President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden. Three Christians and more than 20 extremists were arrested following the attacks.

Wait…fact check. The report cites that 500 extremists (500!) attacked a Christian neighborhood. Christians fled. Then Christians and a handful of extremists were arrested. Is anybody asking the obvious questions here?

Meanwhile, in Nigeria

An estimated 14,000 people, most of them Christians, have fled their homes in the north-central Nigerian state of Kaduna following the latest in a series of attacks by supporters of presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, who lost the April 16 federal election to Goodluck Jonathan.

The attackers…

Buhari supporters, “most Muslims, who make up a small fraction of the population of Kafanchan, launched guerrilla-type attacks against innocent citizens who live in their immediate vicinity,” according to a report from the Diocese of Kafanchan’s justice and peace commission. At least 300 have been slain, and 300 homes have been destroyed.

These are only a few instances of Christian persecutions carried out every day across the world. We have to know this. It’s a human rights issue, for crying out loud.