UN conference hears experts, witnesses, survivors call for global response to genocide

Faith groups are attacked, Christians specifically targeted for elimination.

World leaders, governments, international organizations and human rights champions have risen the threat and awareness level in recent months over crises that have been occurring for years out of sight and largely off public radar. Now there’s a new urgency, and some leading voices are asking if it’s coming in time to make a difference.

That’s only one concern expressed at last weekend’s International Congress on Religious Freedom in New York, a three day event that opened Thursday with a U.N. conference sponsored by the Vatican’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Presenters included people who experienced or witnessed atrocities being committed against religious minorities.

Led by remarks from Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N., the event had an intensely sensitive agenda.

That, I can vouch for, having attended all of it.

The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II is unfolding today in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Iraq have lost their lives, entire communities have been displaced or wiped out, while neighboring communities or nations have strained to accept millions of people fleeing years of war and terrorism. We face the very real prospect of the extinction of many of the communities indigenous to the region.

Anderson gave background and findings of a nearly 300 page report his organization and In Defense of Christians submitted to the State Department and Congress in March, documenting atrocities and extensive evidence of genocide in the region.

And it showed that terms like ‘religious cleansing’, or ‘crimes against humanity’ are by themselves inadequate to describe both the magnitude of the tragedy and the clear intent of the perpetrators. The State Department’s declaration of genocide on March 17th marked only the second time that such a determination had been made by the U.S. government while the crime is occurring.

And then he added

Isis and the victims we interviewed agreed on one thing, many of those targeted were targeted because of their Christian faith…Our recent fact-finding mission to Iraq found evidence of (atrocities including) murder, slavery, property confiscation and expulsion. Many of the incidents have not been previously reported. But based on what we learned, it is our impression that what we know today is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Anderson was only the first of the speakers, and his testimony set the tone for a powerful, intensive, collaborative witness to what Pope Francis calls a “third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing”, which he called genocide, adding “I insist on the word”.

In Rome, the Trevi Fountain was lit red, in commemoration of Christian martyrdom, and mass execution of other religious minorities, to call the Western world to attention. Sitting through the UN conference on it, hearing powerful testimony, expert reports and stunning witness, I hope and pray it worked. The event in New York certainly seemed to mark a turning point.

Genocide Resolution needs congressional attention

Signatures. It needs signatures on the bottom line.

It’s more than words on paper, but let’s start with the words.

Members of Congress introduced a resolution on Thursday to label the atrocities committed by the Islamic State against Christians and other religious minorities “genocide.”

“Christians in Iraq and Syria are hanging on in the face of the Islamic State’s barbarous onslaught. This is genocide,” stated Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., who helped introduce the resolution. Fortenberry is co-chair of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus.

“The international community must confront the scandalous silence about their plight. Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities have every right to remain in their ancestral homelands,” he continued.

Six representatives — three Democrats and three Republicans — introduced the bipartisan resolution. On Thursday, advocates with the non-partisan group In Defense of Christians met with more than 250 congressional offices, asking them to support the resolution.

Quoting from the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the document states that the atrocities committed against Christians and the other religious minorities in the Middle East meet the convention’s definition of genocide.

That’s hugely important, say experts I’ve spoken with on this particular topic on radio in the past month. Call it what it is, name it, and especially declare that it is genocide, says Princeton Professor Robert George, Chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. And Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. And Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Co-Chair of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus and author of this Resolution.

The resolution also called for governments to stop the atrocities and for U.N. member states to sign on to a “concurrent resolution” and “with an urgent appeal to the Arab states that wish to uphold religious freedom, tolerance and justice.” The parties must also help set up “domestic, regional and international tribunals to punish those responsible for the ongoing crimes.”

Skeptics who think Congress pushes a lot of paper and gets little done should pay attention to this. It carries weight, and can have an impact.

USCIRF Chief Robert George told me this will task Congress with a different mission, once the language of ‘genocide’ is used officially. Renowned international human rights advocate Dr. Thomas Farr told me that passing a resolution in Congress requires action by the U.S. government, “by treaty and by law”. It “creates a gateway” for the United States to provide humanitarian aid, protection and faster refugee processing for victims of the atrocities, calling them what they are, ‘crimes against humanity’, said Cong. Fortenberry, one of the leaders helping In Defense of Christians expand and extend the campaign of awareness and relief in a network of global advocacy and activism.

Along with human rights hero Congressman Frank Wolf, Dr. Farr has long passionately worked for religious freedom and protection of minorities from persecution and now, genocide. Here’s the letter both collaborated on to ask President Obama to call what is happening what it is, genocide.

We write as an informal and diverse group of non-governmental organizations and individuals who are scholars, religious leaders, and human rights advocates to express our grave concern for religious minorities, among them Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims, at the hands of the Islamic State. We urge you to formally declare the systematic destruction of these ancient communities a genocide.

Mounting evidence indisputably shows the Islamic State’s ongoing genocidal campaign in the Middle East through its attempts to create a global caliphate devoid of religious freedom and diversity. For more than a year, the news headlines have been replete with stories of almost unimaginable human suffering caused by the Islamic State. Religious minorities in these lands, among them the ancient Christian, Yezidi and Shia Muslim communities, have suffered grave injustices: displacement, forced conversion, kidnapping, rape and death…

A report released in March from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights on the human rights situation in Iraq states, “It is reasonable to conclude that some of these incidents, considering the overall information, may constitute genocide.” Furthermore, the report calls for the Security Council “to remain seized of and address, in the strongest terms, information that points to genocide.” It is imperative that the United States government and the global community universally acknowledge this issue as such.

As opposed to previous such instances in modern history, there has been no attempt by the Islamic State to conceal its actions. On the contrary, the group shamelessly broadcasts decapitations, crucifixions, forced drownings and other horrors with the sole purpose of spreading its message of destruction and recruiting more agents to the ranks of its diabolical insurgency. Under the Islamic State, religious minorities now face an existential crisis and live on the edge of extinction in the lands that many have inhabited since antiquity. These communities will continue on a trajectory of tragic and precipitous decline into eventual non existence without swift moral leadership on behalf of the administration and the international community.

(Emphasis added.)

It is our belief that officially declaring and subsequently halting this genocide and its spread is a matter of vital moral and strategic importance for the United States, the international community, and the overall state of religious freedom around the world. Perhaps equally as important, such a declaration will give a stronger voice to the long suffering victims while furthering and sharpening ideological engagement against those currently at the forefront of this campaign.

We humbly request that your office publicly acknowledge and denounce the Islamic State’s actions as genocide and act with all due haste to ensure that this ongoing, abominable crime is halted, prevented and punished and that the religious freedom and human dignity of all people currently suffering under the Islamic State are allowed to flourish.

Meanwhile

The Islamist genocide — and there can be no doubt that it is genocide, despite world silence – of the Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans, and other defenseless ethno-religious minorities of Syria and Iraq continues. The killing of these peoples is deliberate and brutal and is rooted in religious hatred of the “infidel.” It is meted out in sudden violent executions, mass deportations, and the gradual, methodical destruction of their civilizations. Washington is blind to this genocide that occurs alongside, but is separate from, a sectarian Muslim power struggle. It has failed to defend them militarily. Now it is failing to provide humanitarian help in the only manner left: resettling the survivors out of harm’s way, in countries where they will be able to rebuild their families and preserve their unique ancient cultures without fear. Rescue is the very minimum we can do to help these victims of genocide.

Read it and weep.

Nina Shea concludes, for now, with this:

Dakhil says the Yazidis feel abandoned by Washington and the world. Iraqi Christian and Mandean representatives have recently said the same to me. Many of these peoples are desperate to leave the region. They do not want to leave to seek economic opportunities, or even to escape the wartime deprivations, but to save their lives and the lives of their children. They are not being targeted because they are political dissidents or bear arms in conflict. They are targeted solely for religious reasons. This is genocide and we are morally and legally bound to help them. A military resolution to this crisis will be too late for these peoples. Catholic priest Father Douglas Bazi, the director of the renowned Mar Elias refugee encampment for Iraqi Christians in Erbil, tells me: “Help us live. Help us leave.” They need visas. The West can easily provide them, and it must.

While we wait for the US president to respond, the UK Prime Minister got engaged.

David Cameron has given his support to a new report into the persecution of Christians around the world.

In a statement read out at the launch of Aid to the Church in Need’s ‘Persecuted and Forgotten? A report on Christians oppressed for their faith 2013-15? at the House of Lords today, the Prime Minister said that, “Every day in countries across the world, Christians are systematically discriminated against, exploited and even driven from their homes because of their faith.”

“No believer should have to live in fear, and this is why (the British) Government is committed to promoting religious freedom and tolerance at home and around the world,” he added.

“It is also why the work of organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need is so crucial. This report serves as a voice for the voiceless, from their prison cells and the places far from home where they have sought refuge. Now is not the time for silence. We must stand together and fight for a world where no one is persecuted because of what they believe.”

According to the report, Christianity is on course to disappear from Iraq “possibly within five years” unless the international community offer substantial assistance to the persecuted faithful there.

This is a global alert.

The report features a foreword by Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, whose city has been destroyed by fighting.

In it he wrote: “My own cathedral has been bombed six times and is now unusable. My home has also been hit more than 10 times. We are facing the rage of an extremist jihad; we may disappear soon. In both Syria and Iraq, Christian communities – along with other vulnerable minorities – are defenceless against assaults by Daesh (ISIS). We are the prime target of the so-called caliphate’s religious cleansing campaign.”

This isn’t another news story to shake our heads at and say ‘that’s too bad, someone ought to do something.’ This is a coalition of international leaders trying to do something.

Recently, the In Defense of Christians (IDC) organization presented Dr. Thomas Farr with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his tireless work in human rights. Two international leading officials of IDC presented Dr. Farr with a crucifix from a church in Mosul, Iraq to be held in safe-keeping until it could be returned upon the restoration of Christianity in the region.

I only learned that after he last spoke with me, recently, on radio. It gave even more gravity to his urgent appeal for citizens in the US to call on their Members of Congress, the men and women people elected to serve there, to support two pieces of urgent legislation in the House of Representatives.

H.R. 1150:

…amending the International Religious Freedom Act to give Ambassador Saperstein the status that other ambassadors at large at the Department of State enjoy, the authority to develop an interagency strategy to protect global religious freedom, and the resources he needs to implement that strategy. It would also mandate training for all foreign service officers, deputy chiefs of mission, and country ambassadors. This training would ensure that our diplomats fully understand and can effectively defend the free expression of religion worldwide, the enduring value of religious freedom and its relationship to national security, and how to advance the cause of religious liberty in our foreign policy. (emphasis added)

And H.R 75 (down the list of ‘Whereas’ specifications):

Whereas, on July 10, 2015, Pope Francis, Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, declared that Middle Eastern Christians are facing genocide, a reality that must be ‘‘denounced’’ and that ‘‘In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocideand I stress the word genocide—is taking place, and it must end.’’ (emphasis added)

The people are calling on government, purported and in fact elected to be the leaders of the free world, to DO something, for crying out loud.

And if they lack ideas, many suggestions are contained therein.

Reports from the front with ISIS: “Death has become a way of life here.”

Why does this continue? Why hasn’t ISIS been stopped, long ago? Why are they advancing?

NBC News Richard Engel addresses the root problem in this report.

He’s reporting on the situation on the ground where the US president claims to be ‘partnering‘ with forces to drive back ISIS.

Engel said the U.S. doesn’t exactly have an ideal partner on the ground — not even in the Iraqi Security Forces, and certainly not in Syria. The Iraqi army has been heavily depleted over the past few months and reconstituted with Iranian advisers and ground forces. And many Sunni villagers, he says, are “afraid” of the Iraqi army.

“They don’t want the Iraqi army to come into their villages. So we talk about a partner on the ground that we are going to team up with to rid Iraq of ISIS. Well, that partner on the ground, in many cases, is a reason that many people support ISIS in this country.”

And he continues to speak out from the front line, calling attention to the Kurds who desperately need help from the ‘international community.’ Because they need relief and support.

But what the Kurdish fighters lack in equipment, they make up for in fighting spirit. After ISIS swept violently into Iraq in June, the Kurds regrouped and have managed to take back much of the ground they lost. The men here say they are fighting for their homeland and for their families.

“We will stand here and fight for as long as we have to,” Capt. Massud Aziz Osman said. “We are fighting against everyone’s enemy.”

Like many here, Osman, a father of four, says that the Kurds have been left to fight alone, abandoned by the Iraqi army and offered only limited support by the U.S. and its allies.

“ISIS is the common enemy,” he says, “and anyone who isn’t here fighting them is without a god or a faith.”

But Kurdish officials say determination alone may not be enough to see this battle through. They have recently become more vocal — calling for increased aid from the international coalition.

I’ve had a number of guests on radio in recent weeks, examining this crisis from every angle more days than not. They are deeply and wholly committed to facing, naming, confronting and eliminating the greatest existential threat of our time.

Former Congressman Frank Wolf co-founded ‘The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative‘, an actively committed, on the ground, front line organization giving voice to leaders of Christian leaders representing thousands of the faithful, which should be tenfold that number. They’re doing everything in their power to call for action, policy changes and humanitarian assistance to ensure freedom, protection and human dignity for Christians threatened by extinction in the ancient land of their birth. A group  of religious leaders they recently visited in Iraq lamented:

This is not just the end of Christianity but the end of our ethnicity who have lived here for thousands of years. We believe this is genocide.

They continued: We do not have opportunities for education. We do not have opportunities for work. We do not have opportunities for healthcare. What is left for us?

Consider the brutal reality, not reported in most media:

The Islamic State’s desecration and destruction of historic sites of religious and cultural heritage is unprecedented in Iraq. In Mosul, IS has turned an 800-year-old house of worship into a place of torture. Another church in Mosul that has existed for 150 years is being utilized as a prison, and yet still another is serving as a weapons storehouse.

All of the religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq face this deplorable reality. Yezidis note that this is the 73rd intentional targeting of their community. What has changed with the Islamic State is the speed and scope by which these religious and ethnic communities are being decimated. The Nineveh Plains had been one of the last relatively safe havens for Christians, Yezidis, Shabak, Turkmen and other minority groups, but with the fall of Mosul and surrounding areas in the summer of 2014, Iraq’s minorities have no place to go and are nearing the precipice of total disappearance.

This is appalling, a shock to the senses, a call to action. Something frequent guest Nina Shea has been doing for a long time, reporting on the raw reality and calling for what must be done.

President Obama must acknowledge that ISIS has religious objectives, that its actions are not simply random acts of “extreme violence,” and that ISIS aims to make the region – and beyond– pure for Islam. Maybe then, America’s generals would recognize that Christian, as well as Yizidi, communities are prime targets for ISIS, that Kurdish militias need to be equipped and pressed to protect them and air strikes need to be more seriously deployed.

And how has the president responded?

With at least an apparently distinct lack of gravity and sense severity of the threat and necessary response.

In an interview on foreign policy, president Obama said something that prompted the questioner to ask how he thought the media covers terrorism, and whether they sometimes overstate the level of alarm people should have about terrorism. The president’s response was ‘Absolutely. If it bleeds, it leads.’

It’s bleeding, Mr. President. It’s time to lead.

Saints, cynics, and striving souls in apocalyptic times

The world is in turmoil, the grip of darkness, and it seems things are spiraling out of control. What can we do?

Some people turn away, it’s all too much. We can’t turn away. This is an extraordinary, historically pivotal time. ‘A Necessary Look at Reality‘ is in order when the world is in such disorder, writes my friend Elizabeth Scalia, and she points to a New York Times’ piece ‘The Great Unraveling’ as the necessary reckoning with it.

This morning (September 15), the New York Times published an exquisitely-written dose of reality via Roger Cohen. If “only Nixon could go to China” then perhaps only a NYT columnist could spell this out and thus permit us to credibly acknowledge that things are as grim as we have all known, in our guts:

“It was the time of unraveling. Long afterward, in the ruins, people asked: How could it happen?

“It was a time of beheadings. With a left-handed sawing motion, against a desert backdrop, in bright sunlight, a Muslim with a British accent cut off the heads of two American journalists and a British aid worker. The jihadi seemed comfortable in his work, unhurried. His victims were broken. Terror is theater. Burning skyscrapers, severed heads: The terrorist takes movie images of unbearable lightness and gives them weight enough to embed themselves in the psyche.

“It was a time of aggression. The leader of the largest nation on earth pronounced his country encircled, even humiliated. He annexed part of a neighboring country, the first such act in Europe since 1945, and stirred up a war on further land he coveted. His surrogates shot down a civilian passenger plane. The victims, many of them Europeans, were left to rot in the sun for days. He denied any part in the violence, like a puppeteer denying that his puppets’ movements have any connection to his. He invoked the law the better to trample on it. He invoked history the better to turn it into farce. He reminded humankind that the idiom fascism knows best is untruth so grotesque it begets unreason.”

The Cohen piece, Scalia notes, is a must-read, loaded with observations and provocations, and “it beats at us like a drum. Or, really, like a gavel, calling us to order:”

It was a time of breakup. . .It was a time of weakness. . .It was a time of hatred. . .It was a time of fever…”

It is, finally, perhaps a time of dawning realization that the centers are not holding; old orders are in extremis; new orders are in capricious adolescence.

The troubles briefly enumerated in this sobering op-ed are only the most obvious issues. They are the pebble tossed into the pond, rippling outward in ever-widening circles — expanding to include a unique “time” of global crisis: governments failing at every level, everywhere; churches are divided, their freedoms challenged; citizens are distracted, dissatisfied and distrustful, their election mechanisms in doubt; schools are losing sight of the primary mission of education; families are deconstructed and the whole concept ripe for dissolution; respect for human dignity is doled out in qualified measures; there is a lack of privacy; a lack of time to think, to process and to incarnate; a lack of silence.

“It sounds terribly, terribly depressing, yes. Who wants to read that? Who wants to think about that?

Sadly, this is essential reading; this is essential thinking…

With this column, Mr. Cohen has done us the remarkable service of showing us the ugly landscape all around us; the one we have not wanted to pretend was neither so vast nor so damaged and fragile. Without taking it in, we cannot possibly begin to address the least-precarious bit of it.

Here’s Roger Cohen’s op-ed in full.

Then there’s the assortment of things I came across over the past week or so of news coverage, things I took note of for one reason or another, because there is indeed a great unraveling happening at a faster pace now, we got shocked as never before in ‘the civilized world’ and we’re confronting genocidal ferocity and barbarism ‘over there’ and accelerating social breakdown right here and people are getting very fearful and depressed.

Tod Worner, another respected friend, brings two things together at this point in one post that I believe is also a must-read.  Always facing the true, good and bad, I’m also always looking for the good and the beautiful. He put that together here. In covering a wide swath of news, commentary, social and political and theological analyses, and more, he finally came to say ‘Enough.’

The point is that I could become and did become rather fluent in the events of the day. Only it made me a bit cynical and depressed. Nowadays, everyone is a muckraker, everywhere there is injustice, and everyday requires the long climb up the hill to fight another fight. Now let me be clear, I am not arguing that there is no evil, hardship and injustice in the world. Sadly, there is plenty. Even further, I would not jettison all writing/reporting that informs and spurs us to improve the lot of humanity. But this is not all that humanity is. We were not designed to constantly look in the mirror…to rend our garments and spit at it. We are called to receive the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. We are designed to cultivate the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and courage. The devil is constantly reminding us, “You are a lousy, unworthy creation.” Whereas God is, instead, calling us, “Though imperfect, you are redeemable and called to achieve great things in my name.” Neither of these voices neglects our shortcomings, but one sees us through to greater ends. The other tempts us to wallow in the inky blackness of our sin.

I’ll come back to that remark about the devil.

Read Worner’s post, because it’s all so good, and he starts to point out some of the bad news we’ve been hearing so much about in recent weeks but adding the good news in related topics that never got attention. I love this quote he cites from newsman Bob Schieffer, a “moment of clarity” on “the virtue of courage.”

As I watched the documentary on PBS this week about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their cousin Teddy, I couldn’t help but think about what set them apart from today’s politicians. Yes, they were very smart but there are still a lot of smart people in Washington. Yes, they saw wrongs that needed to be corrected. But we still have those with good hearts, and yes they were good politicians but we still have a few good politicians around here. What set them apart to my mind was their courage. When they saw wrong, they not only tried to make it right, but they did so with no guarantee of success. What a glaring contrast to the Washington of today which spends most of its time doing nothing and the rest of its time devising schemes to avoid responsibility for anything. The latest example: when congress approved arming the Syrian rebels, they stuck the legislation in a bill that also provided money to keep the government from shutting down. That way, if arming the rebels turns out to be a debacle, members can say, ‘I was never for arming the rebels, I just voted to prevent a government shutdown.’ The Roosevelt documentary was 14 hours long spread over seven nights. A story about the courage of today’s Washington would take about 30 minutes-at most.”

And then the account of a friend’s father who passed on this month, and left a legacy evident in some of the comments left in his online obituary, respect and appreciation for his witness to a life well lived, and for others.

You see, these stories, these lives, are not the common currency of all the subscriptions I had (with the exception of the theological ones). And yet, these are the ones that matter. These are the stories that edify, that embolden, that grapple with suffering and loss, yet encourage me to keep going. Sure, at times they make me wistful and sad, but by the grace of God, they also make me smile. And keep moving forward. I have cancelled most of my subscriptions and watch less TV. Oh, mind you I still pay attention, shake my head and occasionally my fist. I will never stop caring. But I won’t be cynical. I won’t believe that we are irretrievable failures. I can’t believe we are beyond redemption.

That has become a theme that, thankfully, kept repeating all this past week in different ways and places, in articles and columns, radio show roundtable discussions and messages in church, both local and universal.

This article by my friend Kathryn Jean Lopez candidly and unapologetically says that ‘amid arguments, it can be easy to forget that God is love.’ Citing a documentary made by the group Courage, she writes:

“Look at the face of the other. . . . Discover that he has a soul, a history, and a life, that he is a person, and that God loves this person,” the film begins. It’s a quote, as it happens, from Pope Benedict.

Kathryn came from the East Coast (I never know if she’s in DC or NY) to Chicago to hold our regular roundtable with Word On Fire’s Fr. Steve Grunow in person, around an actual table, live in the Chicago studio. We did two shows, and in those two hours of in depth conversation, and extra time before and after, we tackled the issues of the day, the moment, and what we must do not just to be in the public square, but make a difference there.

We talked about the terminology of ‘battle’ in so much news and discourse, and Kathryn made a good point that while we hear about all these so-called ‘wars’ going on like the ‘culture war’ and the ‘war on women’, there are real wars happening out there with great humanitarian consequences. And Pope Francis has called on the Church to be the “field hospital” for the wounded. Fr. Grunow said “the real battle is spiritual, where dark powers inflict wounds on people” and we all noted how frequently Francis has brought that up, talking about the devil and evil in the world. “That didn’t get press attention,” Kathryn noted.

“The pope’s insights are very Ignatian,” Fr. Grunow explained, since he’s a Jesuit, “and part of that is asking ‘whose banner do you follow? Christ’s, or the devil’s? You have to make a decision.’ And Francis challenges people to see that choice clearly.”

They don’t. Kathryn shared the “odd situation” she found herself in several months ago “in a mall with a shooter, a poor kid who felt no one could reach him,” which she only found out by having a few moments to talk with him after he shot himself. “We’re having policy debates in this country all the time on all sorts of issues, and that’s important, but there’s a prior step,” she continued. “People are facing dire circumstances. They need to be addressed in their needs.”

I asked Fr. Grunow if an existential crisis is one of the most urgent problems the Church faces today, and he pointed out that the top crisis globally is of course the persecuted Church in danger of extinction in some areas of the birthplace of Christianity. But “the existential crisis is the perennial work of the Church to address in every age,” he added. “Everyone has a relationship with God, whether they realize it or not.” How to help doubters, skeptics, atheists and those who have lost hope realize that is a mission more than a task.

Pope Francis repeatedly calls Catholics, Christians and all people of goodwill to ‘go out to the existential peripheries’, to ‘create a culture of encounter’, and meet people where they are. That means noticing someone across the globe, the street, the room or dinner table or office space from you. Which circles back to the question at top, what can we do?

Michael Cook pointed to one outstanding witness, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo. Who knew how to serve whoever he met by doing whatever he could, and well, to be the presence of faith, hope, charity, and joy.

“He knew how to be very human when treating people, in the work that he did, knowing that his work was also a springboard, an aid to approach God and to be with God,” Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez, prelate of Opus Dei, told CNA in Rome Sept. 26.

“He helped us, he understood and encouraged us and at the same time he was greatly interested in all things that affected us. He didn’t feel distant from us or indifferent.”

Bishop Echevarria said del Portillo was “totally at the disposal of others.”

“He was a person who knew how to love, who knew how to serve and who knew how to be at hand.”

It’s what I learned years ago from a young priest as ‘the ministry of presence’, being in the moment. Which, providentially, came up in the homily on Sunday of a local parish pastor reflecting on the two sons in the parable of the Gospel, one who said he wouldn’t go work but wound up going, the other who said he would, but didn’t show up. He talked about decisions, regret, anxiety, love, forgiveness and the importance of the moment.

He quoted Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen on this profound awareness of something we tend to miss altogether.

“All unhappiness (when there is no immediate cause for sorrow) comes from excessive concentration on the past or from extreme preoccupation with the future. The major problems of psychiatry revolve around an analysis of the despair, pessimism, melancholy, and complexes that are the inheritances of what has been, or with the fears, anxieties, worries which are the imaginings of what will be…But God in His Mercy has given us two remedies for such an unhappiness: One is the sacrament of Penance…Nothing in human experience is as efficacious in curing the memory and imagination as confession…

“The second remedy for the ills that come to us from thinking about time is what might be called the sanctification of the moment – or the Now….The present moment includes some things over which we have control, but it also carries with it difficulties we cannot avoid..

We don’t or can’t always know why suffering happens, he continued, but God can draw good out of evil, and “the human mind must develop acceptance of the Now, no matter how hard it may be or us to understand its freight of pain.” To accept pain and suffering, with belief that God is in control, “is to have taken the most important step in the reformation of the world…the reformation of the self.”

G.K. Chesterton nailed it in his book ‘What’s Wrong With the World”, by concluding that his best response was “I am.” Our human nature recoils from the pain and misery and evil happening around us by crying out ‘Someone ought to do something!” True and understandable reaction.

But we should also ask ourselves ‘what am I doing?’

Pope Francis cites possibility of being in World War III

“Brothers, humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep.”

Citing a history of relentless conflict, marking the centennial of the start of WWI, Pope Francis noted the ways humanity actually may be in early stages of the third World War.

The Pope on Saturday morning celebrated Mass at the Italian Military Memorial of Redipuglia. The area was the scene of fighting between Italy and the forces of the Central Powers during the 1914-1918 conflict.

“There are tears, there is sadness. From this place we remember all the victims of every war,” Pope Francis said during a homily at a Mass for the fallen and victims of all wars. He called war “madness” and “irrational” and said its only plan was to bring destruction.

“Greed, intolerance, the lust for power…. These motives underlie the decision to go to war, and they are too often justified by an ideology; but first there is a distorted passion or impulse,” said the Pope.

Speaking at the end of a week in which President Obama announced a new plan to combat the terrorist group Islamic State, and with almost constant news of growing conflicts in various parts of the world, the Pope said that “even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction.”

Francis celebrated Mass at this Military Monument at such a poignant time, the atmosphere was heavy, the pope’s remarks challenging and provocative.

The first reading narrated the story of Cain and Abel, and in his homily the Holy Father commented on the murder of Abel to condemn indifference in the face of war.

He has called out the “globalization of indifference” often since he first used that term in his first apostolic journey outside Rome as pope at a Mass in Lampedusa, a destination of hope for refugees seeking safety and a new life, but one not reached by so many who perished along the way.

At the Military Monument of Redipuglia, Francis repeated that message but with greater urgency and the weight of gravity. The sub-head of this homily about global indifference would be ‘What does it matter to me?’

“Greed, intolerance, the lust for power … are the motives underlying the decision to go to war, and they are too often justified by an ideology; but first there is a distorted passion or impulse. Ideology is presented as a justification and when there is no ideology, there is the response of Cain: ‘What does it matter to me? Am I my brother’s keeper?’. War does not look directly at anyone, be they elderly, children, mothers, fathers. ‘What does it matter to me?’

“Above the entrance to this cemetery, there hang in the air those ironic words of war, ‘What does it matter to me?’ All of the dead who repose here had their own plans, they had their own dreams, but their lives were cut short. Why? Because humanity said, ‘What does it matter to me?’. Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction. In all honesty, the front page of newspapers ought to carry the headline, ‘What does it matter to me?’. Cain would say, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’.

Right. What’s happening now is deeply disturbing and should be for all civilized humanity. And it is on some front pages. But so much space on those pages is filled with politics and scandal and cultural distraction.

Stop, Francis says. Pay attention.

From this place we remember all the victims of every war. Today, too, there are many victims … How is this possible? It is so because in today’s world, behind the scenes, there are interests, geopolitical strategies, lust for money and power, and there is the manufacture and sale of arms, which seem to be so important! And these plotters of terrorism, these schemers of conflicts, just like arms dealers, have engraved in their hearts, ‘What does it matter to me?’

“It is the task of the wise to recognise errors, to feel pain, to repent, to beg for pardon and to cry. With this ‘What does it matter to me?’ in their hearts, the merchants of war perhaps have made a great deal of money, but their corrupted hearts have lost the capacity to weep. Cain did not weep. He was not able to weep. The shadow of Cain hangs over us today in this cemetery. It is seen here. It has been seen from 1914 right up to our own time.

People rooted in one political ideology or another will read that according to how it fits their ‘narrative’ and backs their party politics. But he’s talking about global humanity, and calling out the inhumanity.

I heard a news report Monday of how wealthy ISIS has become, how much they control in oil fields and banks they’ve seized, and how they tap into that to provide for the ‘army’ and the ‘state’ they have built in trying to erect a caliphate and run a military operation, one that holds daily executions in the public square in some places, according to a BBC report I heard over the weekend, and the very public beheadings of western journalists and relief workers, among other ongoing atrocities they’re committing.

“With the heart of a son, a brother, a father, I ask each of you, indeed for all of us, to have a conversion of heart: to move on from ‘What does it matter to me?’, to shed tears: for each one of the fallen of this ‘senseless massacre’, for all the victims of the mindless wars, in every age. Brothers, humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep”.

And act.

Stopping the atrocities of ISIS

We have to know the enemy we’re confronting. How close are we to that task?

Thirteen years after 9/11/2001, not close, it appears.

The president finally steps up to act. There are at least as many questions about what he says as shows of support for it.

The beheadings of two U.S. captives by Islamic State have steeled lawmakers to the need for more military action, and both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders were supportive of Obama’s plan on Wednesday.

But some Republicans in particular say they want more information from the administration about its wider strategy to combat global terrorism, and many would prefer a broad vote rather than one focused on funding.

Meanwhile…

Democrats are crossing the aisle again, this time as they voice strong support for attacking Islamic State, though the overwhelming majority of lawmakers from both parties oppose the idea of sending in any U.S. ground troops…

The White House has said Obama does not believe he needs Congress’ formal authorization to attack Islamic State.

And therein lies another problem.

Obama flatly said–sure, in the midst of saying he has already won congressional support for doing this (war against ISIL)–that he has the authority to do this. Period.

This reflects Obama’s contempt for all matters constitutional. He consistently abdicates his responsibility to use occasions like this to remind and inform the public about the constitutional issues involved. Now, I think he does have the authority to do this, but he needs to explain why…

I want a president who openly says, “Look, here’s a law on the books, and when I can abide by it without compromising our security I will, and thus I will go before Congress as the statute says, and thus seem to need its after-the-fact ratification of my decision to go to war, but this is not one of those cases, so I’m going to ignore this unconstitutional law.” Or, I want one who says, “I intend to obey the War Powers Act, because it’s law, and it’s constitutional.” Or I at least want one who says, “Hey, opinions on the constitutionality of the law are divided, and I’m going to consult Congress as much as I can and make the decision about whether to abide by its timetables only when the deadline comes.” But this blank “I have the power” talk telegraphs contempt for the intelligence of the American people, and for their duty to know their Constitution. Of course, a public that accepted that duty would cause problems for Obama in other areas.

And besides…

Isn’t it time we had a president who says aloud the obvious fact that when you massacre a bunch of Christians, you’re making it that much more likely that the American public will demand that the U.S. attack you? Right now, this would be a useful thing for certain terror organizations in Africa to hear…

Yes, really. Even, and especially, support from moral leaders in the Democratic Party.

And leading voices in media who join them in calling for relief from the onslaught of evil. Kathryn Jean Lopez covers that in this post at National Review Online.

But that circles back to the question at the beginning, do we, or does the administration, know the enemy?

Some learned views…

Charles Krauthammer:

Charles Krauthammer said President Obama’s was forced to develop his forthcoming plan to defeat the Islamic State because of the shift in public opinion. “This is a man who’s been dragged kicking and screaming to face reality,” Krauthammer said. “This is a classic example of leading from behind where he [Obama] waits for public opinion and now it’s the public who’s demanding he does something. Americans don’t like to see other Americans killed on television by a prideful enemy like that and our president doing nothing.”

He went on to say if the videos showing the beheading of two American journalists had never been released, Obama’s strategy toward the Islamic State would be completely different. “It changed everything,” Krauthammer said. “It [the videos] changed public opinion—and Obama is nothing if not responsive to public opinion. He doesn’t lead. Here it’s the public that’s leading.”

Because the public is seeing the brutality and threat of this manifestation of totalitarianism.

If we are to defeat the violent Islamist radicals who are today threatening the world, we must shine the brightest of spotlights on this malignant idea at the heart of their ideology. And we must counter it, not just with the force of arms, but with a compelling defense of the anti-totalitarian idea of morally ordered freedom.

What defines totalitarianism is a list of shocking and unprecedented demands:

Give fanatical leaders and movements absolute and permanent authority.
Make these leaders and their followers into virtual gods, charged to take control of history and transform humanity itself.
Release them from accountability to any law and institution, belief and custom, moral norm and precept.
Grant them complete control of every facet of human existence, from outward conduct to the innermost workings of conscience and belief.
The rise of this extremist ideology to prominence coincided with a deep crisis of faith that engulfed Europe after the carnage of World War I nearly a century ago. In response to this crisis, totalitarianism – initially in communist and fascist forms – rose to fill the void. Its vision amounted to the state’s replacing God as central to all things, while anointing certain people and their movements as humanity’s new leaders, deserving the ultimate powers once reserved for the deity.

For the better part of a century, totalitarianism has donned its share of masks and hijacked key vehicles in its efforts to subjugate the world….

The same totalitarian impulse that drove Nazism and communism has hijacked religion as its latest vehicle, creating radical Islamism.

From ISIL to Iran’s mullahs, and from al-Qaeda to the Taliban, these new totalitarians pose similar threats to freedom, dignity, and peace. Displaying characteristic contempt for the rule of law and the crucial distinction between combatants and noncombatants in the conduct of war, they have deliberately targeted civilians and resorted to mass murder, precisely as the Nazis and Communists did.

And here’s a bottom line…

the struggle we face today does not pit one religion against others, nor is it a battle of religion against humanity; rather, it is a struggle pitting lawlessness and tyranny against freedom and dignity. The irony is that this time it is being trotted out in religion’s name.

In this struggle, Muslims have a duty to their faith and to humanity to stand resolutely against Islam’s hijacking by people driven by the same diabolical impulse that unleashed the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot on the world. They must rip away its religious mask and reveal its idolatrous soul before the world.

The religious ideology of this group must be understood to be addressed. But the president keeps sidestepping the Islamic factor in this battle of civilizations.

In a televised address on how to address the Islamic State this evening, President Barack Obama declared the organization variously known as ISIS or ISIL to be “not Islamic.”

In making this preposterous claim, Obama joins his two immediate predecessors in pronouncing on what is not Islamic. Bill Clinton called the Taliban treatment of women and children “a terrible perversion of Islam.” George W. Bush deemed that 9/11 and other acts of violence against innocents “violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

None of the three has any basis for such assertions. To state the obvious: As non-Muslims and politicians, rather than Muslims and scholars, they are in no position to declare what is Islamic and what is not. As Bernard Lewis, a leading American authority of Islam, notes: “It is surely presumptuous for those who are not Muslims to say what is orthodox and what is heretical in Islam.”

The president and his spokesmen claim to not be at war with the extremists who declared war on the US.

In a truly shameful display, the administration has spent the day after President Barack Obama’s address to the nation outlining his proposed response to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by downplaying his address to the nation…

On its face, it seems like the administration is sending mixed signals. The president made a rather clear case for a long campaign aimed at rolling back the nascent Islamic State in Iraq and eventually confronting them in their Syrian stronghold. Sources have suggested that this is a mission which will likely outlast the Obama presidency. So why pull punches today?

Josh Earnest made the administration’s thinking clear during his press briefing on Thursday in which he went to tortured lengths to insist that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda were synonymous. Why? Well, claiming these two groups are the same would mean that the administration does not have to approach Congress for a new resolution authorizing use military force.

Which is a big deal.

Josh Earnest made the administration’s thinking clear during his press briefing on Thursday in which he went to tortured lengths to insist that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda were synonymous. Why? Well, claiming these two groups are the same would mean that the administration does not have to approach Congress for a new resolution authorizing use military force.

Instead, the White House can point to the 2001 authorization targeting al-Qaeda, even though the White House had previously argued that the resolution was dated and should be repealed.

Kerry, too, asserted that ISIS “is and has been al-Qaeda.”

“By trying to change its name, it doesn’t change who it is, what it does,” he added.

Just don’t tell them that. “In a message posted on jihadi websites the al-Qaeda general command stated that its former affiliate ‘is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group [and al-Qaeda] does not have an organizational relationship with it and is not the group responsible for their actions,’” Time Magazine reported in February.

The White House’s insistence that the present campaign is merely a continuation of George W. Bush’s War on Terror is unlikely to quiet the increasingly loud voices in Congress demanding a vote on a new authorization.

Okay, well, even if we’re playing legal games with the word “war” and are trying to avoid the politics of getting the people’s representatives to sanction military action abroad, at least there is a plan for victory, right?

“What does victory look like here?” Earnest was asked on Thursday. “What does destroy mean?”

“I didn’t bring my Webster’s dictionary,” Earnest replied.

So while this nonsense has been going on, so has this. Read it and weep for her, and for her family and the countless other families of religious minorities in Iraq and other countries targeted by extremist Islamic actions to dehumanize or eliminate them. This is going on every day, like the other atrocities we’re hearing about, representing the countless others we don’t hear about.

I had a US Congressman as a guest on my radio show this week to talk about this, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry. He has been a champion of humanitarian rights. Immediately after the program, listeners spoke up asking that his voice of clarity and leadership be posted online. It is on the network show page, and on the app.

Here it is, in the first half of the show, on 9/10. Or in the podcast on the app. Around 15 minutes in, he’s compelling.

We can do a lot. Complacency is not an option.

ISIS has declared war. Now what?

How can leaders of the most civilized, powerful nations in the world not yet have a solid plan?

While governments fail to act or make attempts at cobbling together a plan of action against a well organized, well funded, vicious and ambitious irregular army hellbent on wreaking chaos and destruction to take over the world, it’s the religious leaders and scholars and humanitarian relief experts who are speaking out and doing the most to call for action, care for people and protect populations from genocide in the meantime.

Princeton Professor Robert George has been one of the foremost, gaining a lot of attention and support for his Plea on Behalf of Victims of Barbarism in Iraq. It’s the backdrop for his grassroots Iraq Rescue effort.

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. This goal cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable ISIS/ISIL forces. 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.

It’s a comprehensive call to action in what Prof. George told me on radio this week is the conflict with a force “more formidable than any enemy” we have known in our lifetimes. “They are better funded, better organized, better armed and more brutal than Al Qaeda,” he said. “The mistake members of government, both liberals and conservatives, are making is thinking this is an Eighth Century movement of barbaric, Dark Ages murderers. They are far more modernized and organized and therefore dangerous then that.”

Prof. George’s petition went on:

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.

It is key to stop politicizing this and work together to stop it. Everyone who has a sense of what the civilized world is up against is saying the same thing.

Then, as the world knew immediately, early in the week, the second beheading of an American journalist was carried out, videotaped, and posted for the world to see, taunting the West and especially the US.

A new video appears to show the execution of Steven Sotloff, the second American killed by a self-professed member of the Islamist terror group ISIS.

In the video, which appeared online [Tuesday] Sotloff addresses the camera, saying, “I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now and why I am appearing.”

“Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life?” the journalist says calmly as the black clad militant holds a knife casually at his side.

Later the video then cuts to the militant who says, “I’m back, Obama. I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State [ISIS].”

“… [J]ust as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people,” the figure says.

The camera cuts again and the militant appears to kill Sotloff.

Horrifying as it was, the news got far less media coverage than the beheading of James Foley, just days ago. There’s no reason for that. The execution of Sotloff was just as brutal and inhumane, and it was another provocation to the US, another declaration of war with such a globally visible murder of an innocent American journalist.

Here’s what a lot of people may have missed, since media gave the execution less attention.

Speaking at a press conference in Florida, Sotloff family spokesman Barak Barfi said that Steven “wanted to give voice to those who had none”…

“From the Libyan doctor in Misrata who struggled to provide psychological services to children ravaged by war, to the Syrian plumber who risked his life by crossing regime lines to purchase medicine, their story was Steve’s story. He ultimately sacrificed his life to bring their story to the world,” Mr Barfi said.

“Today we grieve but we will emerge stronger. We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess: Fear.”…

Mr Obama said the US would build a coalition to “degrade and destroy” IS.

Where that stands got a little clearer now that he’s huddling with international leaders at the NATO summit.

But meanwhile, religious leaders and scholars continue to raise their voices with specific calls for action. The Vatican did, again.

And while Prof. Robert George’s Iraq Rescue petition is getting more attention, it calls for more signatures. Meanwhile, he’s warning anyone who will listen that the Islamic State will carry out “mass slaughter in the United States’ if it is not destroyed as a fighting force.

Princeton University professor Robert George warned Wednesday that the Islamic State will carry out “mass slaughter in the United States” if it is not soon “destroyed as a fighting force.”

“They have every intention of getting [to the United States], and these are people who achieve what they set out to achieve,” George said… “Unless somebody stops them, they make good on their threats. They have threatened to carry out activity in the United States — killing people, mass slaughter in the United States.”

“Believe me, I plead with you, I want your listeners to believe me — these people will do it if they can,” George continued. “And they will be able to do it unless we stop them.”

The Princeton professor described the Islamic State as “genocidal,” saying: “They mean to wipe out entire communities, and there is nothing they will stop short of when it comes to achieving their goal.”

“Our well-being, our security, our place in the world are vitally threatened by ISIS and ISIL,” he said. “They will stop at nothing … in order to destroy anyone standing in their way so that they can establish the caliphate.”

George advocated working with the international community to supply air support, as well as strategic and intelligence support, to Kurdish forces, Sunni tribesmen, and other local forces resisting the Islamic State. He also advocated airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds.

George said “we’re going to have to fight them eventually.” The only question is whether we do it in Iraq, or wait “until they’re carrying out terrorist activity within the United States.”

Prof. Robert George is not given to hyperbole. He is probably the most eminently reasonable scholar I know, or know of. These words issue a sober warning, from an expert who has served in various capacities on behalf of the U.S. on international commissions dealing with human rights and justice.

Congress returns at the beginning of the week, the week of 9/11, when many people predict a possible or likely attack on American soil again. The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch has renewed his plea to the United Nations, upping the intensity.

And the reminder that “the whole world’s watching” has been resounding. Only this time, with far greater stakes than at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago when student demonstrators started that chant. Prof. George and his bipartisan, interfaith, unified supporters declare there’s something much larger and far more dangerous at work now in the ISIS onslaught. And they ask for all people of goodwill to join the movement to stop it.

The coalition of the willing can sign on here.

ISIL intended to send a personal message to the US

It worked, though maybe not as that murderous gang expected.

They wanted to cower the US into backing off the already limited air strikes, humanitarian relief drops and rescue missions of refugees from their brutality. Did the horror of beheading a captive American journalist intimidate the US into backing off those strikes, as intended? Did the president end his vacation and return to the White House to monitor all operations going forward? No. No to both questions.

First, the president’s press conference on the state of affairs after this intimidation tactic.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama addressed the nation regarding the brutal slaying of an American journalist by Islamic State militants. After conducting that gruesome deed, James Wright Foley’s assassin warned the president that his organization planned to kill yet another American unless the West surrenders Iraq and Syria to the Islamic State’s inhuman designs.

Many of the words Obama deployed in his rhetorical front in the war against ISIS were quite nice and even refreshingly blunt. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” Obama said after a brief list of the atrocities committed by ISIS militants. “ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.”

“People like this ultimately fail,” the president added. “They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.”

History is, indeed, replete with examples of barbaric forces bent on delivering the world back into darkness. Some have failed. Some did not. Those that did fail did so because they were resisted by the armies of civilization. None of history’s dark crusades ever failed in a vacuum.

That’s a critical point. They don’t just ‘fail’. They are defeated.

Obama expressed how “heartbroken” he was at the murder of an American, and he pledged to “extract this cancer so that it does not spread.” But this metastatic tumor has already been allowed to spread. And, even in a fashion that maintained a sufficient level of operational secrecy, the president failed to inform the American people how he planned to excise it…

Where was the status update on the ongoing airstrikes against ISIS positions in the north of Iraq which, judging only from press accounts, appear to be relatively effective? Why did the president fail to address rumors that his administration was aware of the threats to Foley’s life prior to his execution, or that unconfirmed reports have suggested that his killer may have been a former Guantanamo detainee?

For that matter, why did the president not address the fact that a significant number of westerners are apparently fighting alongside ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and Foley’s executioner may have been one of these western jihadists? It is, again, perfectly understandable for the president to not want to get ahead of the facts of this still developing event, but Obama is set to chair as United Nations Security Council meeting in September which is focused entirely on that very threat. He has yet to publicly address this forthcoming UNSC meeting, and this incident would have been a perfect time to broach that subject.

Instead, he leaves it up to his surrogates and the media to inform the public about how this war is being prosecuted. The latest development, breaking just minutes after Obama spoke, is an apparent proposal administration officials are considering to send 300 additional troops to Iraq. Even members of Obama’s own party are now strongly suggesting that the president come to Congress with a request to legally authorize this application of force in Iraq. When does the president plan to speak honestly about the scope of American involvement in the Middle East?

British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his vacation to return to the urgent matters facing the West and the world with this extremist threat. He called the beheading of American journalist James Foley “shocking and depraved”, giving voice to the deeply rooted reactions of Westerners.

Look, this will all get analyzed and detailed to some extend in the days to come. I’m out of contact for the next couple of days myself, not for vacation but for personal matters. But an initial response must be swift and clear and strong. I hate that it ‘s always a ‘response’ these days, instead of a nation standing for freedom and protection and justice taking the lead in pro-actively leading the way on what the United Nations Charter called the ‘duty to protect.’

So for now, here are a couple of clear pieces of reporting and commentary that directly speak to what we’re confronting in Iraq.

Tod Worner was on my radio program the other day bringing his intellectual heft to the table about what we’re dealing with. And that was while we were dealing with inhumane atrocities unimaginable to the civilized mind, and before the video recorded beheading of an American journalist. Here’s an upshot.

ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria, or the Islamic State in Iraq & the Levant (ISIL), or simply the Islamic State – hereafter called ISIS] is the most ruthless, brazen jihadist army the world may have ever seen. For further description, please see my previous posts here, here, and here. Khaled Sharrouf found ISIS compelling enough to leave Australia with his family to arrive in Syria and partake in particularly vicious bloodletting in the name of jihad and the cause of re-establishing the worldwide Islamic Caliphate. With a large cache of money and weaponry at their disposal, ISIS has unleashed a lightning speed butchery in Iraq and Syria unprecedented in scope, fury, and success (with the closest comparison being the 1940-41 National Socialist onslaught in Western Europe and against the Soviet Union). And their achievements are difficult to ignore.

Well over one million refugees have fled their homes and cities fearing certain death if they refused conversion to Islam. Thousands have been tortured, raped and murdered via gruesome means including beheadings, crucifixions, stonings and mass shootings. The culture being erected includes women and girls sold into sex slavery, female genital mutilation, and draconian rules outlawing tobacco, alcohol, and revealing attire. Absolute and fierce adherence to ISIS’ vision of Islam is the unbending law and a hair’s deviation earns pitiless punishment. And this is all being enacted by a group that is awash with money, oil reserves, territory, weapons and a rabid following.

Now the point of this post is not simply to reiterate the unparalleled viciousness unfolding before our eyes day after bloody day in Iraq and Syria – though this, unquestionably, would be reason enough. Rather it is to call attention to a crisis that is being forgotten or, more likely, conveniently ignored: The Crisis of Moral Relativism in the face of Naked Evil…

In the post-modern world, we have been led to believe that truth is relative to person, place, time and culture. This notion has led many to approach different faiths, cultures, nations and people with the exalted virtues of open-mindedness and tolerance…

With all relative and nothing absolute, there is no standard. There is no right or wrong, fair or unfair, good or evil – just gentlemanly differences of opinion. But in the end, absent a guide such as right, wrong, fair, unfair…what will guide the direction a person, a culture, or a society goes in? Power. So the unholy alliance in a morally relative world is between aggressive entities ruthlessly executing their will and their passive observers falling all over themselves asking “Who are we to judge?”….

Perhaps, then, we can agree on something. Perhaps we can agree that what ISIS is doing is…wrong? And is it possible, just possible, that we may find ourselves naming their untethered sadism…evil? You see, once we have moved from a cozy, theoretical, dispassionate, anthropologic interest in a human affair to a true understanding of what is happening, we find ourselves stirred by a deeper sense of inviolable (perhaps, even sacred) human dignity and justice. We have moved from the realm where all truth and morality is relative…to the realm where there is an absolute standard of truth and morality (where human life is dignified, ought to be respected and the violation of this dignity demands justice be served).

By calling the actions of ISIS unacceptable, we have shattered relativism for all time. Because we have invoked an absolute standard: Right and Wrong. How novel that we live in a world where this should be controversial? As Winston Churchill once said,

“It is an important thing to diagnose the evil…”

Yes. Indeed.

But first we must believe in evil.

And that’s where the other piece comes in, from the engaged and exercised and vocal and exquisitely spot on Elizabeth Scalia, who feels the pain and conveys it in a way we can feel.

Look at how she honored the life and death of James Foley, and his witness to the ‘subversive freedom of prayer‘.

A great deal has been written about the late James Foley, his beheading at the hands of a barbarous Islamic State: the moving response from this band of Syrians, the Jesuit education which, along with the example of his family kept him grounded in his faith; his own words on the power of prayer, written in previous captivity.

The story is tragic and infuriating — every bit as nation-stirring as the similar murder of Daniel Pearl, all those years ago, when bloody “war on terror” was still in its official infancy, though in truth, we have been trailing these tears and stains for many decades, now.

But I keep coming back to Foley’s own words on prayer, and how it sustained him:

It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.

It’s something we’ve talked about a lot on this blog, but it bears repeating: prayer is a subversive means of freedom, at once consoling, engaging and efficacious throughout time and space. It has power, and that power holds, when everything else falls apart.

ISIL got the attention of the US and the Western World. That’s what it wanted. What comes next, God willing, is beyond their reach and grasp.

‘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.