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Lights out for Christians in Mosul

Lights out for Christians in Mosul

Among the many horrors inflicted by what President Obama once described as the “junior varsity” of al-Qaeda, ISIS has managed to purge Christians from the captured Iraqi city of Mosul.  Breitbart News reports on the Saturday afternoon departure of the last Christian from a city where they have lived for two thousand years:

On Thursday, July 17th, the Islamic State (IS)– formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)– released a statement demanding the Christians in Mosul either to convert to Islam, paying the jizya (tax on non-Muslims), leave the city, or be killed. The threat was to be implemented on Saturday.  It is being reported locally that by noon yesterday, every Christian had chosen to leave.

Here in Erbil, about an hour an half away from Mosul by car, I have spoken with families who were forced to flee. They describe how ISIS invaded their homes, taking whatever they wanted, and threatening to kill them. The estimates are that over 500,000 refugees have fled Mosul after Islamists took control on June 10th, and the few remaining Christians left yesterday. 

One group of Christians I spoke with said that when ISIS first invaded Iraq, they portrayed themselves as armed humanitarians but then they quickly undercut that message by implementing strict Sharia law, such as making women wear the full burqa and banning all western clothing. Those Muslims who stayed behind are being forced to comply with the new puritanical laws and now they, too, are trying to leave the city. 

Western media scarcely bothers to report on the purge of Christians from their ancient land, which is interesting, because in other contexts the media and left-wing culture make a very big deal about imperialism, occupation, and large-scale “theft.”  Has the oppression of Christians become anything more than a footnote in the litany of ISIS’ sins?  For that matter, the Christian exodus from Iraq was underway long before the ISIS head-choppers showed up, with very little media attention or formal criticism from the international community.

Tera Dahl of the Council on Global Security heard reports about the alarmingly international character of ISIS from Christian refugees.  These terrorists come from all over the place, which means they’ll be able to emerge from their new cross-border Syria-Iraq terror state to cause trouble all over the place.  Unsurprisingly, the Christians were not pleased by the lack of attention they have received from the international community:

Everyone I have spoken with has expressed their frustration with the international community’s lack of response to the crisis facing the people of Iraq. They blamed the United States for creating the current situation and for leaving the country so quickly and so creating the vacuum for IS to exploit. Many also think that it was a serious mistake for the U.S. to “give Iraq to Iran,” allowing Tehran to have a major influence in the Iraqi Parliament. 

Another local told me he thought it was strange and nonsensical that the U.S. and European countries were opposed to IS in Iraq, but supporting IS groups in Syria and other violent groups against local governments. They warned of the danger such groups pose to the West. “These jihadists will eventually go home to their countries, to Canada, England and the U.S.” said one.

Mosul’s departed Christians also make an interesting point about the importance of national unity with proper respect for diversity, an idea quite comfortable in the Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition, after surviving some horrendously bloody challenges over the centuries:

Another group of Christians commented on how bad it would be for Iraq if the country split up or were divided. They warned that if Iraq splits into several smaller countries, it will create a domino effect in the whole Middle East, affecting Lebanon, Syrian, Jordan, Turkey, Israel, and Egypt, creating a wave of civil wars. “We fear the U.S. is not supporting the unity of Iraq,” I was told, “But we want to see our country remain as one nation of diverse people, as it has been in history.” 

Granted, some of the people who express such sentiments don’t truly believe them.  But isn’t it remarkable how many people in the world are unwilling even to express them?

The Daily Beast adds the charming detail that Mosul’s Christians were robbed on their way out of town:

Those families leaving from the checkpoints on the eastern side of the city were harassed and robbed of their possessions but ultimately allowed to leave Mosul with only the clothes on their backs and possibly cab fare. All families who fled on the last morning reported having money, belongings, jewelry, and even documents stolen from them. Women had crucifixes torn from their necks.

Those who were received by aid organizations in neighboring Hamdaniyah, Bartella, and elsewhere were despondent and in a state of shock when they arrived at shelters for refugees. Most had been assured by ISIS fighters during the first week after the takeover that their communities would be protected, as ISIS’s animosity initially was directed toward the city’s Shia. But all that changed in the past week.

As they left Mosul, Christian families were cursed and abused by ISIS fighters at the checkpoints on the outskirts of the city for abandoning their homes and not converting to Islam. According to the fleeing families, it was apparent that fighters were locals from their accents and covered faces, but the Christians suspected many of being the freed prisoners who have joined ISIS’s ranks last month.

It should be noted that not all of the Christians fled Mosul.  Some of them converted to Islam at gunpoint:

Not quite all the families chose to flee; a few Christians were reported to have converted to Islam in order to save their families’ lives and their property. Converting Christians reported to mosques in Mosul, where they performed a profession of faith, the shahada, and received a document from members of ISIS confirming their conversion to protect them from reprisals in the future. Some Christian families reported that they did so only to save their families but would appear at mosque every Friday for prayer as ordered.

Mosul is… or should I say was… an important holy city in Christian tradition:

As a center of Christian antiquity, Mosul is considered by many Middle Eastern Christians to be one of their holiest cities. The ancient churches of Mosul and the surrounding area are home to some of Christianity’s oldest churches and relics, some already destroyed or looted by ISIS. In retaliation for the failure of Christian leaders to appear at a meeting ISIS announced at one of its city headquarters, the teachers union building, the Qalb Al Aqdas (Sacred Heart) church, was burned down. Christians from Mosul reported outdoor crosses being taken down and ISIS fighters seizing all churches whose condition they now know nothing about. Beyond the more than 20 churches in Mosul, Christian families and church leadership hastily abandoned extensive Christian-owned properties and homes throughout the city, making them the last of Mosul’s minority communities to flee, following the Shabak, Shia, Yezidi, Turkmen, and Kurds.

Alas, none of that seems to have moved the international outrage needle much.  Curiously, the Daily Beast refers to the jizya tax on unbelievers as an “anachronistic Islamic tax.”  It’s an ancient concept, and it’s certainly outrageous, but is it really accurate to dismiss it as “anachronistic” when it still has so much relevance in the modern world?  I’d love to work with moderate Muslims and turn the jizya idea into a rancid old fragment of historical memory, but sadly, we’re not there yet.

Update: The New York Times contributes scenes of hope and horror to the story of Christians persecuted by ISIS.  First, the hope…

A day after Christians fled Mosul, the northern city controlled by Islamist extremists, under the threat of death, Muslims and Christians gathered under the same roof — a church roof — here on Sunday afternoon. By the time the piano player had finished the Iraqi national anthem, and before the prayers, Manhal Younis was crying.

“I can’t feel my identity as an Iraqi Christian,” she said, her three little daughters hanging at her side.

A Muslim woman sitting next to her in the pew reached out and whispered, “You are the true original people here, and we are sorry for what has been done to you in the name of Islam.”

Then, the horror, from the Syrian city of Raqqa…

Raqqa’s three churches, once home to an active Christian minority, have all been shuttered. After capturing the largest, the Armenian Catholic Martyrs Church, ISIS removed its crosses, hung black flags from its facade and converted it into an Islamic center that screens videos of battles and suicide operations to recruit new fighters.

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