Solidarity with Iraqi Christians

By Faith J.H. McDonnell

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.26.30 AMCivilized human beings across the world are sickened by the destruction taking place in Iraq at the hands of ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities — some of the most ancient indigenous people groups in the Middle East — are being slaughtered by what can only be described as a horrifically evil terrorist group.

One only need to look at the Bible story of Jonah and Nineveh to grasp the historic importance of the people who are being exterminated and the culture that is being eradicated by ISIS. The capital of Assyria, the ancient city of Ninevah was on the eastern side of the Tigris River, just across from the modern city of Mosul, on the western side of the river, in what is now northern Iraq. God sent a reluctant Jonah to preach to the people of Ninevah, worshippers of Ishtar (not a very nice goddess!) and they repented of their sins.

In one of his many impassioned speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives, U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf pointed out, “Aside from Israel, the Bible contains more references to the cities, regions and nations of ancient Iraq than any other country.  The patriarch Abraham came from a city in Iraq called Ur. Isaac’s bride, Rebekah, came from northwest Iraq.  Jacob spent 20 years in Iraq, and his sons (the 12 tribes of Israel) were born in northwest Iraq.”

A recent article in Foreign Policy points out that ISIS has claimed towns representing the last major concentration of Aramaic speakers in the world. The language spoken by Jesus when he was on earth is also being deliberately wiped out.

There are not enough synonyms for evil to do justice to ISIS. In spite of recent U.S. airstrikes, there is seemingly little to oppose them except the brave Peshmerga militia of the Kurdish Regional Government.

Many concerned citizens in the United States and in the world community are using the Arabic letter nun (ن) — standing for Nasara or Nazarene, used here as a pejorative name for Christians — to identify themselves on social media and show solidarity with the Iraqi Christians who have been forced from their homes, brutalized, and killed. The jihadists of ISIS spray painted doors and walls of Christian homes, businesses and churches in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, with the letter before issuing an ultimatum to the city’s Christian population to convert to Islam, pay a special tax (jizya) or be killed. They have been just as ruthless to the Yazidis and others who do not support their Caliphate.

It is encouraging in the midst of this desperate situation to see people all over the world, from many Christian denominations as well as from other religions and no religion at all, brandishing the nun in defiant solidarity. After years of ever-increasing hardship and persecution for Iraq’s religious minorities, and, frankly, for all non-jihadist Iraqis, the world community has finally begun to wake up to this devastating human rights catastrophe.

Here are five things you can do to help push U.S. policy and bring support to the persecuted Iraqis.

1. Sign “A Plea on Behalf of Victims of ISIS/ISIL Barbarism in Iraq,” a petition by Dr. Robert P. George of Princeton University, Vice Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Dr. George lays out the situation well in this petition and advises that he will be giving the petition to President Obama and to the United States Congress. (IraqRescue.org)

“The so-called Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS/ISIL) is conducting a campaign of genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and others in Iraq,” Dr. George writes. “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.”

2. Pray on Hozana. Hozana is a Christian website that networks prayer efforts. Originally launched in the French language in February 2014, it is now available in English and Spanish as well. Hozana’s “Light for Iraq” page declares, “We all are Nazarenes!” Support our brothers and sisters in Christ by praying the Lord’s Prayer every day for the Christians of Iraq (Hozana.org/en/PrayforIraq).

3. Provide financial support to the refugees. There are many great organizations helping the Iraqis. Barnabas Aid of the Barnabas Fund provides hope and relief to the persecuted church, working with partners on the ground. Currently, 30,000 displaced Iraqi Christians are receiving aid through just one of Barnabas Aid’s projects for Iraq and Syria (Barnabasaid.org).

Samaritan’s Purse is also responding to the crisis in northern Iraq. It has provided monthly supplies to families in Erbil and Chamchamal since June (SamaritansPurse.org).

4. Endorse Congressional efforts. Congressman Frank Wolf from Virginia has an entire section of his website devoted to Christianity in Iraq (Wolf.House.gov). It provides such resources as his floor speeches in the House of Representatives, information for the Congressional record such as a list of all the Christian churches and institutions destroyed by ISIS since June 10, current news articles, videos, etc. Please share this information with your social networks, churches, local media, and other spheres of influence.

Especially important is to stand behind the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act that recently passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by President Obama on August 8th. This law calls for a Special Envoy for the regions mentioned in the title. Now that the law has been passed, it must be carefully watched both to ensure that the right kind of person is chosen to be the Special Envoy (one who really understands the situation and takes seriously the threat of Islamic jihad), and that the State Department cooperates in the implementation of the law.

5.  Do not let other news diminish the attention on the ISIS atrocities. We have increasingly short attention spans these days, and the media has an even shorter one. It is a struggle to keep the attention of the world even on horrific situations like the genocide of religious minorities in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people threatened with death, the eradication of an entire culture, the loss of an ancient language, the devastation of artifacts and monuments, and the growing global Caliphate deserve our full attention and action. Please continue to share information with all your contacts, urge your church leaders to have dedicated prayer time in every service, organize either virtual or physical prayer groups, and push both your local and the national media to more coverage.

Congressman Frank Wolf concluded one of his House floor speeches by saying, “I am reminded of William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian who, in making the case against slavery in 1789, told his colleagues, “Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

We cannot force our government to save the Christians and other religious minorities of Iraq from ISIS, but we can do what we can do: pray, be a voice, and urge our government not to look the other way.

Faith J. H. McDonnell is the director of the Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. This article was adapted from a series on “Genocide in Iraq” first published on IRD’s blog, Juicy Ecumenism.

 

Comments

  1. CAN WE HAVE ANY OTHER SPIRITUAL MEANS WE CAN WAGE WAR WITH THE ISIS. I think the current event that is shocking the world is going to have a wider implication even up on those who call themselves devote moslims and who are perpetuating such kind of evil against humanity just by using the context of religion.we those who are affectionate towards those of our brothers must now search our life and should have to bring a right life style that can embrace all classes of society . Justice can not come on any other narrower ideology ,what i mean is that if we label someone as a friend and the other as enemy just based on ideology we are segregating humanity which is indivisible by nature. so we need to ask bold questions to our life now just by saying are we standing on a right and sensible perspective of life we as individuals,communities,as nations that can bring justice to all human beings .we nations are in dire need of justice and freedom based on truth . we are now looking the collapse of nations and every pillar that sustains them that was imminent for the fruit of injustice is violence.we need not heal this with force but with repentance and a sustainable lifestyle that embraces all. In short we need system redemption. Everything that the world is now looking with fear is fruit but the tree of injustice should have to be unplugged .we need to adress the main problem.

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