The Destruction of Christian Memory in the Middle East

“Tonight Christians in the Middle East are marked for death because of their faith and no one is fighting for them. As Christians are slaughtered, churches torched and families forced from their homeland, the mass murder of Christians is underway.”  Judge Jeanine Pirro, Fox News

By Georgiana Constantin | July 29, 2014

The Islamic State also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Jihadist militant group which has been plaguing the Middle East for the past year is growing stronger by the day. Since its creation in April last year, ISIS has not only gained power and territory, but has also proven to be too extreme for similar terrorist organizations such as al- Qaida and Jabhat al Nusra, which have reportedly disavowed them. The group is apparently in control of 35 percent of Syrian territory, which includes nearly all oil and gas fields.  Eastern Syria is home to the country’s biggest oil fields. In addition, ISIS also controls parts of Iraq and the recently acquired territory Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria.

Even though taking over such large territories does not guarantee the ability to rule over them, the Jihadist group’s military success and appeal to Muslims around the world seem to be of an alarmingly unprecedented nature. Recently, an audio recording has surfaced where the leader of the group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls on all Muslims to do their “duty” and immigrate to the Islamic State, now declared a caliphate. He tells them: “This is my advice to you. If you hold to it you will conquer Rome and own the world, if Allah wills.” Also, earlier this month, a video appeared showing two men, supposedly part of ISIS, crying out for the need to “take back Spain” and the “occupied lands.” They claimed “Spain is the land of our forefathers, and, Allah willing, we are going to liberate it, with the might of Allah.” Such powerful claims might have been ignored had not the Jihadist group been so successful in its military conquests, which have also brought about a treasury of great wealth, in addition to the riches of the captured oil fields.

Far from letting one’s imagination run amok, there is one question which, however far from the civilized limitations of the twenty first century it may seem, simply needs to be asked: Is this indeed the start of a global Jihad? There are sufficient examples of the tragedies which befall those who stand in the way of “the war against unbelievers.”

Following an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay the Jizya tax or die, the recent exodus of Iraqi Christians has purportedly driven Christianity in the Middle East to near extinction. Apparently, since 2003 over a million Christians have been exiled from Iraq and by the time ISIS took control of Mosul, the city had only 35,000 Christians remaining. Breitbart News reported “ERBIL, Iraq – The last Christian reportedly left Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul at 12:00 pm on Saturday, ending over 6,000 years of Assyrian history in the city.” According to Christian Post, an Open Doors field worker stated, “The exodus has stopped. There are no more Christians in Mosul anymore. We now need to pray that they might return one day.”

This tragedy of historic proportions is not limited to Mosul however. People have been suffering at the hands of and fleeing from ISIS all around the territories it has occupied. Recently, the 4th century Mar Saint Behnam monastery, an ancient Christian pilgrimage site southeast of Mosul near Qaraqosh is reported to have been seized by the Jihadist group and the monks have apparently been expelled. BBC News reports “local residents said monks at the Mar Behnam monastery were allowed to take only the clothes they were wearing.” They were not even allowed to salvage priceless relics.

As an added  misery for the Christians’ situation in the Middle East, leaving the Islamic State is also proving to be a life threatening endeavor, as people are reportedly being robbed, raped and taken advantage of, while trying to escape the terror. According to the Daily Beast “Those families leaving from the checkpoints on the eastern side of the city were harassed and robbed of their possessions […] 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.”  Reportedly leaving the city with only the clothes on their backs and maybe cab fare, even though they had done what no group of people should ever be asked to do, that is to leave their homes and property because their religion was not considered equal to that of their rulers, they were still not offered a dignified exit but rather were “cursed and abused by ISIS fighters at the checkpoints on the outskirts of the city.” The situation in Syria does not seem to be much better, as people are apparently being crucified for daring to “rebel.”

And, as if these scenarios were not bleak enough, according to the AINA News Agency, in one case, ISIS entered the home of an Assyrian family in Mosul and demanded the Jizya tax be paid. When the family answered that they could not pay, as they did not have the money, “three ISIS members raped the mother and daughter in front of the husband and father. The husband and father was so traumatized that he committed suicide.”

Derision, robbery, rape, murder…these are the words which describe the lives of Christians under ISIS. While Christians are faced with these somber situations, what is the response of the international community?

In a press statement dated July 21st, the UN’s Security Council expressed “regret that, over the course of a few weeks, minority communities that have lived together for hundreds of years […] have come under direct attack and persecution by [ISIS] and associated armed groups.” It also condemns in the strongest terms “the systematic persecution of individuals from minority populations and those who refuse its extremist ideology” reminding the world that “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security” and that “wide-spread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian populations because of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable.” While the UN press statement has made public the international community’s discontent, it is powerless as the West fails to act in defense of Christianity. Meanwhile the “crimes against humanity” continue uninterrupted and words like “regret” and “condemn” have no effect on a situation which has disturbed not hundreds but thousands of years of cohabitation between religions in the region.

Moreover, the reality of the Middle East today seems to be rapidly creeping into that of the West, as young Muslims from all over the World, from the UK to the U.S., are joining this call to Jihad, promising to either die for Allah, or bring 9/11 like scenarios back to the Occident, so that they may do their “ sacred duty.” While the situation is currently restricted to the Middle East and its minorities, there is no way to tell if this “war against the unbelievers” will take off in the way its leaders want it to. As Foreign Affairs reports, “ISIS ambitions should not be believed to stop at the Iraqi and Syrian borders, and its links to attacks in Europe should not be taken lightly.”

Whether or not the terror will go beyond its current perimeter, striking at the heart of Western civilization, the present condition of the Christians and minorities in the territories occupied by ISIS remains a tragic one that the international community and world leaders in particular should turn their attention to as lives are being destroyed and ancient communities eradicated. Words unfortunately will not suffice. This is one reason why some Western Christians have gathered their efforts in order that they should make life a bit easier for their brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East by calling upon all who can to contribute and pray for them.

Judge Jeanine Pirro of FOX News called upon Pope Francis and President Obama to act. “A reverse crusade is already underway,” she declared on her program, Justice with Judge Jeanine, which aired on Saturday night. “ISIS, the radicalized Muslim group,” she reported, “already has created a caliphate in Syria, Iraq and the border of Jordan.”

It is indeed a sad circumstance that brings Christians around the world to join efforts at this time. One can only hope that in the future they will again join forces but instead to freely celebrate their faith. Clearly, the growing threat of the ISIS caliphate represents a stark clash of civilizations that only the West has the power to stop – but does it have the political will?

Georgiana Constantin is a law school graduate who has studied European, International and Romanian law. Her thesis on the UN and global governance was completed at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest. She has received a Masters degree in International and European Law at the Nicolae Titulescu University in Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.