Editor’s note: This is an abridged excerpt of the first chapter Johnnie Moore’s book “Defying ISIS: Preserving Christianity In The Place Of Its Birth And In Your Own Backyard.” The ebook edition is available now and the paperback releases on April 21. For more free exclusive content, go to www.defyingisis.com and type in the promo code FEDERALIST.
WASHINGTON, DC – It was midnight in Damascus, 2 p.m. in my hometown in California, when I received an e-mail with only two words in its subject line: “Awaiting death.”
The sender of the message was in Syria, and while I had heard of him, I had never met him. Yet, somehow, I felt eerily close to him. He was a faithful Christian pastor who hadn’t a vein of violence in his body. But what he did have was love for those he’d served for so long—a love that waged on despite the hatred encompassing his city.
There once were many pastors like him in Syria. That country’s Christian communities had thrived since the Apostle Paul himself preached in Damascus after his conversion on the road to that ancient city. In fact, it was in Syria that the word “Christian” was first used at all.
Within the Middle East, Syria was once as famous for its two million Christians as it was for anything else. They were pillars of society, living and thriving as neighbors to Muslims whom they served without prejudice. Their mysterious hillside monasteries had maintained the same intrigue they had when they were first constructed, many more than a thousand years ago.
Syria was so Christian, in fact, that a certain group of Syrian Christians had preserved Aramaic—the very dialect Jesus had spoken. They spoke it in their communities and people traveled from the world over to their villages just for the opportunity to hear the Lord’s Prayer prayed exactly as it had been heard from Jesus’ lips to his apostles’ ears, two thousand years ago.
Until our very modern times, Syria, along with Iraq and Egypt, were the seats of thriving Christian communities that had been a light to the world before Western Christianity was a glimmer in anyone’s eye. As I wrote in an op-ed in February of 2014: “Christianity began in the East, not the West … the apostle Paul—who was on the road to Damascus when he encountered Christ—would have told the story of his conversion while heading to ‘Syria.’ … and to this day there are as many Christian holy sites in that nation as anywhere else in the world.”
A Very Different Syria
The pastor who e-mailed me that evening now lived in a very different Syria. He lived in a Syria ripped to shreds by war; a Syria whose ancient Christian populations lay decimated in its wreckage and blood.
He wrote me that night from a city—once famous for its thousands of Christians—now made famous for the brutality of its conflict. He wrote me from a city whose streets were lined with dead bodies, whose buildings had been reduced to rubble, and whose future was as bleak as any place on the planet.
He was one of the last surviving Christians, and to this day I have no idea whether he survived.
He simply couldn’t let himself leave when everyone else had fled or died in the war. This city was his home. There were still people there to care for, and he was God’s shepherd to those people. And as we’ve all been taught from lessons that go all the way back to biblical times, shepherds struggle with the thought of leaving a single sheep behind.
If one sheep lies wounded, a shepherd is conditioned to fight with all his might for that one—and this shepherd stood in a blood bath of meticulous and intentional destruction by the very incarnation of hell itself born in the brutality of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS—also sometimes referred to as ISIL, the Islamic State, or, in Arabic, as DAESH).
The absolute horror in his voice screamed off the page, as I read what he had written in an e-mail using his cell phone sent during the middle of a terrifying night:
I am here in my room sitting in darkness because we now only receive one hour of electricity per day. It’s around midnight. I’m waiting here with others in my building as we play hide and seek with death.
As I write, another two mortars just fell on the building in front of us, another on the building to the right, and another one on the building on the next street over.
So far, we have been spared.
But are we next?
When will it be our turn?
Should I just stay in my bed so that I’ll die in peace, or should I go to the ground floor of the building so that I might be able to escape?
But how long should I stay here?
Should I try and sleep or is it better to stay awake to feel the moment when Death comes riding on one of these mortars?
Just now, it finally hit us.
Shaking this big building I am living in.
The windows pushed out violently, and I can hear horrifying screams from everywhere, all around me. Yet, except for the flash of light, there are no lights.
I can’t even see what’s going on.
I can only hear it.
I think I’ve decided it’s better to stay in my room and await death.
Another mortar just hit …
I’m just going to be quiet.
ISIS Aims for Global Ethnic Cleansing
What happened to that pastor that night was not an accident. He didn’t get caught in the cross-fire unintentionally. He was a casualty of a war that was meant to take his life.
The goal of ISIS from the very beginning has been to ethnically cleanse their land, and eventually the world, of Christians.
Their hatred doesn’t end with Christians, they also intend on wiping out all moderate Sunni Muslims, Shiites, and every member of ancient religious minority sects like the Yazidis. Their hate knows no bounds and their mission has been relentlessly and successfully pursued.
But make no mistake, they take particular joy in killing Christians. Churches are not places where people ought to bleed to death because of bullet wounds. Mothers ought not be sold into sexual slavery, along with their nine-year-old daughters. And Christians—and their priests and pastors—ought not be threatened, robbed, harassed, kidnapped, crucified, tortured, or even beheaded because they simply cared for the poor of their community in the name of Jesus.
Yet, on any given day in Iraq over the last ten years, these horrors have played themselves out thousands of times. Just when no one believed things could get any worse, our world has watched as the barbarism of ISIS has made its fatal march across an already-battered Iraq. ISIS has brought an incarnation of hell itself into monasteries and churches, the homes of peace-loving believers, and on the streets of ancient cities where the severed heads of all those who’ve stood in their way are routinely on display.
ISIS has arrived in our modern time with a pre-modern cruelty that our world has mostly forgotten. At its very core is an unrelenting hatred for Christianity, and other religious minorities, that seeks their total extinction whether they live in Iraq, Syria, or the United States. They also hate those who actually follow the Islam that ISIS professes guides it, and have killed more Muslims than anyone else.
They will stop at nothing and would willingly sacrifice their own lives to take the lives of all who do not submit to their ideology. If you live in any metropolitan city in the world, you can rest assured that they aren’t far away. They are there, quietly biding their time, awaiting their opportunity to shed innocent blood.
They represent an affront to every sensible thing in our modern world, and they will leave our world a place of unrestrained horror if they have their way.
‘There Is No Future for Christians in Iraq’
Just ask those who were worshipping at the Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad on October 31. On this particular morning, the number of dead totaled 58, with blood so far-flung that it had stained the ceiling. Islamic radicals who were dressed as security guards had taken the entire church hostage. When they locked the doors, the bloodletting began.
One elderly woman watched as her seventy-year-old husband gasped for his last breath. Another woman rocked between wailing and silence as she stood in the church’s crypt next to her daughter who was both newly married and newly pregnant, and now newly dead.
Two of those who had been killed were priests.
Jane Arraf, the courageous reporter who rushed into the havoc told Public Radio International, “There are so many to be buried, the graveyard manager tells the families that they only have five minutes each.” One of those she met in the chaos put it simply: “There is no future for Christians in Iraq.”
He may have been right. The men, women, and children there were targeted on that day for one single reason: their Christian faith. And who claimed responsibility? The Islamic State of Iraq under its newly appointed leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi … that’s who.
ISIS Has Been Around for a Lot Longer than You Think
But this was not in 2014 or 2015 as ISIS marched from village to city massacring the innocent along the way. The October 31–church massacre in Baghdad was in 2010, a full four years before ISIS captured one contiguous piece of Iraqi and Syrian land the size of the United Kingdom.
This was years before the ISIS guerilla war had recruited as many as 200,000 serial killers with the intent of hunting Christians, Yazidis, and others, and slaughtering them with less care than butchers give to sheep. This was a half-decade before ISIS was collecting between $1.6 and $3.5 million a day selling oil on the black market, allowing them to pay their mercenary fighters salaries that doubled the average income for most people in the region.
Yet, this much-publicized attack in 2010 wasn’t even the beginning. As Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute notes, between 2003 and the arrival of ISIS, the Iraqi Christians were subjected to a myriad of “deliberate church bombings and assaults, as well as assassinations, an epidemic of kidnappings, and other attacks against clergy and laity alike. In recent years, particularly since 2004, a million of Iraq’s Christians have been driven out of the country by such atrocities. This can be rightly called targeted religious cleansing, and it is a crime against humanity.”
In Baghdad alone, since 2003, 40 of the city’s 65 churches have been bombed. In all, more than 100 churches across Iraq, many of them ancient churches where Christians have worshipped continually for centuries, have been attacked, bombed, or destroyed entirely. Presently, every church in the country that is still operating has constructed a wall around the building. The walls are “blast walls” to diminish the effect of car bombs because it’s no longer a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” they’ll be attacked.
For many years there were warning signs everywhere that these radicals had one intended goal: wiping out Christianity entirely from the region of its birth. The world stood quietly by while Iraq’s population of 1.5 million Christians was picked off one by one. Now, at best, only 10 percent remain, and they remain living lives of quiet desperation.
The ISIS plan is becoming reality as the dreams of 2,000-year-old Christian communities lie in rubble between the Tigris and Euphrates. The place where God first made man is the place where evil men are attempting to use the name of God to destroy mankind.
ISIS: Now Coming to a City Near You
Yet, after a decade of warnings and an unrestrained escalation of threats, the remaining Christians still hold their faith dear, refusing to convert, and therefore choosing to die. The few that have survived waste away in refugee camps—having traded their secure livelihoods for makeshift tents. They have been forced to exchange their homes for a ramshackle existence.
Their faith cost them everything, yet they adorn their decrepit dwellings with a cross—raised high into the sky and lined with lights to make sure the terrorists know they still hold on to it all. While their reality seems so entirely separate from our own, and while it might seem unimaginable, the fact is that the same ideology that has nearly destroyed them is incubating in our country and in every country in the world.
Their reality could be our reality more quickly than any of us realize.
The threat of ISIS isn’t just a threat to our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria. It is a threat to every one of us on planet earth. It’s already rearing its fierce head, and if they cannot find a way to enslave us, they will find a way to make us live in perpetual fear. It’s only a matter of time. If something significant doesn’t change very quickly, the churches and Christian communities in the West will become ground zero in their attempt to rid the world of those who will not embrace their deformed ideology.
It only takes one ISIS sympathizer to turn your church, school, business, or community into the frontlines of their global jihad.
ISIS Routinely Discusses a Christian Holocaust
The ISIS plan to rid the world of Christians isn’t clandestine. It’s not a carefully guarded secret confined to quiet meetings behind closed doors. It’s not even a dream to be realized only when the Islamic State has consumed the entire world. On the contrary, ISIS is so dedicated to perpetrating a Christian holocaust that they talk about it boldly and often.
In fact, in October 2014, the cover photo of the magazine published by ISIS was a picture of St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
With utter and complete audacity, ISIS had superimposed their chilling black jihadist flag on the ancient Egyptian obelisk that adorns the center of St. Peter’s Square. Their cover article promised to “break the crosses” and “trade and sell the women” of the Christians. In every public appearance or written statement by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—the infamous leader of ISIS—he mentions specifically that they intend to march all the way to Rome. It is noteworthy that he didn’t select New York City, Paris, or London. The plan at the heart of the ISIS threat is to plant their radicalism into the heart of St. Peter’s Square, and to raise their black flag over one of the cities that most symbolizes Christianity.
They would revel in the opportunity to have the Pope endure the same fate as St. Peter himself, and then behead every priest and parishioner in a grotesque display of power and terror. They would love to put the severed heads of those working in the Vatican atop Bernini’s sculptures lining St. Peter’s Square. They would turn St. Peter’s Square into a river of “infidel” blood and its Basilica into a mosque, after raiding the Vatican’s museum and archives.
They would crush her ancient statues, burn her priceless art, and turn the Sistine Chapel into a market for sex slaves, or a prison for those awaiting execution. The executions would take place prominently, publicly in St. Peter’s square. The leader of ISIS would take the Papal apartment as his home with the entire world as his goal.
This isn’t a far-fetched dream they aim to realize. This is a rock-solid goal they are pursuing at this very moment, and they believe entirely that they are capable of executing their plan. ISIS is unabashed at their desire to eliminate Christianity all together.
This isn’t just a part of their plan. It is the heart of it.
ISIS Wants to Reverse the Crusades
While those who are fighting ISIS are not engaged in a religious war, ISIS is very much engaged in a religious war—using religion as a means to kill the innocent in order to gain more power for themselves. Or, as Baghdadi said himself in a 17-minute audio recording released by ISIS this winter, “Be assured, O Muslims, for your [Islamic] state is good and in the best condition. Its march will not stop and it will continue to expand, by Allah’s permission. The march of the mujahidin [Muslim holy warriors] will continue until they reach Rome.”
The church that took 2,000 years to build in Iraq and Syria, started by the apostles themselves, has nearly been destroyed in the blink of an eye at the hands of maniacs who won’t stop until they win or they die. At least, that’s what everyone I met in Iraq believes. Every single one of them.
For centuries, being appointed archbishop of Mosul was considered among the greatest honors in the Christian church. The roots of Christianity in Mosul run all the way back to the first century when the ancient, indigenous Assyrian community converted to Christianity. Mosul is also the biblical city of Nineveh where the Prophet Jonah preached and Jonah’s own tomb remained an ancient symbol of the city’s heritage of faith until ISIS blew it to smithereens on July 25, 2014.
That same July, ISIS militants distributed notices all around this ancient city notifying its Christians that they must convert to Islam in just a few days or face death “by sword.”
That notice—which I have a picture of, being held by one of those who received it—read in part:
After notice to the heads of the Nasirites [Christians], and their followers, for the date to appear to clarify their situation under the shadow of the Islamic State in the province of Nineveh, they objected and failed to appear at the appointed time designated for them earlier. It had been decided that we would put before them one of three choices:
2. The Covenant of the Dhimma (and this means the taking of jizya [tax] from them);
3. If they decline that, then there is nothing left but the sword.
The Commander of the Faithful, the Caliph Ibrahim, God strengthen him, has shown benevolence by permitting them to evacuate—by themselves only—to the borders of the Islamic caliphate no later than noon Saturday. … After that date, there is nothing between us and them but the sword.
They had three options. They could convert, pay an excessive tax, or face the sword. ISIS preferred to exercise the latter option, and as the Nazis did with the Star of David, the militants then began to mark the homes of Christians in the city by spray-painting the Arabic letter “N” (for Nazarene, the word for Christian) on them in red.
Thus, the countdown to death began and the Christians began to flee the city by the thousands.
Dear West: How Can You Not Know?
They left in such haste because ISIS was already beginning their massacre, unconstrained by their own rules, and determined to totally rid that ancient Christian city of anyone who would not convert. It was the middle of the searing Iraqi summer, so many of them left with only a T-shirt on their backs, expecting to return to their home very soon, once the West eliminated ISIS. They were totally oblivious to the fact that they might have to endure the frigid Iraqi winter with only the clothes on their backs. As I write these words, the refugee camps are blanketed in snow.
When I met Daoud Matti Sharaf, metropolitan of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Mosul, he was living in Erbil where he and his flock had fled to save their lives. Sharaf is a jovial fellow, rotund with a bright-red beard and a benevolent fierceness about him. He’s the type of person who is best described as “straightforward,” always telling you what is on his mind. He is a strong man, but beaten down. As I looked at his slouching shoulders, once broad and straight, he reminded me of the words of the Apostle Paul:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (2 Corinthians 4:8-12).
I asked the metropolitan how they were doing, and he answered, “We have no hope. Only God. We will not return to Mosul unless there is international protection. [People in the West] say they do not know. How can you not know? You either support ISIS or you have turned off all of the satellites. I am sorry to say this but my pain is big. I am an archbishop, and I have no churches. I am not afraid of anything. I have lost everything.”
Had they not fled, they would have been left to a horrific fate. A nun named Christine told me, “If we had stayed, they would have done to us what they have done everywhere else: bury women alive, or sell them into slavery, while taking the young boys to the madrassas. We feel like we are living a nightmare. We wake up every morning and wonder if this is true?”
Unfortunately, it is true. Or in the words of an elderly Christian woman I met in Iraq, “Christianity in Iraq is bleeding … we are extremely exhausted … every day we hope tomorrow will be better, but our tomorrows seem to bring only more tears and more hardship … When will you rescue us?”
A once-in-a-thousand-year threat to Christianity is being waged wildly in the heart of the birthplace of Christianity. And the world sleeps.