To listen to the news, one would think that the only grave problems in the world right now are Vladimir Putin, Israeli war crimes in Gaza, the humanitarian crisis on the southern U.S. border, and the possibility of Ebola reaching the West. Granted, those are all huge concerns—in part because those stories as presented are riddled with questionable assumptions and relevant omissions—but there is another story of the world in meltdown: the Christian purge in Iraq.
“Every day we think that the crisis cannot get worse and every day it does. Yesterday, over 1,500 people were killed and the Islamic State (formally known as ISIS) simply said, ‘We can do anything now, the world is just looking at Gaza.’”
That was Wednesday’s plea from the “Vicar of Baghdad,” Canon Arthur White, the vicar of the only Episcopal church in Iraq, St. George’s Church in Bagdhad. His Twitter avatar describes him more succinctly than I can.
The Islamic State, IS, currently holds Mosul. This is the terror group ISIS that made the news when they were marching over the progress to peace and stability made in Iraq. When they were an example of George W. Bush and Tony Blair’s folly, a confirmation that our soldiers killed in the Iraq war died in vain, then ISIS got coverage. But once IS took over Mosul and so many other parts of the world melted down, they largely dropped out of the news.
But it was not because IS stopped inflicting horror. On Friday, June 18, word went out from the mosques of Mosul that Christians could “convert, leave, or die.” They had until noon the next day. IS supporters spray-painted a red Arabic “N” on Christian homes and property. The “N” is for Nazarene, a Middle-Eastern slur for Christians.
Media Protecting Terrorists
Supposedly, they have issued an edict that all girls in Mosul must undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). That did make the news. Concerns over women’s safety are coverable for the mainstream media in a way that concerns over Christians’ safety are not. But even then, concern for Muslim reputation takes precedence over women’s safety. The news coverage focused on doubts about the FGM edict—very flimsy doubts. For example, IS denied the report and bloggers suggested FGM was not prevalent in Iraq. Yes, well, the area wasn’t under control of Islamic extremists until recently and any group that releases a “slickly produced” 30-minute promotional video of mass executions doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt on questions of its evil-doings. (The link is not to the very graphic video, but the Daily Mail story about the video. There are stills—not graphic but chilling—and you can watch the video at that link.)
My husband has been constantly contacted by reporters covering the Middle East over the past week or so about the Iraqi-Kurdish dispute over oil. He has asked them why we see so little coverage of the Christian purge. They tell him it is difficult to get first-hand accounts and footage to verify and support a report. Yet Elizabeth Scalia has video of multiple local interviews. Based upon his blog, I’m sure White would be willing to speak to the press. In fact, his blog entries are first-hand accounts themselves, and he was in the United Kingtom last week and spoke to the BBC. I’d embed audio, but I can’t find it on the BBC website, only on the vicar’s Facebook page. (In case you wonder about his slow speech, he has multiple sclerosis.) The Times of London printed a letter from a former Bishop of the Church of England. National Review has photos of the spray-painted N.
Considering some of the questionable reports coming out of the Gaza coverage, the relative news silence about the Christian purge makes little sense, if finding and verifying sources and stories is really the problem.
Many Christians have followed the news through new media with growing desperation. We want to know what we can do. I confess, this is the first time since college I have been tempted to get a tattoo. The idea came at a moment of helplessness, of the need to do something, anything. White also runs the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. For those who would like to help, that seems a good place to start.
Otherwise, I suggest approaching your church to discuss forming a network of sponsors for possible refugee Christian children from the Middle East. (For example, Coptic Christians in Egypt aren’t under threat from IS, but they are hardly safe.) A recent issue statement on refugee children from the Center for American Progress explains the rationale:
In the long term, more investments are needed to rebuild civil society and stop the violence in Central America. Likewise, the United States should explore the possibility of accepting the persecution of children as meeting the threshold for asylum status; currently, children are unlikely to be viewed as being targeted as a member of a “particular social group,” a necessary legal determination and prerequisite for gaining refugee status. In the meantime, the president has the authority to accelerate the process for children fleeing violence, without sacrificing fairness or due process and without changing existing law.
Christian children from the Middle East could easily meet the standard of “being targeted as a member of a particular social group.”
The U.S. border is essentially open to children right now. If children from Central America fleeing general violence can come and remain in the United States out of concern for their safety, then surely Middle-Eastern Christian children fleeing violence directed at them would be welcome as well.