Ending the Persecution of Iraq’s Religious Minorities

Social media has been the source of two particularly gruesome photos of late: A recent photo posted on the Twitter account of the Australian-born jihadi Khaled Sharrouf showed Sharrouf’s 7-year-old son holding up the severed head of a Syrian soldier. The caption read, ‘That’s my boy’. The photo was taken in Raqqa, the Syrian city that now functions as the capital of the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (IS). A few days later, the British rapper-turned-jihadi Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, age 23–not to be outdone by the Aussie father and son duo–posted a photo of himself on Twitter posing with a decapitated head, with the caption ‘Chillin’ with my homie or what’s left of him’. Like the Sharrouf photo, it was taken in the central square of Raqqa. Both Sharrouf and Bary are IS fighters. It has been deeply disturbing to learn that Western-raised individuals who tweet can also decapitate their fellow human beings and then proudly display their ‘trophy’ heads, behaving–despite their tech-savvy–like Stone Age head hunters at the dawn of history.

It is the goal of IS, in fact, to ‘turn back the clock’, back to the early days of the Islamic Caliphate. In the self-described caliphate (and an ever-expanding caliphate) that IS has carved out for itself in Syria and Iraq, there is no place for Christians or other religious minorities: This, despite the fact that the church predates Islam in Iraq by six centuries. Iraqi Christians believe the Iraqi church was founded by the Apostle Thomas. After coming into contact with Catholic missionaries in the 16th century, the Iraqi church sought communion with the Roman Catholic Church, an affiliation which continues to this day. The majority of Christians in Iraq today (or what’s left of them) are members of this Rome-affiliated Chaldean Catholic church. Before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were 1.5 million Christians in the country; today there are only 350,000 – 450,000.

When IS conquered Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, the terrorist group ordered Christians to convert to Islam, pay the jizya tax imposed on non-Muslims, or be put to death. There are no Christians in Mosul today. Many have fled to the Kurdish region in the north. Those who resisted IS were subjected to beheadings, crucifixions, abduction, rape, forced marriage, sex-slavery–brutality of the worst kind. The crosses on churches were torn down and replaced with black IS flags. The Arabic letter for ‘n’, nasarah or Nazarene, was put on the homes of Christians, marking them out for persecution. In the last few days, the eyes of the international community have been focused on the Yazidis, another persecuted religious minority in Iraq. Today, reports have come of the massacre of 80 Yazidi men who refused to convert to Islam.

As we look at the atrocities taking place in Iraq, the question facing us in the West is: How do we respond? Unlike previous generations, because of social media we will never be able to plead ignorance. Outraged at what is happening to the Chaldean Christians and other minorities, Pope Francis has roundly condemned the persecution. He has sent Cardinal Filoni to Erbil in the Kurdish region where many Christians have taken refuge, to study the needs of all the displaced minorities and come up with solutions for their housing and education. The Pope has accepted the need for military action to halt IS. Air strikes by the US have slowed, but not stopped, IS’ advance. Under pressure from the US, Iraq’s Prime Minister al-Maliki has agreed to step down and to be replaced by Haider al-Abadi, perceived by the US as more moderate than Maliki and as someone who will rebuild trust between the Shia-dominated Iraqi government and the country’s Kurds and Sunnis.

Papal condemnation, bombings, changing the prime minister: Will these measures stop IS? I don’t believe so. On August 12, the Vatican department in charge of inter-religious dialogue called on “religious leaders, and above all Muslim religious leaders, all people of good will” to unambiguously denounce the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq. I agree with the Pope: The solution to the scourge that is IS resides ultimately with Islam’s religious leaders. IS fighters believe they are carrying out Allah’s will and validate their actions based on texts in the Qur’an like the following:

The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land…(5:33).

What is a Muslim living in the 21st century to make of a 7th century text such as this? Is it to be carried out literally? No one in the civilized world believes it is acceptable to crucify an opponent, or to convert someone at the point of a sword, or to kidnap a man’s wife or daughter and turn her into a sex-slave. Muslim apologists keep telling us that the concept of jihad has been misappropriated, that jihad refers to an ‘inner struggle’. If this is the case, then it is up to each and every Muslim religious leader to stress this non-violet form of jihad and at the same time to unambiguously denounce all acts of violence and all forms of persecution perpetrated by jihadis against non-Muslims.

Will this happen? There are obstacles that make this unlikely. For one thing, the Qur’an is regarded as Allah’s very words and therefore not open to criticism or reinterpretation. Another thing: There is no supreme authority or spokesman in Islam, no Muslim ‘Pope’. It is therefore incumbent upon individual Muslim leaders throughout the Muslim world to speak up. Have we heard anything yet from those Muslims leaders who attended the Pope’s prayer summit in the Vatican garden back in May? Just wondering.


Taking Sides in the Israel-Hamas Conflict

Whenever I read a book about the rise of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, I find myself asking: “What would I have done had I been an average German citizen living in Germany at the time? Would I have stayed silent, or spoken up, when the Nazis demonized the Jews in the press? Would I have remained indifferent, or objected vociferously, when the Nazis enacted increasingly restrictive and inhumane anti-Jewish laws? Would I have heeded, or defied, the calls to boycott Jewish businesses? Would I have averted my eyes, or attempted to intervene, when I saw Jews being mistreated?”

These are questions to which I will never know the answers. Yet, they are hardly pointless questions, given the reappearance in recent weeks of Jew-hatred at a level not seen since the days of the Third Reich. Pro-Palestinian rallies, taking place almost daily, have descended into anti-Semitic hate-fests of a kind not seen for some eighty years. Indeed, the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, says that “They pursue the Jews in the streets of Berlin…as if we were in 1938.” Before German authorities clamped down, some of the ‘protesters’ were chanting slogans like “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone.” And it’s not just young thugs engaging in hate speech: The imam of a Berlin mosque is under investigation after allegedly calling on Muslims to murder “Zionist Jews.” Some protestors are resorting to more than just vile language. Synagogues have been attacked. In Wuppertal, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a synagogue. Fourteen people were arrested in Essen on suspicion of planning an attack on a synagogue. Jews have been physically abused, too. An Orthodox Jew was punched in the face on his way to a synagogue in central Berlin. Observers of the demonstrations have noted that the majority of protesters are Muslim immigrants and their German-born children. But there are non-Muslim participants as well.

What’s happening in Germany is taking place on an even greater scale in France, home to the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe (1/2 million Jews and 5 million Muslims). Pro-Palestinian protesters shout “Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas” and “Death to Jews.” Since the start of Israel’s military operation in Gaza, website moderators have had to censor 95% of comments made by French users! Pro-Palestinian goons have tried to firebomb and break into synagogues. A kosher grocery and Jewish-owned pharmacy were torched. The rampant anti-Semitism has forced French authorities to ban pro-Palestinian marches–bans which have been ignored in some cases.

Anti-Semitic acts have been taking place in other parts of the EU. In Belgium, a cafĂ© posted a sign which read: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Jews are not under any circumstances.” A Belgian doctor refused to treat an elderly Jewish woman. In the Netherlands, a Jewish woman who was flying an Israeli flag on her balcony had her apartment firebombed.

Jew-hatred is erupting not just in Europe, but around the globe and in countries not usually known for anti-Semitism. In Calgary, Alberta, Canada at a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside the city hall, pro-Palestinian demonstrators attacked Jews and their pro-Israel supporters. There were yells of “Hitler was right” and “Kill Jews.” One pro-Israel supporter was dragged across the street by the Israeli flag tied around his neck; five pro-Israel supporters were sent to the hospital. In Chicago, anti-Jewish leaflets containing threats to the Jewish people were put on the windshields of cars in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. At a pro-Gaza rally in front of the town hall in Sydney Australia, there were shouts of “Israel has no right to exist.”

I could go on and on–the list is a sickeningly-long one. Israel’s military operation Protective Edge has brought the Jew-haters back into the streets where, under the pretext of ‘demonstrating on behalf of the people of Gaza’, they spew their vile slogans, vandalize, and terrorize. As already noted, a great many of the demonstrators, but not all, are the children of Muslim parents who immigrated to the West. Many, if not most, of the demonstrators would probably reject the label ‘anti-Semite’; rather, they would claim they are ‘anti-Zionist’.

To them I would say this: To deny the Jewish state the right to defend and protect its citizens–a right denied to no other country on earth–is in and of itself an anti-Semitic act. Israel is thus in the process of destroying Hamas’ underground tunnel network–believed to number 5,000 tunnels–as well as the rocket launch sites, located in mosques and in at least three UN-run schools. Tragically, innocent children are dying in Gaza. It’s heartrending, but it happens in every war. But assign blame where it rightly belongs. Blame the parents, who knowingly voted for a brutal terrorist organization to run their country. Blame Hamas, whose sole raison d’ĂȘtre is not to provide a good life for the people of Gaza but to destroy Israel.

Hamas excels at constructing terror tunnels in order to kidnap and kill Jews. Israel, on the other hand, develops technology like the Iron Dome to protect its people. I know whose side I take in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Hamas excels in b