September 25, 2015

Editorial

ISIS is accomplishing its goal

Although it was competing with NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” we hope that many of you watched CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sept. 13. It told the story of the 125,000 Christians who have been forced by the Islamic State (ISIS) to leave the country or be killed.

“60 Minutes” is one of the few programs on TV that has reported on the plight of Iraqi and Syrian Christians. Recently, TV has shown the hundreds of thousands of refugees trying to get into Western Europe, especially Germany, but no mention is made of their religion.

Among those who were on “60 Minutes” was Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil in northern Iraq, who was in Indianapolis last month visiting Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin. The Criterion told his story on the front page of our Aug. 28 issue. On “60 Minutes,” he explained how his congregation in Irbil has swollen by more than 60,000 refugees as Kurdistan has become a safe refuge for Christians fleeing the Islamic State.

He made the same points during his interview on “60 Minutes” as he did during his interview by The Criterion’s Sean Gallagher.

Another prelate on the program was Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Mosul, one of 10,000 Christians who had to flee from that city. He was emotional when he talked about taking five old books with him when he was given five minutes to leave.

“I think they burned all the books,” he said. “And we have books from the first century of Christianity.” Video showed the desecration of the church at what is believed to be the monastery of Mar Gorgis, just north of Mosul.

Another interviewee was Issah Al Qurain, who was at home with his family in Iraq when ISIS fighters arrived. They took his money and his family, and told him to convert to Islam. He said, “In the beginning, I refused. I told them I was Christian, and I had my religion and they had their religion. But they told me, if you don’t convert, we will kill you and take your wife and children.”

Since his family needed him, he agreed, he said, and was reunited with his family. But then the ISIS fighters returned. “They said to me that in Islam, the Sharia says, girls that are 10 years old should get married.”

When they left, he and his wife were “scared they were going to take our daughter from us,” so they escaped in a taxi. They talked their way through three ISIS checkpoints and traveled over back roads for four hours to Irbil where, like Archbishop Sharaf, they now live as refugees. But, as Archbishop Warda is quick to point out, Irbil is only 40 kilometers from Daesh, the Arabic name for evil he uses for ISIS.

ISIS is accomplishing what it has said plainly it intends to do: wipe out Christianity in Iraq and Syria. It is massacring Christians, and destroying churches from some of the most ancient Christian sites, going all the way back to the Apostles. St. Paul was converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus, Syria, and there was already a Christian community there. You can’t get much older than that.

On “60 Minutes,” Archbishop Warda was clear that he wants other countries, including the United States, to take military action to defeat ISIS because he is convinced that the Iraqi army can’t do it alone. “For me, Daesh is a cancer,” he said. “It’s a disease. So sometimes you take some hard measures, unfortunate measures to deal and to treat this cancer.”

Asked if he wanted to see a major military offensive to retake Mosul, he replied, “Yes, to get Iraq to its normal situation.”

This editorial was written before Pope Francis spoke to the U.S. Congress on Sept. 24 and the United Nations on Sept. 25, so we don’t know what he might have said about ISIS. He has been working with moderate Muslims since the beginning of his papacy to promote peace in the Middle East and to protect Christians. At the same time, he has acknowledged in the past that sometimes action must be taken to stop terrorism.

—John F. Fink

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