Faithful in Iraq told to 'convert, pay or die' by Islamic State militants
Western leaders are staying silent as Islamists wipe out Christianity in Iraq in scenes recalling 1930s Germany or the ethnic cleansing seen during the Balkans in the early 1990s, a former British ambassador to the Holy See has said.
Francis Campbell, who served in Rome from 2005 to 2011, said he was deeply disturbed by the West’s indifference as Christians were driven out the Iraqi city of Mosul after Islamists gave them an ultimatum to “convert, pay or die” by noon on July 19.
He said: “The Mosul imagery is so arresting. It’s reminiscent of what we saw in Europe in the build-up to the Second World War or the ethnic cleansing witnessed during the Balkans in the early 1990s, where there is an attempt to systematically wipe out an entire civilisation and culture. It’s as if the world is asleep and doesn’t care. I’m surprised there hasn’t been condemnation and calls for solidarity.”
In a campaign of violence and intimidation, members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) marked the homes of Christian families throughout the city with the Arabic letter “N”, standing for “Nazarene”.
The Sunni militants have ordered church bells to be silent. Last Sunday, Mass was not celebrated in the city for the first time in 1,600 years.
Mr Campbell noted that UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon had said the purge of Christians in Iraq’s second largest city was “likely a crime against humanity”. But days after the ISIS ultimatum deadline had passed, neither Number 10 nor the European Union had spoken out.
He said: “We are one of the biggest aid donors in the world. Are we going to offer these Christians refuge? This is religious persecution. This is what a whole series of conventions are there for. Have we used our diplomatic clout to stop this and highlight this human rights violation?”
An estimated 10,000 Christians fled Mosul after ISIS released a statement through the city’s mosques threatening them with “death by the sword” unless they converted to Islam or paid an exorbitant tax.
In his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis expressed solidarity with Mosul’s Christians. He said: “Today our brothers are persecuted – they are banished from their homes and forced to flee without even being able to take their belongings. My dear brothers and sisters who are persecuted, I know how much you suffer. I know that you are deprived of all. I am with you in faith in He who conquered evil. May the God of peace arouse in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence cannot be overcome with violence. Violence is overcome with peace!”
Meanwhile, Patriarch Louis Sako, the Chaldean Archbishop of Baghdad, has released an open letter to “all men of good will and those who care for the Iraqi nation”.
He wrote: “Who knows what is holding in the coming days as the laws of the Islamic State are based on what they claim to be the Sharia law, including the redefinition of identities on the basis of religion and sectarianism. These requirements offend Muslims and the reputation of Islam, which says ‘you have your religion and we have ours’ and ‘there is no compulsion in religion’, and it is in contradiction of 1,400 years of history and a lifetime of the Islamic world, and coexistence with different religions and different peoples, east and west, respecting their beliefs and living in fraternity.
“The Christians and in particular in our East, and since the advent of Islam, have shared together sweet and bitter memories, their bloods were mixed in defence of their rights and their land, and together they built, cities, civilisation and heritage. It is shameful that Christians are being rejected, expelled and diminished.
“It is obvious that this would have disastrous consequences on the coexistence between the majority and the minorities, even among Muslims themselves, in the near and long term. Hence, Iraq is heading to a humanitarian and historical disaster.
“Therefore we call unto them, a warm, brotherly, urgent and serious call, and we appeal to our fellow Iraqis who support them to reconsider their strategy, and respect the unarmed innocent people, of all ethnicities, religions and sects. The Koran commands respect to the innocent, and does not call to seize the property of people forcibly, it calls on helping the widow, the orphan, the destitute and the defenceless.”
This Saturday a demonstration will take place outside Parliament. Participants will pray the Angelus at noon for the Middle Eastern faithful.
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