Western Leaders Silent Towards Persecuted Christians

Thursday, 24 Jul 2014 11:58 AM

By Edward Pentin

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“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,” said former British ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Campbell. “It’s as if the world is asleep and doesn’t care.”

The former diplomat was speaking Wednesday about the silence of Western political leaders to the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq by the Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Last weekend, at the barrel of a gun, the jihadist fighters emptied Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — of Christians, the first time in almost 2,000 years the city has not had a Christian presence.

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With the exception of Pope Francis and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, world leaders have largely been silent about the religious cleansing that is spreading throughout Iraq and Syria — despite urgent calls from religious leaders in the region for an international response to what Ban called a "crime against humanity”.

Not only have religious minorities been terrorised, but much of Mosul’s rich Judeo-Christian heritage has also been destroyed.

Fighters took a sledgehammer to the tomb of Jonah, and replaced the cross on top of Mosul’s St. Ephrem’s cathedral with a black Islamic flag, before setting it ablaze.

The city’s Christians, who numbered 60,000 before the Iraq War, were one of the last communities to pray in the language of Jesus.

Last Friday, the U.S. State Department condemned “in the strongest terms” the hounding and persecution by Isis, calling its ultimatum in Mosul that Christians leave, pay a tax, convert to Islam or face execution as “abominable actions” aimed at dividing and destroying Iraq.

But President Obama has yet to speak on the atrocity. Neither have Europe’s leaders.

Their silence in speaking up for Iraq’s persecuted minorities — not just Christians but also Mandaeans, Shabaks, Shi’ite Turkmen and Yazidis — has been noticed, even in secular France. In a front page editorial yesterday, Le Figaro decried not only the leaders’ silence, but the general indifference of the West and the media in the face of what it called “The Calvary of the Christians of Iraq.”

Writer Étienne de Montety wondered how Christians and non-Christians could react in such way in the face of the "terrifying procession of horrors, expulsions, murders in Mosul." He pointed out that the Christians of Iraq were 1 million before the Iraq War; now there are less than 400,000. "With each wave of vexations, violence, persecutions, they take the path of exodus," he said.

Europeans are usually "so eager" to have "mobilizations, petitions, demonstrations of every kind, but "in this case, nothing!", he wrote. Through silence, the writer stated, "we are persecuting."

British peer Lord Alton of Liverpool, writing in The Times Wednesday, said the world “must wake up urgently to the plight of the ancient churches throughout the region who are faced with the threat of mass murder and mass displacement.”

The UN, he stressed, claims it has “a duty to protect”, while the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “born in the embers of the Holocaust, insists that each of us must be free to follow our own beliefs.” But the religious cleansing and “unspeakable bigotry” at work in Mosul, he added, “makes hateful mockery of both.”

Some Christian leaders in Iraq blame complicity in the current Islamist takeover. Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman of Baghdad said Wednesday the real actors in Iraq are foreign governments and large energy companies, funding a proxy war in order to gain control over the country’s oil resources.

One possibility for the silence among world leaders may be to prevent the conflict escalating. Behind-the-scenes action, diplomacy and hidden acts of heroism could be more effective in keeping the Islamists at bay and sparing lives.

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Such was the approach of Pope Pius XII with respect to the Jews in the World War Two after a large number of Jews and Christians lost their lives when Dutch bishops spoke out against the Nazis.

But it appears Western governments are not even doing that, leading many to call their policies naïve at best and cowardly at worst.


Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin —
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