Mark Collins – “Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?”

Further to this post in July 2014,

The Caliphate and the Christians: Convert, Pay Up, Flee–or Die

excerpts from a major article in the NY Times magazine (note the Christian militias):


It has been nearly impossible for two U.S. presidents — Bush, a conservative evangelical; and Obama, a progressive liberal — to address the plight of Christians explicitly for fear of appearing to play into the crusader and ‘‘clash of civilizations’’ narratives the West is accused of embracing. In 2007, when Al Qaeda was kidnapping and killing priests in Mosul, Nina Shea, who was then a U.S. commissioner for religious freedom, says she approached the secretary of state at the time, Condoleezza Rice, who told her the United States didn’t intervene in ‘‘sectarian’’ issues. Rice now says that protecting religious freedom in Iraq was a priority both for her and for the Bush administration. But the targeted violence and mass Christian exodus remained unaddressed. ‘‘One of the blind spots of the Bush administration was the inability to grapple with this as a direct byproduct of the invasion,’’ says Timothy Shah, the associate director of Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project.

More recently, the White House has been criticized for eschewing the term ‘‘Christian’’ altogether. The issue of Christian persecution is politically charged; the Christian right has long used the idea that Christianity is imperiled to rally its base. When ISIS massacred Egyptian Copts in Libya this winter, the State Department came under fire for referring to the victims merely as ‘‘Egyptian citizens.’’ Daniel Philpott, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, says, ‘‘When ISIS is no longer said to have religious motivations nor the minorities it attacks to have religious identities, the Obama administration’s caution about religion becomes excessive.’’..

A bullet wound on the arm of Raed Sabah Matt, a former member of the Iraqi Army who survived an attack by Al Qaeda in Mosul and is now a member of an anti-ISIS Christian militia. Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times…

The front line against ISIS in Northern Iraq is marked by an earthen berm that runs for hundreds of miles over the Nineveh Plain [emphasis added–a real, traditional military front-line]. A string of Christian towns now stands empty, and the Kurdish forces occupy what, for thousands of years, was Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac land. In one, Telskuf, seized by ISIS last year, the main square is overgrown with brambles and thistles. It was once a thriving market town. Every Thursday, hundreds came to buy clothes, honey and vegetables. Telskuf was home to 7,000 people; now only three remain.

The Nineveh Plain Forces, a 500-member Assyrian Christian militia, patrols the town. The N.P.F. is one of five Assyrian militias formed during the past year after the rout of ISIS. It shares a double aim with two other militias, Dwekh Nawsha, an all-volunteer force of around 100, and the Nineveh Plains Protection Units, a battalion of more than 300: to help liberate Christian lands from ISIS and to protect their people, possibly as part of a nascent national guard, when they return home. The two other militias are the Syriac Military Council, which is fighting alongside the Kurds in northeastern Syria, and the Babylonian Brigades, which operate under Iraq’s Shia-dominated militias.

A few of these militias are aided by a handful of American, Canadian and British citizens, who, frustrated with their governments’ lack of response to ISIS, have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight on their own. Some come in the name of fellow Christians. Some come to relive their roles in the United States invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan — or to make amends for them. One American named Matthew VanDyke, the founder of Sons of Liberty International, a security company, has provided free training for the N.P.U. and is now about to work with a second militia, Dwekh Nawsha. VanDyke, who is 36, traveled to Libya in 2011 to fight against Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces; he was captured and spent 166 days in solitary confinement before escaping and returning to combat. He has no formal military training, but since last fall, he has brought American veterans to Iraq to help the N.P.U., including James Halterman, a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, who found the group on the Internet after watching a segment about Westerners fighting ISIS on Fox News. The United States government does not support groups like VanDyke’s. ‘‘Americans who have traveled to Iraq to fight are not part of U.S. efforts in the region,’’ Joseph Pennington, the consul general in Erbil, says. ‘‘We wish they would not come here.’’

In Iraq, the militias operate at the front only with the approval of the Kurdish peshmerga, who are using the fight against ISIS to expand their territory into the Nineveh Plain, long a disputed territory between Arabs and Kurds. Even to travel 1,000 yards between bases and forward posts, the Christian militias must ask the Kurds for permission. The Kurds are looking to integrate all the Christian militias into their force; they have succeeded with the N.P.F. and two others. But the N.P.U. remains wary. They fear that the Kurds are using the Christian cause to seize territory for a greater Kurdistan. And because the Kurdish forces abandoned them as ISIS approached, the militias want the right to protect their own people. For now, they make do with the help they can find…

Even if ISIS is defeated, the fate of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq remains bleak. Unless minorities are given some measure of security, those who can leave are likely to do so…

Our government, for its part, has certainly not gone out its way to show that great and wondrous Canadian “leadership” in dealing with the desperately wretched plight of these Christians, and our Ambassador for Religious Freedom is certainly not leading any charge. One supposes the government is simply trying to be fair and balanced given the all-round murderous suffering in the region. BUT ONLY THE CHRISTIANS (at least for now) ARE FACING EFFECTIVE ERADICATION IN MOST PLACES.

While the Western, formerly Christian, world effectively just watches. And barely weeps. Whereas a great many Muslims never fail constantly and loudly to ring alarm bells over mere “Islamaphobia”. Hmm. Meanwhile we’re…

Not Grokking ISIS

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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