What Becomes of the Persecuted Christians of Iraq and Syria?
Broken towns, homes blown to bits, zero infrastructure — the disenfranchised faithful need real help
Four months ago, I was nine miles from Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, newly liberated this week from its three-year nightmare of ISIS occupation.
Visiting the empty Christian towns and villages, I realized that once ISIS was driven from Mosul, the task of rebuilding would be enormous. Houses were destroyed, burned, or booby-trapped, and there was zero infrastructure — no water, no electricity.
The destruction in Mosul, and in many parts of both Iraq and Syria liberated from Islamist extremists, is on a scale many say they have not seen since World War II. Some reports say the fighting to liberate Mosul was as fierce and destructive as the battle of Stalingrad.
The task of rebuilding and giving viability to the populations of these places will be far beyond the capabilities of the authorities in these countries. Aid will be essential — from Europe, the United States and, critically, from the super-wealthy Sunni Gulf states, which singularly failed to take in refugees from the conflict.
But what of the thousands of Christians and other religious minorities such as the Yazidis, who were forced from their homes by ISIS with only the clothes they were wearing — and who endured rape, kidnapping, and murder? How will they return to neighbors who betrayed them, stole their houses, and cooperated with the Islamic State demons?
One Iraqi priest from Mosul told me his neighbors had taken his house and that his 800-year-old church had been used as an ISIS torture center. "It is impossible for us to live with these people," he told me.
While in Iraq in March, Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register and I were the only journalists in the English language to interview a Christian family that had been forcibly converted to Islam — and lived under ISIS control for three terrifying years in Mosul.
Two brothers, their sister, and their elderly mother spoke of the horrors of daily life. ISIS soldiers would literally smell the fingers of the men to detect if they'd been smoking. ISIS female religious police would bite women's hands if they were wearing rings on their fingers. There were beatings and public executions. (go to page 2 to continue reading)