The “religious cleansing” of Christians and other religious minorities from the Iraqi city of Mosul has brought widespread condemnation, but so far mostly silence from Western political leaders.
For the first time in 1,800 years, the city is devoid of Christians after the last families fled the city on Saturday ahead of an ultimatum by occupying Islamist militants, ISIS. Many of them were stripped of their possessions as they fled to seek refuge in Kurdistan.
<p>Vatican Radio reports that people of other faiths, including Shi’ites, Yazidis and Shabaks, have also fled from the ISIS militants who have destroyed churches, mosques and shrines and seized property in what amounts to a “cleansing” of religious minorities.
Leading a service of solidarity in Baghdad, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako said “the heinous crime of the Islamic State was carried out not just against Christians, but against humanity”.
In a sign of protest and solidarity with the persecuted, some Christians have been marking themselves with an “N”, the first letter of the Arabic word for Christian, “Nasrani” or Nazarene. The Islamic State has been putting an “N” on Christian property marked out for seizure.
Baghdad’s auxiliary bishop, Shlemon Warduni, has called for an international response and for foreign leaders to speak out and act.
On Sunday, Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, condemned ISIS’ actions, saying their aggression ”reveals beyond any doubt the extremist, criminal and terrorist nature of this group”.
He said he instructed a government committee set up to support displaced people across Iraq to help the Christians who had been made homeless, but did not say when the army might try to win back control of Mosul.
In New York, the office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement condemning ISIS attacks on all religions as a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable.
Ban condemned “in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of minority populations in Iraq by Islamic State [of Iraq and Syria] and associated armed groups,” a U.N. statement said.
The United Nations chief highlighted that “any systematic attack on the civilian population or segments of the civilian population, because of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity.”
The U.S. State Department was similarly strong in its condemnation after ISIS issued its ultimatum to Mosul’s Christians to either convert, pay a tax, leave or face imminent execution.
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of ethnic and religious minorities by the terrorist group [ISIS],” it said in a statement issued Friday.
It added that the U.S. government was “outraged by ISIS’s recent announcement that Christians in Mosul must either convert, pay a tax, leave, or face execution in the coming days” and called ISIS’ “abominable actions” to divide and destroy Iraq a contradiction of Islam’s “spirit of tolerance and peaceful co-existence.” It said the United States “stands with all the Iraqi people against the threat from [ISIS]”.
Before the 2003 U.S. invasion, 60,000 Christians lived in Mosul.
Pope Francis yesterday called on the faithful to pray for the Christians of Mosul, and for peace in the Middle East.