This is Iraq, a country with borders drawn in 1920 by the League of Nations following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. More to our interest, this is a country situated on the same God-created real estate where the Jewish and Christian stories began. In this ancient land Abraham once lived and went about his business as usual. Until that day he heard the voice that said it was God, the voice that ordered Abraham to pack up his immediate family and go to only God-knows-where. Abraham obeyed.
Christians in the land of Abraham
God eventually gave Abraham’s descendants the land of Israel, and thirteen or fourteen centuries later, many of those descendants returned to the land Abraham had left. They did not decide to return, but were captives hauled away from their homeland by the notoriously-cruel Assyrians and later by the Babylonians, noted for their power and their pride. Six centuries after that, the apostles Thomas and Thaddeus seemingly made their way also from Jerusalem to Babylon–as patrons, not as prisoners–bringing good news of Jesus who sets the captives free. Almost two thousand years later the Iraqi population is 97 percent Muslim but Christians in Iraq are approximately one million strong. But that was about to change, in a most horrific manner.
In 2003, the U.S. led an invasion of Iraq, eliminated Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his murderous sons, and tried for a few years to establish a Western-style democracy. The efforts were unsuccessful. Today, Saddam Hussein and sons are gone, presently replaced by a weak and hopelessly-divided central government. Rapidly filling the power void today is a brutal jihadist spin-off from al-Qaeda known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which even its terrorist parent has denounced for its cruelty.
Campaign to annihilate Christians
Like some nightmare from the Apocalypse, ISIS has begun a campaign to destroy all Christians in Iraq. Speaking by Skype from San Diego, Chaldean-American businessman and Christian leader Mark Arabo told correspondent Jonathan Mann in an interview broadcast on CNN, that ISIS is “committing genocide” against Christians in Iraq, adding that the “world hasn’t seen an evil like this for generations.” Mann explained. “There is a park in Mosul,” he said, “where they actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick . . .” In short, Mann continued, “children are getting beheaded, mothers are getting raped and killed, and fathers are being hung.”
Anglican vicar Andrew White, who has served for many years in Baghdad, warns that the annihilation of Christians throughout Iraq appears “very near.” Many have fled their homes, taking nothing but the clothes on their backs, Others are trapped on the streets or in the desert, facing death and without food or water. Even the homes abandoned by fleeing Christians suffer further insult in the form of graffiti. Human Rights Watch reports houses painted with the letter “N” for Nasrani, the Arabic word for “Christian,” and exclusive footage owned by CNN shows other homes on which the phrase “property of ISIS” has been scrawled in black paint.
Successor to the Prophet?
In a BBC podcast titled “A Point of View,” political philosopher and author John Gray analyzes ISIS, which he describes as “a particularly nasty version of modern savagery.” He concludes that there “nothing medieval” about the terrorist organization and its operations. Instead, says Gray, we should understand that ISIS is a “mix of ruthless business enterprise, well-publicized savagery and transnational organized crime.”
ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, has declared a caliphate–an Islamic state governed by sharia law, that presently includes territory in both Iraq and Syria under ISIS control. By doing so, Baghdadi personally claims the title of “Caliph,” successor to the Prophet Muhammad, and places himself in the position of supreme religious and political leader. Although Gray believes these claims are not taken seriously by most Muslim scholars, he says that ISIS still “poses a real danger, and not just in the Middle East.”
How long, O Lord, how long? Even so come, Lord Jesus!
Data Sources: Reuters, BBC, Human Rights Watch, CNN.