Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’
Tens of thousands are still fleeing this ancient part of the world.
Syria is a country of mountains, deserts and fertile plains, bordering Lebanon, the Mediterranean Sea, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. The country is largely populated by Sunni Muslims, but is also home to many other ethnic and religious groups: Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, and Circassians, Christians, Shiites, Alawites, Druze, Mandeans, Salafis, and Yazidis.
The war in Syria has killed over 250,000 people and displaced over 12 million. Just today, tens of thousands are reported to be fleeing Aleppo with just the clothes on their backs, due to a government offensive on rebel-held areas south of the city.
Although it began as a civil war, it has become much more and divided much of the Middle East, drawing in the United States and Russia. To better understand how Syria arrived to where it is today, Vox put together this simple video.
It may sound perverse, but perhaps we owe a small note of thanks to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Like a bullet whistling overhead, the ruthless rise of ISIS under al-Baghdadi has had the effect of concentrating the fretful and forgetful minds of Western leaders. Despite the various terrors inflicted by al-Qaida, the Taliban and other radical Muslim groups over the years, and despite the spreading regional war between Islam’s Sunni and Shia factions, America and Europe have been losing interest in what seems like an endless fratricidal slaughter.
It is too soon to tell how the Sunni-Shia wars will end, but it is clear that Americans are war weary, and so is the rest of the West. Dealing with IEDs and suicide bombers and ungrateful local populaces has grown thin, and a general retreat has been sounded.
But al-Baghdadi has reminded the world of the barbarian at its gates. How barbarian? Even al-Qaida disowns ISIS as too extreme. ISIS fighters have turned the regional conflicts of Syria and Iraq into charnel houses of death and destruction.
As a petition written by Robert George on the website iraqrescue.org puts it, ISIS “is conducting a campaign of genocide against Christians, Yazidis and others in Iraq. In its fanatical effort to establish a caliphate, ISIS/ISIL has engaged in crimes against humanity by deliberately causing mass starvation and dehydration, and by committing unconscionable acts of barbarism against noncombatants, including defenseless women, children and elderly persons.”
With its recent occupation of the ancient Iraqi city of Mosul, ISIS has magnified the much larger war against Christians in the Middle East that has been going on for years. For the first time in perhaps 1,700 years, the Mass is no longer celebrated in Mosul because the Catholic community has been forced to flee rather than choose between death and conversion to Islam.
While the plight of 100,000 Christian refugees may not have galvanized United States leaders, the plight of the Yazidis did. This obscure and ancient religious sect has been ruthlessly attacked because Yazidis are viewed as infidels by the Islamists. They are fair game for the most inhuman treatment, and thousands have fled a remorseless genocide.
In the midst of this horror, it must be noted that there are reports that some of the photos “documenting” the ISIS atrocities are of dubious legitimacy. Propagandists are at work for their own ends, including those who seek to provoke a greater rift between Christianity and Islam than already exists.
Religious leaders like Pope Francis have been relentless in praying for peace, mindful that stirring up interreligious hatred will only worsen a terrible situation. But at the same time, if the pope is reluctant to “bless the tanks,” he has urged the world to “stop these crimes” by ISIS. Indeed, Vatican officials have been pointing out that under just-war teaching, in cases like genocide it is legitimate to seek to “disarm the aggressor.” Islamic leaders like Egypt’s grand mufti are beginning to raise their voices as well.
For at least the time being, there seems to be a religious, political and military consensus that the West must act to stop ISIS, whether one’s primary concern is the growing number of victims of this fanaticism or the worry that ISIS will soon bring its terror home to the West.
Meanwhile al-Baghdadi has plans of his own, announcing that “ISIS would march on Rome in its quest to establish an Islamic State from the Middle East across Europe,” saying that he would “conquer both Rome and Spain in this endeavor.”
We can’t say we weren’t warned.
And what of the many Christians in Lebanon? Lord have mercy!
“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” (Proverbs 24:10)
It appears that as one part of the Middle East quiets down, another starts up. The radical Islamic terror organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has gained a larger foothold in Lebanon as it faces off against the Lebanese army.
Hezbollah announced on Wednesday that for the moment, it has no plans to confront ISIS. Hezbollah leaders told the Lebanese Daily Star that it has only agreed to provide logistical support to the Lebanese army. However, should ISIS capture significant territory, Hezbollah leadership implied that it would enter the fray.
Since Monday, Lebanese forces and members of ISIS have been squaring off in northern Lebanon. According to reports, ISIS has captured the city of Arsal.
The Telegraph reported that the Syrian terror group set up check-points throughout the city, which has some 40,000 residents and approximately 120,000 Syrian refugees.
The conflict erupted when the Lebanese army arrested Abu Ahmad al-Jumaa, a former commander in the Free Syrian Army who later defected and declared allegiance with ISIS. Army officials said that Jumaa was in the process of planning and carrying out an attack against an army outpost.
ISIS insurgents announced that they would completely withdraw from Arsal if the government releases Jumaa. Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Slama refused their request, saying on Monday, “There is no political solution with extremist groups who are manipulating the Arab communities under religious obscurantism and strange titles, seeking to transfer their sick acts into Lebanon.”
“Today, the only solution is the withdrawal of the gunmen from Arsal and its surroundings,” he added.
After days of fighting, a ceasefire was negotiated between the Lebanese army and ISIS fighters in Arsal by Muslim clerics mediating for both sides. However, ISIS is reported to have kidnapped 30 Lebanese security officers.
For the time being, ISIS militants have withdrawn from the town to a nearby mountainous area between Arsal and the Syrian border.
Infamous for its violent and destructive rampage throughout Iraq and Syria, ISIS has been wreaking havoc in the Middle East and has put many countries, including Israel, the United States and even Iran on high alert.
In Iraq, ISIS has been persecuting the ancient Christian community throughout the country. In Mosul, a 1,800-year-old church was destroyed while hundreds of Christian families have fled the city after being threatened if they did not covert or pay a tax, they would be killed.
Israel has been keeping a close eye on ISIS activities as their jihadist threat looms closer to Israel’s borders. In Gaza, there is growing evidence that ISIS has established a foothold there despite denial by Hamas.
In June, an Israeli official told Channel 2 TV that while Israel is “not too troubled at this stage,” Israeli Military Intelligence has been closely monitoring what it believes to be a more than 10,000 man army over the last two years.
It is one of those beautiful Sunday mornings England seems to do so well: sunlight streams across wet grass and the air is filled with the busy chatter of sparrows and the sweet, milky smell of the calves across the way. In hundreds of churches people will be gathering, as we ourselves will gather, to sing the praises of God, ask his intercession and celebrate his sacraments. It is a world away from the horrors of war and exile; but war and exile is precisely what many people are experiencing. There are over 50 million refugees in the world today, and yesterday their number was increased as Christians fled Mosul, Iraq, and those who could, fled northern Gaza.
I find it heartbreaking that we as a nation are standing by as the ancient heartlands of Christianity are ripped apart and destroyed…
iBenedictines with more.
Before 2003, there were over one million Christians in Iraq. Today, there are as few as 200,000.
A shocking and unacceptable systematic purging of Christians!