Halloween proved to be particularly ghastly for Syrian Catholics in Baghdad as they went to Church for the Sunday afternoon Mass. During the Eucharistic Celebration at Our Lady of Deliverance Cathedral, as these Christians were peacefully and prayerfully worshipping God, nine Muslim terrorists burst into the Church, gunned down three priests in the sanctuary and with bullets and bombs attempted to massacre the entire congregation, leaving 58 dead and 75 wounded. After the mass execution, the “Islamic State of Iraq,” an Al-Qaeda affiliated slaughter-society, took responsibility for the action and declared in a press release that it was only the beginning. “Starting today all the churches and Christian organizations and their leaders are a legitimate target.”
That statement made plain what Christians in Iraq and in several other Muslim countries have been experiencing on the ground, that certain fanatical and homicidal Muslims consider them “legitimate targets” not only for discrimination but also for death simply on the basis of their Christian faith. During the recently concluded Synod on the Middle East held in the Vatican, Iraqi bishops spoke of what the Christians in the country have had to endure over the past few years: kidnappings, the bombings of churches, schools and parish centers, violence to Christian businesses and livelihoods, the brutal murders of an archbishop and several priests. The Halloween massacre by nine Muslim terrorists shouting “Allahu akbar,” [“God is great”] as they sought to exterminate an entire Christian congregation, is a sign that these terrorists are not bluffing when they say they consider “all the churches and Christian organizations” legitimate targets for liquidation.
Canadian columnist, Fr. Raymond de Souza, wrote in an article last week for Toronto’s “The Catholic Register” that it was time to stop ducking the question of genocidal violence by those acting subjectively in the name of Islam. “May we now speak of the Muslims who want to kill us?,” he candidly asked. After mentioning the necessary disclaimers — “Christians and Muslims have often lived together in peace,” “only a minority of Muslims are homicidal fanatics,” and “terrorism is a corruption of Islam” — he stressed that we have to “speak frankly of those Islamic jihadists who wish to kill Christians because they are not Muslims.” If the blood of Abel, the first innocent to be killed, cried out to heaven, he continued, “the blood of these latest Iraqi martyrs screams out to heaven and earth. Does the world want to listen?”
That the world has been turning a deaf ear to the cries of Iraqi Christians was emphasized by Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan of Antioch in Lebanon. “Christians are slaughtered in Iraq, in their homes and churches, and the so-called ‘free’ world is watching in complete indifference, interested only in responding in a way that is politically correct and economically opportune, but in reality is hypocritical,” said the Patriarch, who from 1995-2009 was the Bishop of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark, NJ. “There are a few churches and Christian institutions left in Baghdad, not so great a number that it is not unreasonable for them to be protected, security-wise,” he continued, saying that the protection provided by the Iraqi government is “far less than what we have hoped for and requested.”
The Catholic bishops of the Holy Land said in a joint statement that it’s no longer a time for words, but for decisive action on the part of those who have the responsibility to provide order. “Words of distress, condemnation and incrimination are no longer enough in the face of the horror that is taking place repeatedly in Iraq, especially with regard to Christians over the past years, and which reached a pinnacle of savage insanity with the massacre” on October 31 in Baghdad. “The time has come for those who are responsible to own up to their responsibility, to stand up to those who have lost any sense of humanity, curbing their insatiable thirst for blood and reckoning with and punishing anyone who plans or carries out such criminal acts.” They specifically called upon the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the United Nations Security Council, “before it is too late,” to focus on “the danger of those who seek to exploit religions for the purpose of a clash of civilizations”.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called on the U.S. government to get involved, saying that the United States bears responsibility for working effectively with the Iraqi government to stem the violence. “Having invaded Iraq, the U.S. government has a moral obligation not to abandon those Iraqis who cannot defend themselves.” He called upon the United States “to take additional steps to help Iraq protect its citizens, especially the most vulnerable.”
For the United States to get involved in protecting Iraqi Christians from being slaughtered, there may need to be a culture shift among political leaders, citizens and the media. The present administration seems incapable even of suggesting that some terrorism is done subjectively in the name of Islam, whether it concerns the recent bloodbath of Baghdad Christians or the horrendous slaughter of nearly three thousand innocents on September 11, 2011. The media also needs to examine itself. Media outlets have recently been obsessed with the threat of an obscure Florida pastor to burn the Muslim holy book or the possibility of anti-Muslim discrimination concerning a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan, but they have basically ignored not just routine anti-Christian discrimination in our country but also things far more serious than Koran-burning, such as when terrorists, purportedly following the Koran, brutally decimate an entire Catholic parish in Baghdad. It’s time for American citizens in general, and Christians in particular, to rise up and — while reaffirming that anti-religious bigotry and the desecration of holy books must always be opposed — reaffirm that the mass murder of innocent human beings is incalculably worse, and to demand that the government do what it can to assist the Iraqi government in eliminating it.
We also must squarely face the unpleasant reality that terrorism done in the name of Islam is not going to disappear on its own or be resolved by dipomacy. As Fr. de Souza wrote in a National Post column earlier this week, “The blood on the altar makes it clear. No amount of goodwill, no amount of dialogue, no amount of circumlocutory evasions, no amount of supine prostrations — nothing will dissuade the jihadists. … The jihadists respect neither man nor God, not even their own. They have killed their fellow Muslims and bombed mosques. The Christians killed on Sunday were Iraqis, their fellow Arabs, their fellow citizens, their neighbors. They kill because they are seized with a murderous hatred. The least we can do is to summon a righteous anger in return.”
Not just a righteous anger but a resolve.
One of the great Christian paradoxes is that, on the one-hand, Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, to rejoice when we’re persecuted, and to recognize that if he was hated, tortured and even murdered, many of us will be as well. Some have falsely interpreted this as if the Christian needs to lie down and allow himself and others to be slaughtered. But these imperatives need to be balanced by the recognition that Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep and likewise calls us to lay down our lives for each other, to protect others from ravenous wolves of the natural and supernatural orders. The right to self-defense, even to using lethal force when other means are incapable of stopping aggressors, becomes a moral duty for those whose offices entail the protection of others.
Many have been failing in their responsibility to protect the innocent Christians in Iraq and elsewhere from violence carried out subjectively in the name of Islam. No devout Christian should ever be allowed to be a “legitimate target” for being murdered. It’s time for the widespread dereliction of duty in their regard to stop.