UNITED NATIONS ― In response to the brutal slaughter of Christians in the Middle East by the Islamic State group and other extremist Shiite and Sunni militia — and the thunderous silence with which such horrors have been greeted — Archbishop Bernardito Auza, who serves as permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, cosponsored a presentation to discuss both issues.
The #WeAreN2016 Congress aimed to call on the world to stop the persecution of Christians and other minorities. Other sponsors included In Defense of Christians, the citizen-activism group CitizenGO and the Spain-based religious-liberty advocacy group MasLibres.
Many participants at the conference wore T-shirts emblazoned with a large orange ﻦ ― the “N” in the Arabic alphabet. This refers to the practice of Islamic militants who paint the letter on Christian homes they ransacked. The letter is the initial for Nasrane ― a slur common throughout the Muslim world. It refers to the city of Nazareth, Jesus’ birthplace ― the standard word for Christians used throughout the Muslim world.
The well-attended congress took place over three days, April 28-30, at several New York City venues, including the U.N.’s headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.
The world’s most feared terror group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS (an acronym pronounced in Arabic as “Daesh”), hopes to instigate a global apocalypse in which the murderous Islamic regime “purifies” the world of unbelievers and sinners (i.e., Christians, Shiite Muslims, Yazidi, religiously lax Sunnis and other minorities under the authority of Sunni-Muslim zealots).
ISIS’ self-styled caliphate, which is recognized by no Muslim-dominated country, stretches from Turkey’s border with Syria to south of Fallujah in Iraq ― roughly an area the size of Indiana.
The 10 panelists at the April 28 conference at the U.N.’s Economic and Social Chamber of the United, sponsored by the Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission, cited a multitude of atrocities, including sexual enslavement, forcible conversion to Islam and sexual violence against women, girls and boys.
“Christians account for 80% of persecuted minorities,” pointed out Archbishop Auza. “They are specifically and disproportionally targeted by Daesh.”
“We know of summary executions and mass beheadings, sexual violence, immolations, beheading and crucifixions,” explained Archbishop Auza.
Call It Genocide
The Holy See’s permanent observer made it clear that the actions of ISIS can only be interpreted as religion-based genocide. “Not only Christians have been targeted, but also other communities throughout the region,” he said, referring to the regions’ religious minorities, including the Druze, Yazidis, Mandeans, Kurds, Shia Turkmen, Shabak and Kaka’i.
The archbishop’s use of the word “genocide” signaled and identified the mood and temperament of the session ― everyone present was certain that what was happening to Christians was indeed genocide. And, collectively, they wondered only why the world has reacted with such stark indifference.
However, many Western governments, including until recently the United States, have avoided using the terms “genocide,” “Christian” or even “Islamic” in reporting the violence toward Christians there. When ISIS beheaded Egyptian Copts in Libya this winter, for example, the State Department was admonished for referring to the victims merely as “Egyptian citizens.”
Lars Adaktusson, a Swedish member of the European Parliament, gave an impassioned speech about his firsthand reporting of the plight of Christians in the Middle East and vented his frustration with his colleagues’ apathy.
“Every time I refer to the plight of Christians, I’m shouted down and told that I am using hate speech against Muslims,” he said. “They say I’m interested in igniting a crusade against Muslims in Europe. I’m not. I’m simply not doing that at all.
“The horrors experienced by the Christians there are also experienced by other ethnicities, including the Shiites. I cannot be silent about this, but I’m unsure how to proceed.”
Kayla Mueller’s Parents
Carl and Marsha Mueller, parents of Kayla Mueller, a young aid worker and ISIS hostage who was killed in Syria, gave one of the most heartbreaking presentations of the morning, prompting the room to stand to honor their executed daughter.
Kayla Jean Mueller was an American human-rights activist and humanitarian aid worker from Prescott, Ariz. She had volunteered to help impoverished communities in Israel and India and sought to help Syrian children whose families had fled the bloodshed, according to those who met her. She was taken captive in August 2013 in Aleppo, Syria, while leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital.
She was later killed by her kidnappers, who falsely attributed her death to an American-bombing sortie.
“At our meeting with our daughter and her captor, ‘Jihadi Johnny,’ he did all the talking, while our daughter remained silent,” recounted Marcia Mueller, referring to the now-deceased ISIS spokesman, Mohammed Emwazi, who narrated several videos produced by ISIS terrorists showing the beheadings of a number of captives in 2014 and 2015. “It was obvious that she feared being beaten or killed.”
Continued Mrs. Mueller, “Jihadi Johnny told us that Kayla was being treated well and that, in fact, she had converted to Islam. At that, Kayla, who had been completely silent, spoke up saying, ‘I never converted to Islam.’ We were both very proud of her.”
“She was a shining light to everyone who knew her. She wrote to us before she was kidnapped about the suffering of the children in Syria,” her mother added.
Panelist Bahar Zndnan, a 15-year-old Yazidi girl who was raped multiple times, gave a tearful testimony describing the pain and fear she endured at the hands of the Islamic State before she was able to escape. Her family and friends weren’t as fortunate.
Speaking through a translator, Zndnan bravely stood before the assembled crowd, which was braced for the worse, since most people present were fairly sure of what she had experienced at the hands of the ISIS jihadi.
“I was raped repeatedly,” she explained. “I was sold repeatedly. I was beaten. I was starved. I was threatened. But I survived. I am here now. I want peace. We all want peace.”
Father Douglas Al-Bazi, a Syrian-Catholic parish priest from Erbil, Iraq, was one of the more poignant speakers at the meeting. He spoke about the torture he underwent as a prisoner of ISIS.
“We are not on the same level as Muslims,” said Father Al-Bazi. “We are third-class citizens in our own countries. This is not actually new. This started many years ago, when Islamic armies conquered the region in the seventh century. This is the core problem with how Christians are treated in predominantly Muslim countries.”
“When we are threatened by Daesh, the regular citizens and the army don’t come to our aid,” explained Father Al-Bazi. “But, even during the relatively peaceful time of Saddam Hussein, we were considered ‘non-Muslim’; this is a powder keg of problems in a predominantly Muslim country.”
“This is the reason why they mark our raided and destroyed homes with the Arabic letter N: to humiliate us; to remind us we are not as worthy as they are.”
“Please listen to the victims,” Father Al-Bazi appealed to those who discount the claims of Christian genocide violence as an unjustified slur against Muslims. “Don’t shut us down. This is genocide. You forget the victims when people waste time talking about: Is this the result of Islam or not?”
“What is the best response as to how to help Christians being mistreated and killed in predominantly Muslim countries?” Father Al-Bazi said. “We have to build the case about genocide — this is on the right path to what is going on.
“We have to force and try to change the constitutions of Muslim countries, which have a Christian minority. That’s the only hope we have.”
Register correspondent Angelo Stagnaro writes from New York.