Archbishop of Mosul: Europe has Been Weakened by its Denial of its Spiritual and Cultural Roots
In the face of the recent terror attacks that hit France and Austria, Iraqi archbishop Najeeb Michaeel, recently nominated for the Sakharov Prize, says the Old Continent is guilty of laxity with regards to the advance of radical Islam.
A prominent figure of Eastern Christians was among the five nominees for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize 2020: Archbishop Najeeb Michaeel, who has served as archbishop of Mosul, Iraq, since 2018, is one of the most famous faces associated with the tragedy of the exodus of Iraqi Christians in August 2014, when the Islamic State seized control of the Nineveh Plains.
On the night of Aug. 6-7, as the jihadists were pursuing their march towards this bastion of Christianity, destroying everything in their path, the Dominican clergyman ensured the last-minute exfiltration of countless precious Christian manuscripts from the Dominican Convent of Mosul — all of them dating from the 13th to the 19th century — as well as the convent’s archives and a valuable photographic equipment, placing them on the back of a big truck. After being safely stored in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, the documents were all digitalized and later exhibited in France and Italy.
Through his actions, Archbishop Michaeel managed by himself to safeguard tens of thousands of prominent elements of Eastern Christians’ memory, notably through the Digital Center of Eastern Manuscripts he previously founded in the 1990’s.
Back in his hometown of Mosul in 2017 after four years of a bloody war between Iraqi forces and ISIS, he is now striving to make his region rise from the ashes. But as he is counting on his Western Christian brothers’ support to carry out this effort, the Iraqi archbishop does not hide his concern about the advance of radical Islam in Europe and the simultaneous deletion of all elements that forged that continent’s Western civilization.
In the aftermath of the recent terror attacks that hit France and Austria, while discussing his crucial mission for the survival of Eastern Christians with the Register, Archbishop Michaeel called the European authorities to take stock of the growing threats facing their countries and to defend their historic spiritual identity before it disappears for good.
You visited the European Parliament at the beginning of October, within the framework of your nomination for the Sakharov Prize 2020. Do you feel that you could raise awareness among the members of the Parliament about the cause of Eastern Christians?
The experience I have had at the European Parliament was one of a kind. It is the first time I have met so many politicians. I have had this kind of official meeting before through UNESCO, but this time, with the Sakharov Prize, it was different. I found a really exceptional level of listening because we shared the same principles. The European Parliament also has the function of promoting peace in Europe, justice and human rights.
As a religious man and Archbishop of Mosul, I had a very hard experience with ISIS, which all Christians and Yezidis also lived. I was able to share my experience with the European Parliament. This opportunity also allowed me to talk about what we lived. I was able to celebrate Mass at the European Parliament, which was very touching.
Nevertheless, I perceived a certain religiosity among these parliamentarians from secularized countries. Whether one believes in God or not, the important thing is that man is the goal. We know that man is God’s chosen one. I managed to share all these principles and I felt that there was an extraordinary level of listening and sharing.
In an interview with French newspaper Valeurs actuelles on the occasion of your visit to the European Parliament, you expressed your concern for France and Europe. This was on the eve of the wave of terror attacks that hit France and then Austria. What motivated such a warning on your part?
We lost everything in Iraq and the Middle East. And I don’t want France and Europe to lose everything in turn. What I mean is that there is a force of darkness embodied in people who are far from God, far from humanity and far from everything that constitutes the essence of religion. I’ve been saying this for a decade, but I repeated it forcefully in the European Parliament, and a week after the wave of attacks happened in Europe. I felt it. And I have also heard it in Iraq, where we know that in the wave of immigrants from Syria, there are still several thousand jihadists infiltrated into the hearts of families seeking to reach Europe, through Turkey. I have been to Turkey several times, I have seen with my own eyes hundreds of camps of Syrians, but also Africans, Iraqis even, or Lebanese. They had asked to go to Europe but were stuck in Turkey. Turkey is keeping all these people knowing that it will open the doors when it wants to. The problem of migrants is not only humanitarian but also political. It is used for political purposes.
What is happening at the moment in France or elsewhere, violence and terrorism, is not only a question of Islam. It also stems from the fact that countries want to invade and destabilize the political and human rights system in Europe in general. And religion is being used for this purpose because it is the easiest way to wrap political actions.
Religious motivation does exist, but it is a part of the problem. There is also a political, geopolitical and commercial stake. Once we destabilize these Western countries on the security level, Islam will indeed spread more easily.
How do you explain the fact that coexistence is so difficult between some Muslim communities and European populations, especially in France?
Radical Islam cannot adapt to a country like France, whose three fundamental principles are “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” If we take the texts of the Quran known as Medinan, it cannot work. These texts call for the creation of a single humanity, united by a single religion.
On the other hand, the texts relating to the life of the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca — that is Meccan surahs — are much more peaceful because it is for example written that “Whoever kills one human being has killed all humanity” (Quran 5/32), or that one must respect the religion of others. The problem is that these texts, which predate those of Medina, are outdated and have been abrogated by the more violent surahs of Medina.
Most Muslims in Europe rely on these texts that predate Medina as a basis for integration, but in themselves, they are no longer valid, as they could not live according to these precepts in most of their countries of origin, from Saudi Arabia to Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, completely rejects these precepts.
Organizations such as ISIS use these texts from Medina as a basis for terror and to encourage mass conversions. In my youth, in Mosul, sharia[Islamic law] was not really applied and 90% of women did not wear a veil.
However, these harmful ideologies are now coming back and spreading in a lot in schools, as far as Europe. And we let them. These fanatical networks could not flourish if the different European countries enforced the laws. They are therefore enormously wrong. I deplore this Western laxity, and I have said so in the European Parliament.
What must the West, Europe more specifically, do to guard against this danger?
Welcoming is a matter of charity, which is fundamentally Christian. But we must not allow ourselves to be impressed by violence. Terrorists must be terrorized by law and justice. We must keep our eyes open and be realistic. We have to fight these ideologies through education and justice, to help Muslims free themselves from it because it disfigures the name of God. Terrorists have their own God who is not ours.
In my opinion, certain laws in Europe must be changed so that those who do not manage to adapt to the mores of the host country can be sent back to their country of origin. If their countries don’t want them back, it proves that they are terrorists. In this case they must be cut off from their families or from everything that has fostered their radicalization and reverse the brainwashing they have undergone in rehabilitation programs. This is the only solution to protect European populations.
It was not Europe that asked these radicals to come. They could have gone to live in countries close to their religious and ideological convictions. Why would they have come to Europe to seek other values? If these values bother them, they don’t have to settle in Europe.
But these people come to destabilize and hurt Muslims who have come to Europe to free themselves from a certain Islamist culture that deprives human beings of their freedom. Even here in Iraq, many people tell me that they no longer have the power of these fanatics who impose their views on the whole country. I have many Muslim friends who do not share these extremist views at all and have a free spirit, but in view of the current reality of their country, they are not true Muslims. According to these fanatics, a Muslim would not even have the right to greet a Christian, or if a Christian greets a Muslim, the Muslim shouldn’t answer him.
If a Muslim leaves Islam, he risks assassination at any time for apostasy. And equality between men and women cannot ipso facto exist since Quranic verses stipulate that, in terms of property, a woman is entitled to only half of what a man is entitled to receive. In a court of law, the testimony of a woman will never be worth the testimony of a man.
People who recognize themselves in this model will never be able to integrate into Western societies. Fortunately, not all Muslims and immigrants are radicals.
Does the rejection by most European societies of their Christian roots, and the subsequent lack of a sound spiritual landmark, accentuate this problem in your opinion?
I think so, yes. Europe has made a mistake in cutting itself off from its spiritual and cultural roots because it has weakened it. A tree without roots to nourish it will necessarily dry up. Europe is not only Christian but also Greco-Latin, a time when concepts like justice, laws, citizenship already existed...
People of very diverse cultural and religious backgrounds have immigrated to Europe in recent decades. And only the proponents of political Islam are trying to impose their lifestyle on the native population. Europe should seize the opportunity to have so many Muslims on its soil to help them free themselves and respect the religion of the countries that welcome them.
What do you think of French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s choice to republish its cartoons of the Prophet of Islam?
I am not particularly in favor of caricatures that devalue and mock others. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right, but the practice of trying to offend people’s sensibilities may not be morally encouraged. All the more reason that innocent people will pay the consequences, like the three Christians in Nice who were cruelly murdered while they were just praying. And we Christians are already starting to foot the bill here in the East. Anti-France hatred, and then anti-Western hatred by ricochet, is beginning to rise.
Mosul was liberated from the presence of the Islamic State in 2017. What can you tell us about the situation of Christians today in your region?
There are two levels for Christians in our region. In the Nineveh Plain, located in my archbishopric, 50% of the Christians who have taken refuge in Kurdistan or elsewhere have returned home. In Mosul, on the other hand, the return is very slow. About 60 families have returned but this is nothing compared to the 55,000 families who lived there at the time of Saddam Hussein. There is still so much fear, there is a strong trauma in the minds of these Christian families who do not dare to return to Mosul.
To this day, I still have no place to live in the city, everything has been destroyed, I live at my episcopal see in Karemlash, a few miles away from Mosul. It is a desolate land. Billions have been donated by international organizations through the government of Mosul, but on the ground, you don’t see the fruits of this. The mayors, like most politicians, are corrupt. This corruption is a real obstacle to renewal. This is why I have reiterated to the European Parliament that any aid sent to the Christians of Iraq; any project must be done by the NGOs that are directly on the spot without going through the government.
For Christians to return today, it is imperative that the geopolitical context be more peaceful. Today, we are torn between Iran and Turkey who both covet our territories, especially the Nineveh Plain because it is a strategic place that links Iran to Syria and Lebanon which borders the Mediterranean. And at the same time, Turkey’s president Erdogan, with his utopian dream of recreating the Ottoman Empire, aims to take Mosul, Kirkuk, northern Syria, which is pure madness. This would send our region back to the worst wars of conquest of 500 years ago, and it frightens the Christians very much.
In my Chaldean bishopric of Mosul, 14 churches have been completely destroyed. And four monasteries, some of which date back to the 4th and 5th centuries, have been completely razed to the ground. We no longer have a place to live and practice our faith. Without the help of our brothers in the West, we will not be able to do anything. We are already receiving help from Christian organizations, especially L’Œuvre d’Orient, thanks to which we are rebuilding the bishopric of Mosul, with the church of St. Paul, where we already celebrated the first Mass. Other associations are working to rebuild the city, and beautiful projects are being formed to guarantee a better future for Christians and to heal the wounds of the past, which include the collaboration of several Muslims. Recently a group of young Muslims volunteered to help us clean our churches and rebuild them. We must therefore keep hope and remain united in prayer.