Iraq

Is There a Nonviolent Response to ISIS?

Iraqis protest ISIS in Washington, D.C., Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

Iraqis protest ISIS in Washington, D.C., Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

Alarm and outrage has been growing over the mounting humanitarian crisis in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State (IS) also known as ISIL (Islamic State of Syria and the Levant) or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Christians in the region are being forced to convert, pay tribute or die as the al Qaeda breakaway group sweeps into predominantly Christian villages and Hamlets in Iraq, sending tens of thousands fleeing for their lives. Other non-Muslim groups, in particular the Yazidi, who practice a faith that predates Islam, are reportedly considered as infidels by the fanatic Islamic State and targeted for extermination in what many are calling a genocide. The U.N. is still gathering numbers but it believes that hundreds of Yazidis have been killed while others, primarily women, have been abducted and taken into slavery. Around 40,000 Yazidis have fled into the mountains of Northwest Iraq where they face the prospect of starvation on mountain or massacre by the Islamic State militants below.

The news is devastating and overwhelming. The suffering and acts of brutal violence staggers the imagination. What would a nonviolent response look like?

On Iraq Pope Francis' Message of Peace Meets Realities of War

Creative Commons image by Catholic Church England and Wales

Creative Commons image by Catholic Church England and Wales

VATICAN CITY — As he dispatches a top aide to war-torn Iraq this week, Pope Francis made his most impassioned plea yet for the world to halt the “slaughter” of Christians and other religious minorities by Islamic extremists.

“The news coming from Iraq leaves us incredulous and appalled,” Francis told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, as he cataloged the brutal “violence of every kind” that has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and left women and children dead and dying.

“All this seriously offends God and seriously offends humanity,” the pontiff declared. “You cannot bring hatred in the name of God. You cannot make war in the name of God!”

Yet even as Francis called on the international community to find “an efficient political solution that can stop these crimes,” the Vatican also tried to make peace with the idea that U.S. military strikes that began last week were necessary and working.

Islamic State Accused of Capturing Yazidi Women and Forcing Them to Convert, or Else

Oil-on-canvas painting of Melek Taus, a peacock deity. Via Jennie Rosenbaum/Flickr.

Senior leaders in Iraq’s minority Yazidi community say their wives and daughters, forcibly held by Islamic militants, are being given a choice: Convert to Islam and marry jihadists — or else.

Mirza Dinnayi, a senior Yazidi leader and a former adviser on minority affairs to the Iraqi president, said he has spoken on the phone with several women who cry out to him: “I love my husband; my faith is Yazidi.”

Others have attested to harsh treatment bestowed on members of the religious minority by the Islamic State militant group since its gunmen captured parts of Iraq earlier this week.

As many as 200,000 Yazidis left their homes in the Sinjar region of northwestern Iraq. Untold thousands are believed dead and at least several hundred women and children are being held prisoners.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands are stranded on the Sinjar mountain range without access to food or water in an ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Even in a long history marred by persecution, this week’s tragic events stood out.

Islamic Extremists Impose Reign of Terror on Iraq

Police cars have been repainted to say “Islamic police.” Women are forbidden from wearing bright colors and prints. The homes of Shiites and others have signs stating they are property of the Islamic State. And everyone walks in fear amid a new reign of terror.

That’s what life is like in Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities in northern and western Iraq under the control of Islamic extremists after their lightning-fast military campaign that overwhelmed the Iraqi army in June.

The new normal for these residents means daily decrees about attire and raids to root out religious minorities in a campaign to impose strict Islamic rule in cities that tolerated multiple religions for centuries.

Video courtesy of USA Today.

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

THE DEEPENING CRISIS gripping Iraq is a clear and present danger to global security. The crisis is fundamentally political in nature, however, not military. It cannot be resolved through the use of force, least of all by external military action from the United States. In the past, U.S. intervention has been the problem in Iraq, not the solution. Indeed many of Iraq’s current problems can be traced to the consequences of the U.S. invasion and occupation.

The United States now has a responsibility to help the Iraqi people, having contributed so much to their current travails, but our involvement should be diplomatic and humanitarian, not military. We should work through the United Nations to exert pressure on the violent extremists who are threatening the region and to mobilize international support for political and diplomatic solutions to the conflicts.

A major center of concern today is the extremist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, now identifying as the Islamic State. This group led the military takeover of Mosul and other Iraqi cities. It is a direct offshoot of the al Qaeda forces that emerged during the armed resistance to the U.S. invasion, but is now a rival to, and even more extreme than, al Qaeda.

Prior to 2003, al Qaeda did not exist in Iraq. It was only after the U.S. invasion, which shattered the state and sparked widespread violence and insurgency, that Islamist extremist groups were able to gain a foothold in Iraq. American actions fostered staggering levels of corruption and exacerbated growing Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions.

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Behind #WeAreN: 'If One Group Is Marked, We're All Marked'

SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqis holds up a banner with the red letter 'N' in Arabic, which stands for Christian. SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

When I first saw Americans joining in solidarity with Iraqi Christians through the #WeAreN hashtag and protest campaign, I was encouraged. Our team at Preemptive Love Coalition had been sounding the alarm about the targeted persecution of minorities in Iraq through private emails and social media messages for weeks, in between making urgent appeals in our effort to provide lifesaving heart surgeries for children amid the violence.

Most of our efforts were largely unsuccessful before the “Islamic State” gave Mosul’s Christians an ultimatum to (1) convert to Islam; (2) pay a submission tax; or (3) “face the sword.”

After Islamist militants began marking the homes of Christians in red paint with the Arabic letter “N” (Nazarene) for extermination or expropriation, we tried again to use our proximity to the problem in Iraq to provoke our friends in America to pay attention by tagging a photo “#WeAreN,” in which I had symbolically marked myself with an Arabic “N.”

But it was not strictly an act of solidarity with Iraqi Christians. We had the targeting of Turkmen, Yezidi, Shabak, and even Sunni Muslims in view, as well. #WeAreN was more about the marking of Christians; less about the marking of Christians.

Muslims and minorities across Iraq immediately sensed the gravity of the tactics deployed by the Islamic State: if one group is marked, we are all marked. If we stand by in silence today while others are marked for extinction, our time will come, and there will be no one left to stand for us.

In response, Muslims across Iraq joined together in protest, prayer, and viral photographs saying “We are Iraqi. We are Christians.”

Iraq: Humility Is the Best Option

Via The U.S. Army, Flickr.com

Via The U.S. Army, Flickr.com

America is stunned by what is happening in Iraq right now, and happening so quickly. We may be facing the worst terrorist threat to international security so far — despite all we have done and sacrificed. Both our political leaders and media pundits are admitting there are no good options for the U.S. now. But there is an option we could try for the first time: humility. Let me turn to two biblical texts that might provide some wisdom for both the religious and non-religious.

If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:20–21)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

All nations use propaganda to tell half-truths and spread misinformation about their enemies, which should be honestly challenged. Even so, it is also true that we have real enemies in this world, as individuals, groups, and nations. To assume otherwise is foolish, from the perspective of history, certainly, but also in light of good theology about evil as part of the nature of the human condition. According to the Bible, even our faith communities will encounter enemies. Jesus’s teaching assumes that we will have enemies, and he teaches us how to treat them. In the passages above, Jesus and Paul the Apostle offer guidance for more effective ways of dealing with our enemies. It seems to be clear that our habit of going to war against them is increasingly ineffective. For the past several years, we have found ourselves in a constant state of war with “enemies” who are very hard to find or completely defeat.

Wounded Souls

WHEN CHIEF MASTER Sergeant Harry Marsters returned in 2008 from his time in Iraq, he knew something wasn’t right. At 54, the 32-year veteran of the Air Force—with 27 years full time in the military and the remainder as a reservist with the Air National Guard—felt that as one of the “older folks” he knew what to expect upon return from his assignment with the communications squad at the Kirkuk Regional Air Base in northern Iraq.

Marsters’ squadron trained Iraqi forces in the operation and maintenance of aerial surveillance equipment on the base, which housed 1,000 Air Force and 2,500 Army troops. As first sergeant he acted as a liaison to the Air Force troops and ensured the well-being of those stationed there. It was a job he relished, pouring care into building connections with the airmen and women, spending time with the chaplains, and coordinating recreation and morale-building activities.

Though Air Force personnel never left the base, they were subjected to the ever-present threat of randomly timed mortar rounds launched by insurgents. They also took part in nighttime “patriot details” in which Air Force personnel and soldiers lined the base’s runway as the bodies of fallen soldiers were loaded onto planes for transport back to the United States. But Marsters says he was most upset by what he felt was harsh treatment of the Iraqi nationals who came to work on the base.

“They were treated like criminals,” he says of the extensive searches and intimidation Iraqis received when going through base security. “Everyone in Iraq is not evil, bad, and nasty. It’s a very small group of people who are raising hell and trying to hurt the country. The average person is just trying to make some money and take care of his or her family.”

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VIDEO: The War Within

In "Wounded Souls" (Sojourners, April 2014), Gregg Brekke explores the church's role in "helping to mitigate the effects of guilt and shame" that veterans experience after they return home from duty. Many veterans suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which makes integrating back into civilian life both difficult and painful. Brekke argues that the church community can and should play a vital role in helping veterans begin to heal from their wounds—wounds that are not easily seen by the human eye. 

Watch the following video from 60 Minutes to learn some of the challenges that U.S. veterans with PTSD face.

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U.K. Minister Sayeeda Warsi Calls on West to Protect Christian Minorities

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, U.K. minister for faith. Photo: Kaveh Sardari/Council on Foreign Relations. Via RNS.

The highest-ranking Muslim in the British government on Friday called on Western governments to do more to protect besieged Christian minorities across the world, particularly in the Holy Land where they are now seen as “outsiders.”

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the government’s minister for faith and the first Muslim member of a British cabinet, said religious freedom is a proxy for human rights and must not be an “add-on” to foreign policy.

“A mass exodus is taking place, on a biblical scale,” she said in a speech at Georgetown University. “In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.”

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