By Tony Perkins
It’s the stuff of Old Testament times: God’s people taken into captivity, sold into slavery, or worse — slaughtered in cold blood. Their villages conquered, their people taxed, the thousands of Assyrian Christians suffering in the Middle East today share more than a language with the people of Jesus’s time. They also share the deep pain of an ancient war now ripping through Syria and northern Iraq.
While U.S. warplanes rain down strikes from above, reports suggest that an estimated 300 Christian hostages sit frightened in an unknown location, prisoners of a primitive hatred. After just two days, their numbers are already dwindling, as Islam’s terrorists are said to have viciously executed another 15 innocents. For its part, the Obama administration finally acknowledged the Christian faith that ISIS is targeting in a statement from his National Security Council, insisting that the world’s leaders stands “united and undeterred” in its resolve to bring an end to the terrorists’ “depravity.” But the same officials still refuse to label what ISIS is doing in Iraq as what it is: genocide.
In a sobering piece from the New York Times, Anne Barnard chronicles the onslaught in these religious communities, which date all the way back to Mesopotamia. No longer content to massacre people, ISIS is systematically killing their culture too. At the crossroads of Syria and Iraq — a land as meaningful for its history as it is strategic for this battle — terrorists are smashing locks into libraries, museums, and churches. Shattering 3,000-year old pieces of art, the militants are exchanging their knives for power drills and hammers, which they take to priceless pieces.
Wielding sledgehammers, men in black masks are intent — not just on mangling populations but erasing every trace of them. It is, says anthropologist Amr al-Azm, “A tragedy and catastrophic loss for Iraqi history and archaeology beyond comprehension.” So now ISIS is systematically destroying the cultural evidence that followers of Jesus Christ have inhabited this land since the founding of the Church.
While they sell art to finance their bloodlust, other believers run for their lives. In the sliver of land that connects Syria and Iraq, only fighters are left behind from the 1,200 families lucky enough to escape without capture. At least 33 villages from the area have been raided in the gruesome march through Iraq — with some radicals even crossing the rivers by night.
The Christians who have survived are still paying a steep price. “Early in February, according to Assyrian groups inside and outside Syria, came a declaration from the Islamic State that Christians in a string of villages… in Syrian Hasaka Province would have to take down their crosses and pay the jizya (a tax for religious minorities), traditionally in gold.” Some say they’re staving off ISIS’s wrath with money.
One of the Christians with hopes of returning to his Ninevah home said, “I made a vow, when I return I want to kiss the soil of my village and pray in the church.” It’s a powerful reminder that ISIS can destroy a lot of things — but the hope of those who follow the risen Savior is not one of them.
Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law.
(Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)
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