Less than a week after Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) described the Islamist takeover of Mosul, Iraq as genocide and challenged the West to counteract it, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, published a trenchant piece on the Fox News website asserting that ISIS, the Sunni Muslim insurgent group calling itself the Islamic State, presents a dangerous threat to the region.
Only a handful of Christian families too ill to flee remain in Mosul. The religious cleansing of the city where Christianity flourished for nearly 2,000 years is a human catastrophe the U.S. government can no longer ignore, Shea says. Since overrunning the city on June 10, the Islamic extremist insurgency - some 10,000 strong in the caliphate it seeks to establish in Syria and Iraq - has demanded that Christians convert to Islam, pay the jizya tax as non-Muslims or be killed.
Most Christians could not afford to pay the tax and saw no recourse but to leave. A telling exception was a Christian father reported to have committed suicide after being forced to watch members of ISIS rape his wife and daughter on June 21 because he could not pay the jizya.
Between 30,000 and 50,000 Christians had fled Mosul since Islamist violence was unleashed following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the last 5,000 departed after the June 10 takeover - professionals and tradesmen who suddenly found themselves destitute and homeless, Shea notes. Weeks passed and some Christians returned, thinking ISIS had relaxed its rules and reduced its violence. ISIS issued its rules anew, and when Christian leaders declined to attend a meeting on July 17, according to aid and advocacy group Middle East Concern, ISIS (or IS, as it now calls itself) again issued the ultimatum - leave, pay jizya or die by the sword.
"More than 200 families are reported to have fled, leaving all their belongings behind, as demanded by the IS," MEC reported. "Some were beaten or otherwise humiliated at checkpoints while fleeing, and many were stripped of their remaining possessions (including vehicles, money, jewelry, phones, ID documents and even food and medicines)."
After July 17, ISIS began marking Christian homes with the Arabic "N" or "nun" symbol, for Nazarene, identifying them as Christians subject to the Muslim terms of their continued existence there. Religious cleansing returned with renewed virulence; deprived of their possessions, all remaining Christians in Mosul were essentially deported.
"Whether these newly displaced people, among the last Christians to speak Aramaic, Jesus' own language, will be able to remain in the region at all is likely to depend on America's response," Shea writes.
Christians, children on their backs and elderly in wheelchairs, fled on foot in temperatures of up to 120 degrees F. as the Islamic extremist militants looted their properties, Shea notes.
"ISIS has set out to erase every Christian trace," she writes. "All 30 churches were seized, and their crosses stripped away. Some have been permanently turned into mosques."
Monks were expelled from the fourth century Syriac Catholic monastery outside Mosul, the Mar Behnam, and ISIS is blowing up Christian and Shiite gravesites as "idolatrous," including the traditional tomb of the eighth-century B.C. prophet Jonah and its surrounding Muslim shrine, according to Shea.
"The religious cleansing of Mosul's minorities is only part of the problem," she writes, "but it is a grave crime against humanity, as well as a humanitarian catastrophe, that should no longer go overlooked in U.S. policy."