As the world watches al-Qaida-inspired ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, continue its drive to Baghdad, some analysts who are closely monitoring the impact on Christians see a bright spot.
AssyrianChristians.com writer Amir George declares that something “we never believed could be possible is coming out of this.”
“A Christian area on the Nineveh plain is forming, and it looks like it may be a safe, self-governing area where Christians can live freely,” George said.
George, author of “Liberating Iraq,” said the autonomous Christian region, near Kurdistan, will likely be self-sustaining.
It’s now being protected by a 5,000-member security force of Christians and Kurds, he said.
“The ISIS is out of that area right now. It appears as if they have enough security and the ability to establish the Christian area technically,” he said.
George concluded that while “everything is in flux” at the moment, “ultimately we’re working for an area that will be our own country.”
He said negotiations between Christian and Sunni tribes to further secure the area are ongoing.
He said that once the area is secured in the Nineveh Plain, Christians in other countries “will have the opportunity to come back to the area and reestablish a Christian homeland.”
Defending the homeland
Voice of the Martyrs spokesman Todd Nettleton said a Christian homeland would be a positive development, but he has one major concern.
“Their major challenge will be in defending themselves. I’m not sure they’re up to the military challenge to maintain an autonomous region,” he said.
George said a good model for the Christian area is Kurdistan.
“Kurdistan is expanding and they just retook Kirkuk, which is like their Jerusalem. But they have their own government, their own flag, and their own economy. They’re operating as an independent country,” George said.
The project to establish a Christian homeland began in 2010. WND reported in December 2010 that the Iraqi government was moving ahead with plans to establish a Christian province.
George said the effort has its roots in a 2007 meeting between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and a delegation of Middle Eastern Christians.
An autonomous region for Christians is in line with the thinking of Religious Freedom Coalition Chairman William Murray. Murray said that Christians “getting together” is the only way to survive the ISIS onslaught.
“Christians there need to sell their homes and move into one area where they can defend themselves. The idea of having Christians live all over Iraq and being spread out, some here, some there, can’t happen anymore,” he said.
“They’re going to need to give up their businesses, give up their homes and at least get into defensible positions. That’s about all they can do,” said Murray.
Murray said he’s aware that relocation may be a hard choice to make.
“I understand that’s harsh because some of the families have lived in the same place for generations. But, they have no other choice. Iraq as a nation is no longer able to keep order,” Murray said.
Murray said the Iraqi Christians can’t go to Syria “because we’re funding the people in Syria who are killing the Christians there.”
“They can’t go to Lebanon because that’s another major issue. So where are they going to go?” he asked. “The Europeans aren’t going to take them because they’re too busy accommodating the Muslims. The United States isn’t going to take them because we’re too busy accommodating the Muslims.”
While maintaining that the development of a Christian area is remarkable, George isn’t downplaying the impact the ISIS campaign has had on Iraq.
“As of this week, there are no more Christian families in Mosul,” George said. “And frankly, the Christians have no place to go unless they get together in their own homeland.”
Islam analyst Theodore Shoebat, son of former PLO operative Walid Shoebat, said Muslims in Mosul were directly threatening Christians with a deadly choice, forcing them to pay a “jizya” tax, as prescribed by Islamic law, of $250 or more or be slaughtered.
“This type of tyranny is just one of many foreshadowing the impending holocaust of Christians,” Ted Shoebat said.
As with Syria, sounding church bells has been outlawed and non-Sunnis must pay 17 grams of gold for jizya.
Walid Shoebat said that as ISIS fighters captures a city, they’re forcing women into slavery and “sex jihad.”
Anyone who fails to pay the jizya must provide a daughter, or if no daughter is available, then his wife, Shoebat said.
“This will definitely include Christians who cannot pay in gold the jizya – they would be forced to give up the wife or the daughter,” he said.
Known for their brutality
International Christian Concern Middle East analyst Todd Daniels agreed that the ISIS forces have established a particularly violent reputation.
“ISIS is known for their brutality, but they’ve also been seeking to establish a state and that means needing to win the approval of some of those under them. That being said, the conflict is being drawn up along religious lines,” Daniels said.
“ISIS is drawing support not just from Sunni jihadists, but even the local Iraqi Sunnis who were unhappy with the Shia-led government in Baghdad are now offering some support in establishing control. The Shia community has received support from Iran in trying to take back ground,” Daniels said.
Daniels added that the situation puts Iraq’s Christians, if they remain, in a dangerous quandary.
“So this leaves the Christian community again on the unfortunate side of finding a safe haven in neither side. If ISIS advances, it really looks extremely troubling for the Christian community. There have been churches seized. Most likely for those who survive and have not escaped there will be a return to Christians living under the dictates of Shariah (Islamic law), subject to exploitation and abuse,” Daniels said.
Nettleton said any territory the ISIS captures is going to endure totalitarian rule.
“Christians in any territory controlled by ISIS or any jihadist group will have a very dark future. They will endure further subjugation. And converts, if they learn they are Christian converts from Islam, will face certain execution,” Nettleton said.
Nettleton’s assessment is confirmed in a report by Barnabas Aid, which said conditions for the conquered people are indeed brutal.
“Two days after taking over Mosul, ISIS published its rules for people living in the area, which are very similar to those issued in parts of Syria under the group’s control. They include Shariah penalties, such as the amputation of limbs for thieves, crucifixion for criminals and the death penalty for apostasy (leaving Islam). All women are required to cover themselves and not leave their homes unless necessary.”
The U.N.’s human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said June 13 she was “extremely alarmed” by reports of summary executions of civilians and Iraqi soldiers by ISIS in the Mosul area.
While George said that the last Christian families fled Mosul, Walid Shoebat believes some of the Christians have resolved to fight to protect themselves. However, Shoebat said that on their own, they have little chance of success.
“But some Christians are willing to fight. Standing at the last checkpoint into Mosul is a band of 600 volunteers and backed by a small number of Kurds. However, their chances against an onslaught of heavily financed Sunni Islamist militants bent on imposing strict Islamic law are slim,” Shoebat said.
Shoebat said across the Middle East, it’s Christians who are in the greatest danger.
ISIS has told the Christians they have nothing to fear as long as they obey the ISIS interpretation of strict Islamic law.
While George said that Christians may have a safe place to call home, Murray said that the present nation of Iraq is essentially finished.
“Iraq as a nation does not exist anymore. There is no way to redraw those borders that were created by the European powers at the close of World War I,” he said.
Murray believes Iraq ceased to be a nation after President George W. Bush dissolved the Iraqi army.
‘That was the end of any ability of the central government to control the borders of Iraq as they existed at that time,” Murray said.
He added that the cost of restoring Iraq’s borders would be very high.
“The only way Iraq’s borders can be saved is if we take 250,000 troops and go back to defend the frontiers. And I don’t think the United States is going to put back another quarter of a million soldiers and risk a thousand casualties a year do that,” he said.
“We were lying to ourselves and we were pretending that for the eight years we were there that nothing was happening. That was a lie. There was no real security. There were car bombs every week, sometimes every day. The death toll has gone up but while we were there it was hundreds every month,” Murray said.
He doesn’t believe any other nation will take the risk either.
“The Europeans are done with that. There is no way the Europeans are going back in there to that. I think they realize that going back into Iraq isn’t in their best interests, so if we want to do that, we’ll be alone,” Murray said.
The latest round of Christian persecution began with the ISIS attack on Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit.
WND reported in July 2011 that Iraq’s Christians were facing extinction in the same region George said will be a safe haven for Christians, the Nineveh Plain.