Worst terror attack since 9/11 almost totally ignored by the media

November 16, 2007

* “Genocide” of Yazidis waiting to happen if America pulls out of Iraq too soon

 

CONTENTS

1. Who will protect the Yazidis?
2. Genocidal intent
3. Going after the “devil-worshipers”
4. Egyptian columnist: “We have failed the test of freedom”
5. 50% of Christians thought to have fled Iraq
6. Iraqi Turkmen threaten to go it alone
7. “The Yazidis of Iraq an Endangered Minority” (By Idan Barir, Aug. 29, 2007)
8. “The Devil worshippers of Iraq” (Sunday Telegraph, Aug. 20, 2007)
9. “Egyptian columnist criticizes lack of tolerance in the Arab world” (MEMRI)
10. “Iraq’s vulnerable Christian minority gets promise of support” (AP, Oct. 30, 2007)
11. “Bishop decries gov’t indifference over abducted priests” (AsiaNews, Oct. 18, 2007)
12. “Pope urges Iraqi priests’ release” (BBC News, Oct. 14, 2007)


[Note by Tom Gross]

WHO WILL PROTECT THE YAZIDIS?

Three months have passed since the worst terror attacks since Sept. 11, 2001. Yet the world’s media have remained virtually silent.

There have been almost no penetrative investigative pieces or outraged editorials. There have been no solidarity rallies or candlelit vigils in Western capitals. There have been no in-depth reports from human rights groups. And there has been next to no condemnation by the Muslim world, in whose midst this act of mass murder occurred.

By far* the deadliest terror bombing in Iraq since the fall of Saddam was not the result of the Sunni-Shia divide. It was not over oil fields, and it did not target Americans.

When two tons of explosives detonated in four coordinated explosions in the northern Iraqi villages of Qahtaniya and Jazeera on August 14, 2007, the target was Iraq’s Yazidi ethnic and religious minority.

527 people died and over 1,500 were wounded as a fireball led to the collapse of mud and stone buildings on families trapped inside; many were then burned alive. The terror attack was the deadliest since the World Trade Center was sent crashing down in Manhattan six years ago, killing almost 3,000 persons.

The Yazidi wounded, needless to say, received considerably less medical care than those injured by bombings in Manhattan, Madrid, London, Bali and elsewhere.

(*The second biggest bombing in Iraq since 2003 was the one that killed 155 people in the northern town of Amerli.)

GENOCIDAL INTENT

The four bombings were coordinated – the suicide bombers shared explosives and released their devices simultaneously – and they were aimed against a particular group, not for political motives but for reasons of pure hate.

In general, civilian suicide bomb victims in Iraq and elsewhere have been randomly selected, or have been a political target. But unlike in Bali, unlike in Madrid, there was nothing remotely political about this – it was ethnic hatred with genocidal intent. The Yazidis have no political power base to challenge; they have no claims on land, no army or police, and no country looking after their interests (as the Saudis support Iraq’s Sunnis, and Iran helps the Shi’ites).

The bombers that day, and those behind them, were the Muslim Sunni supremacists of al-Qaeda in Iraq. And they openly say that the moment they get the chance (i.e. when the Americans leave) they will wipe out every last Yazidi man, woman and child.

On September 3, the U.S. military killed the mastermind of the bombings, Abu Mohammed al-Afri. But Islamist websites have since vowed that they will “finish al-Afri’s job.”

A force of 600 Kurdish peshmerga have since been deployed to the area, and ditches have been dug around Yazidi villages by Kurdish and American forces trying to prevent further attacks.

“GOING AFTER THE DEVIL-WORSHIPERS”

Who are the Yazidis?

Many of their Muslim and Christian neighbors dismiss them as “devil-worshipers,” but in fact they are monotheists, who worship the “Peacock Angel,” whom they believe to be “the chief angel of God.”

Their theology predates Islam and Christianity, but incorporates some Muslim and Christian influences. One of the key creationist beliefs of Yazidism is that all Yazidis are descendants of Adam rather than Eve.

They are not considered Arabs. The Yazidis are Kurdish-speaking, but do not consider themselves fully Kurdish. Yazidi clans do not intermarry even with other Kurds and (like the Druze) accept no converts.

Their numbers are uncertain because they are very secretive and frightened to discuss their beliefs with strangers, having felt the full force of persecution under Muslim rule, including invading missionary armies throughout their history and, more recently, Saddam Hussein’s brutal “Arabization” policy. But it is estimated that they may number as many as 700,000.

The majority of Yazidis inhabit the mountainous Kurdish regions of Northern Iraq. But sizeable Yazidi communities also exist in Syria, Armenia and Germany. (For example, as the second article attached below points out, 7,000 Yazidis live in the north German town of Celle alone.) According to the 2001 Armenian census, there are 40,000 Yazidis there, and the 2002 Russian census cites 31,273 in Russia. In fact there are probably many more who won’t admit their ethnicity to outsiders.

There are very small Yazidi communities in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, France, Switzerland, the U.K, the U.S., Canada and Australia.

EGYPTIAN COLUMNIST: “WE HAVE FAILED THE TEST OF FREEDOM”

Virtually alone amid the silence is a critique by Egyptian columnist Abd Al-Mun’im Sa’id, director of the Center for Political and Strategic Studies of the Al-Ahram publishing house, who wrote of the Yazidis recently in the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

In his article (extracts of which are attached as the third full article below) he writes in general of the plight of minorities under Muslim Arab rule: Kurds, Baha’i, Christians, (though he omits the plight of Jews) and then specifies the attacks on the Yazidis:

“The Yazidis were massacred by extremist Sunni groups, while the Arab public watched from a safe distance, concocting tales that portrayed the Yazidi community as Satan worshippers.”

The attack showed “the extent to which these people have become a testing ground for freedom of religion in the Arab world,” a test, he says, that the Arabs have failed so far.

50 PERCENT OF CHRISTIANS THOUGHT TO HAVE FLED

Iraq’s large and ancient Jewish population has already been driven from the country, and most now live in Israel. Now the Christian population may be on the way out too. Already, as many as 50% of the country’s Christians are thought to have fled.

Iraq’s Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised to defend Iraqi Christians and stem the tide of Christians fleeing Iraq because of ongoing violence directed at them by Muslim groups.

The violence places Christian clergy in particular peril. Two senior Chaldaean priests who were abducted at gunpoint out of their car during a funeral in September remain in captivity. The Syrian Catholic Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, who has criticized the Iraqi government for not working for their release, was himself kidnapped briefly in 2005.

IRAQI TURKMEN THREATEN TO GO IT ALONE

A recent non-binding resolution in the U.S. Senate recommended dividing Iraq into ethnic territories loosely stitched together by a weak central government. In the wake of this, another minority, not as helpless as the Yazidis, are contemplating taking their future into their own hands.

The Iraqi Turkmen Front, which claims that Turkmen are the third-largest ethnic group in Iraq after the Arabs and Kurds, have threatened to establish a separate Turkmen province should the U.S. split up the country. Considering the various ethnic massacres, it is not surprising that the Turkmen are unwilling to live in an ethnic autonomy not their own.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the Bush administration have criticized the nonbinding U.S. Senate resolution. “Attempts to partition or divide Iraq by intimidation, force or other means into three separate states would produce extraordinary suffering and bloodshed,” said an embassy statement.

I attach six pieces below.

-- Tom Gross


FULL ARTICLES

THE DEFENSELESS YAZIDIS

The Yazidis of Iraq an Endangered Minority
By Idan Barir
August 29, 2007
Published by the Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University

Tuesday evening, August 14, 2007, marked the latest turn in Iraq’s ongoing nightmare, when a chain of blasts hit the heretofore tranquil and isolated Yazidi Kurdish villages of Gir Uzeir and Siba Sheikh Khidir in the Jebel Sinjar area, near the Iraqi-Syrian border. Four truck bombs destroyed a large portion of the houses of these villages, killing 500 of their inhabitants and leaving many others severely wounded. The attacks marked a low point in the historically delicate relations between the Yazidi minority and its Arab and Kurdish surroundings, raising the question whether or not this small, oft-persecuted community could even continue to exist in Iraq.

Believers in an ancient, heterodoxical Near Eastern religion that claims to predate Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the majority of Yazidis inhabit the mountainous Kurdish regions of Northern Iraq. Large Yazidi communities also exist in Syria, Armenia and Germany; the latter hosts a bustling and socially aware community of roughly 50,000 Yazidi refugees from Turkey and Iraq.

The number of Yazidis residing in Iraqi Kurdistan is estimated at 300,000 residents, divided into two secluded enclaves: the first, in Jebel Sinjar, 150 km. from Mosul, adjacent to the Syrian border; and the second, in the Shaikhan region, 50 km. northeast of Mosul, and home to the holiest Yazidi shrine the sanctuary of Sheikh ‘Adi, the renovator of the Yazidi religion, in Lalish.

It is noteworthy that while Shaikhan has been an integral part of the Kurdish autonomous region since 1991, Sinjar has always officially fallen under the authority of Iraq’s central government. Although the Yazidis of Sinjar identify themselves as Kurds and take an active part in the activities of the Kurdish national movement and in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), the formal attachment of the Sinjar area to the Kurdish autonomous region is not yet within reach.

The Yazidi religion includes a belief in a single God, Allah, as well as the belief in an archangel that refused to obey the godly command to bow down to Adam. This myth has resulted in Muslims comparing the archangel to Iblis, the Qur’anic Satan. Unlike Muslims, the Yazidis believe that their archangel, symbolized by a peacock named Melek Tawus (the Peacock Angel), is the source of all goodness and beauty in the world. It is this allegedly satanic religion, combined with cultural and religious seclusion, that led to continuous persecutions of the Yazidis by Muslims. Throughout the Ottoman period, and particularly during the 19th century, anti-Yazidi persecutions and military campaigns designed to Islamize Yazidi populations in the Kurdish mountains were periodically carried out.

Following the establishment of British-mandated Iraq at the beginning of the 1920’s and the establishment of the independent Iraqi state in 1932, Yazidis enjoyed a period of almost fifty years of freedom of religion and relative tolerance. In the 1970’s, the wheel was turned back by the Ba’th regime of Saddam Hussein, and Yazidis were subjected to continuous campaigns of Arabization and forced alteration of their identity.

The creation of the Kurdish autonomous region in 1991 under the American umbrella gave the Yazidis an aperture of hope, but the persecution and Arabization campaigns continued, particularly in the Sinjar region, which had been left out of the Kurdish autonomous region.

The 2003 American invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam has been a double-edged sword for the Yazidis. On the one hand, they have never hidden their support for the American presence in Iraq, which provided them with some protection from religious-based persecution. On the other hand, it was the American presence that catalyzed the entrance into Iraq of al-Qa’ida, the organization that acts under the banner of Jihad against the infidels, al-kuffar. For al-Qa’ida activists, the Yazidis are the worst sort of infidels, as they are not only non-Muslims but devil worshippers as well.

The organization has published several proclamations calling for the killing of infidel Yazidis and has taken responsibility for a number of such acts. The first major incident of this kind was Black Sunday (al-Ahad al-Aswad) in April 2007: in reaction to the stoning to death of a 17-year-old Yazidi girl who had announced her wish to convert to Islam in order to marry a Muslim, the most abominable sin possible in Yazidi doctrine, al-Qa’ida activists killed 23 Yazidis on their way to work, near Mosul.

Yazidi publicists were quick to warn that “Black Sunday” was merely the beginning of further radical Islamist attacks against Yazidis. The August 14 blasts proved their pessimistic assessments correct: they constituted not only the largest terrorist attack since the 2003 invasion, but also since the September 11 bombings in the US.

For their part, the Yazidis suffer from a political and social schism between those who see themselves as a natural part of the Kurdish people and culture, and hence the Kurdish national movement, and those calling for cultural segregation, owing to their distinct religion.

The inability to create a united Yazidi front, along with the fact that the Yazidi villagers in Sinjar do not receive the protection of the Peshmerga, the Kurdish army, and that the enhancement of American protection of the large Iraqi cities have made it more difficult for al-Qa’ida to carry out large-scale attacks there, have all contributed to making the defenseless Yazidis a relatively easy target for terrorists. These reasons are complemented by the religious facet, al-Qa’ida’s proclaimed war against infidels that provides the legal seal for attacking the Yazidis.

Battered and bruised from the brutal bombings, a big question mark hangs over the Yazidi community’s existence as a religious minority in Iraq. Its options are limited: either remaining divided, and thus risking a state of disintegration and/or forced exile or, alternatively, uniting behind the demand to have all Yazidi areas annexed to the autonomous Kurdish region and working to persuade the KRG to act in that direction.

With the priorities of the KRG focused on more pressing matters, particularly control of oil-rich Kirkuk, attaining its sustained backing will not be a simple matter. If the Yazidis do succeed in both putting aside their traditional divisions and winning the KRG’s support, the current crisis might turn out to have been a blessing in disguise.

 

IN A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY

The Devil worshippers of Iraq
By Sean Thomas
The Sunday Telegraph
August 20, 2007

I’m in a community hall, on the outskirts of Celle, a north German town. On the walls are pictures of dark blue peacocks. Sitting at various tables around the room are dozens of Devil worshippers. At least, that’s what some people call them.

Though we don’t know it yet, right now several suicide bombs are going off near Mosul in Iraq, killing maybe 400. The victims belong to the same faith as those gathered here today.

They are Yazidi. And I’m here to unearth the reality of their fascinating religion. Why do they have such troubled relations with outsiders? Do they really worship the Devil?

The Yazidi of Celle are one of the largest groups of their sect outside the homeland of Kurdish Iraq. There may be 7,000 in this small town. Yazidi across the world number between 400,000 and 800,000.

Today the Yazidi in Celle don’t seem keen to talk. I’m not surprised: I have been warned about their wariness of strangers, born of centuries of appalling persecution.

Eventually a dark, thickset man turns to me. He points to one of the peacocks on the wall: “That is Melek Taus, the peacock angel. We worship him.” He sips his tea, and adds: “Ours is the oldest religion in the world. Older than Islam; older than Christianity.”

After this cryptic statement he returns to his friends.

Luckily there is another Yazidi organisation in Celle that is said to be more forthcoming. On the way to meet its spokesman, I go through the bizarre beliefs of the Yazidi.

It’s an impressive list. The Yazidi honour sacred trees. Women must not cut their hair. Marriage is forbidden in April. They refuse to eat lettuce, pumpkins, and gazelles. They avoid wearing dark blue because it is “too holy”.

They are divided strictly into castes, who cannot marry each other. The upper castes are polygamous. Anyone of the faith who marries a non-Yazidi risks ostracism, or worse. Some weeks ago a young girl was stoned to death by her Yazidi menfolk in Iraq; she had fallen in love with a Muslim and was trying to convert. The sickening murder was filmed, and posted on the internet, adding to the Yazidis’ unhappy reputation.

Yazidism is syncretistic: it combines elements of many faiths. Like Hindus, they believe in reincarnation. Like ancient Mithraists, they sacrifice bulls. They practise baptism, like Christians. When they pray they face the sun, like Zoroastrians. They profess to revile Islam, but there are strong links with Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam.

It’s a remarkably confusing picture. And I still haven’t got an answer to the main question: do they worship “Satan”?

In the centre of town I am greeted by Halil Savucu, a westernised spokesman for the Yazidi. Also with us is Uta Tolle, a German scholar of Yazidism.

In Halil’s Mercedes we drive into the suburbs. On the way, the two of them give me their view of the faith. “Yazidi is oral, not literary,” says Uta. “This is why it is sometimes hard to pin down precise beliefs. There are religious texts, like the Black Book, but they are not crucial. The faith is really handed down by kawwas, sort of musical preachers.”

And who is Melek Taus? Halil looks slightly uncomfortable: “We believe he is a proud angel, who rebelled and was thrown into Hell by God. He stayed there 40,000 years, until his tears quenched the fires of the underworld. Now he is reconciled to God.”

But is he good or evil? “He is both. Like fire. Flames can cook but they can also burn. The world is good and bad.”

For a Yazidi to say they worship the Devil is understandably difficult. It is their reputation as infidels – as genuine “devil worshippers” – that has led to their fierce persecution over time, especially by Muslims. Saddam Hussein intensified this suppression.

But some Yazidi do claim that Melek Taus is “the Devil”. One hereditary leader of the Yazidi, Mir Hazem, said in 2005: “I cannot say this word [Devil] out loud because it is sacred. It’s the chief of angels. We believe in the chief of angels.”

There are further indications that Melek Taus is “the Devil”. The parallels between the story of the peacock angel’s rebellion, and the story of Lucifer, cast into Hell by the Christian God, are surely too close to be coincidence. The very word “Melek” is cognate with “Moloch”, the name of a Biblical demon – who demanded human sacrifice.

The avian imagery of Melek Taus also indicates a demonic aspect. The Yazidi come from Kurdistan, the ancient lands of Sumeria and Assyria. Sumerian gods were often cruel, and equipped with beaks and wings. Birdlike. Three thousand years ago the Assyrians worshipped flying demons, spirits of the desert wind. One was the scaly-winged demon featured in The Exorcist: Pazuzu.

The Yazidi reverence for birds – and snakes – might also be extremely old. Excavations at ancient Catalhoyuk, in Turkey, show that the people there revered bird-gods as long ago as 7000BC. Even older is Gobekli Tepe, a megalithic site near Sanliurfa, in Kurdish Turkey (Sanliurfa was once a stronghold of Yazidism). The extraordinary temple of Gobekli boasts carvings of winged birdmen, and images of buzzards and serpents.

Taking all this evidence into account, a fair guess is that Yazidism is a form of bird-worship, that could date back 6,000 years or more. Over the centuries, new and powerful creeds, such as Islam and Christianity, have swept through Yazidi Kurdistan, threatening the older faith. But, like a species that survives by blending into the landscape, Yazidism has adapted by incorporating aspects of rival religions.

We’ve reached Halil’s house. “Look at this,” he says, showing me a picture of the peacock angel, and a copper sanjak – another representation of Melek Taus. When I have taken some photos, we all sit down to spaghetti bolognaise, with Halil’s wife and their chatty kids. It suddenly seems a long way from the weirdness of Devil-worship, and the violence of the Middle East.

“We Yazidi are not saints,” says Halil, “but we are a peaceful people. All we want is tolerance. We do not worship evil, we just see that the world contains good as well as bad. Darkness as well as light.”

His words are timely. While we eat our pasta, the news comes through from Iraq of the bloody slaughter of Yazidi near Mosul. Halil is deeply distraught. “I feel absolute shock and horror, I feel sick to my stomach. All Yazidi are my family. But we are so alone in the world. We need friends. Many Yazidi would like to leave Iraq, but no one will give us visas.”

He sighs, and adds: “The Yazidi have been persecuted for thousands of years, we are used to it. But we thought the new Iraq would protect minorities. We thought that things would get better when the Americans came…” And then he turns, and stares at the serene blue image, of the great peacock angel.

 

“WHEN SADDAM SLAUGHTERED AND INTERRED THE KURDS, THE ARAB NATION REMAINED SILENT, OR MURMURED IN ASTONISHMENT”

Egyptian columnist criticizes lack of tolerance in the Arab world
MEMRI
October 30, 2007

http://www.memri.org/bin/opener_latest.cgi?ID=SD175207

In an article titled “Why Don’t We Live As Free People?” in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, the director of the Center for Political and Strategic Studies of the Al-Ahram publishing house, Abd Al-Mun’im Sa’id, criticized the Arab world’s silence in the face of the oppression of religious and ethnic minorities such as the Baha’i in Egypt and the Kurds and the Yazidis in Iraq. The absence of protest against ethnic intolerance, he said, is one of the reasons for the absence of freedoms in the Arab world.

The following are excerpts from Abd Al-Mun’im’s article:

“IN ALL ARAB STATES, WE HAVE ALL FAILED THE TEST OF FREEDOM OF RELIGION”

“A country may lack freedom for a number of reasons, which may be related to rulers [or] tyrants, as well as to the economic and social institutions [in that country]. In our days, these reasons are discussed aloud and repeatedly referred to by satellite channel presenters and journalists. But there is one reason that is never mentioned: Those who want freedom [for themselves] lose the power of speech when it comes to [safeguarding] the freedom of others – in particular with regard to political and social rights, especially freedom of religion.

“Human history has shown that adherence to a certain religion, school of thought, or ideology is a strictly personal choice, which depends on the individual, his background, and factors that contribute to his peace of mind. We will never understand why some people become Muslims and others Buddhists, or why the Muslims split into Sunnis and Shi’ites, or the Christians into Protestants, Catholics, and other mutually hostile streams, which fought one another for years on end.

“It seems that the answer [to this conundrum] can be found in any religion: Allah created each of us to belong to one of the numerous and diverse nations and tribes, so that we get to know one another and exchange ideas – because if not for this, all humanity would be the same, either angels or devils.

“In all Arab states, we have all failed the test of freedom of religion and ethnic affiliation... even if [the group in question] shared our same religion or school of thought. When Saddam Hussein slaughtered and interred the Kurds, the Arab nation remained silent, or murmured in astonishment. This silence implied empathy with this [i.e. Saddam Hussein’s] Fascist regime’s fight against imperialism, and fear of Kurdish autonomy – the latter construed as a possible cause of Iraq’s disintegration, while we wish for its unity. What is especially surprising is that the Arabs’ silence on the Kurdish issue is one of the factors that ultimately led to the American invasion of Iraq and the Kurds’ de facto independence, even if [de jures] the Kurdish region [will be] part of the not-yet-established Iraq Federation.

“In Egypt in particular, we have failed more than one test [of freedom of religion], i.e., as concerns the Baha’i and Christians converting to Islam. Denying freedom of religion [to these two groups] was explained just like it was in all [other] cases [of human rights] violation – [by claiming that these religions are connected with] colonialism and that their validity vis-à-vis other religions is therefore [suspect]. And what happened in Egypt happened in other Arab countries as well.”

THE FATE OF THE YAZIDIS – A TRAGIC EXAMPLE

“The most recent test that we all failed has to do with the Yazidis in Iraq. According to the newspapers, the Yazidis were massacred by extremist Sunni groups, while the Arab public watched from a safe distance, concocting tales that portrayed the Yazidi community as Satan worshippers.

“Until this incident, I knew nothing about that group except its name, which surfaced every time the conversation touched upon different ethnic groups and schools of thought in Iraq. The slaughter of 500 members of the Yazidi community, and the [non-intervention stance] taken by the Arab world, have brought this issue, which had to be acknowledged, to the forefront – [since it indicates] the extent to which these people have become a testing ground for freedom of religion in the Arab world.

“Once we learn about the Yazidis, we are surprised to find that they profess an ancient religion that preceded monotheism. Despite numerous and repeated attempts over hundreds of years [to introduce other religions into the Yazidi community], the Yazidis maintained their own faith – even in the face of the ideological and religious challenges [posed by other religions]. [The main challenge,] coming primarily from Islam, concerned the Yazidi religion’s fundamental concept, which has to do with the role that monotheistic religions assign to ‘the angel,’ or ‘peacock,’ [as it is called] in Yazidi lore, and to ‘the Satan’ (iblis) – the one who refused to prostrate himself before Adam [the first man, who dwelt in the Garden of Eden].

“However, even putting aside the question of the validity – or lack thereof – of their beliefs, the important point is that this group has held onto its faith despite the heavy pressure and massacres to which it has been subjected time and again throughout history, especially during the Ottoman period and during Saddam Hussein’s rule…

“Nor did the trials of the Yazidis end with the fall of Saddam Hussein and his government. Al-Qaeda marched into Iraq, bringing with it extreme Sunni fundamentalism, which believed in murder and massacre as a solution to controversy – even for minor disagreements, let alone a ‘Satan worshipping’ sect, as it is dubbed in many languages!

“It is not clear what motives drive these people to adhere to their faith and to stay apart from the Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Muslims, or Jews. The Yazidi minority comprises less than 300,000 people, divided among two districts; they are totally unprotected, with not one ally in the whole world, save for [several] small groups in Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and Germany. These people are confined within their own group, are in constant fear of the outside world, and have never experienced anything but persecution, oppression, and murder.”

“PERSONAL FREEDOM STARTS WHEN THE WEAKEST OF THE WEAK [ARE GRANTED] FREEDOM!”

“It is for this very reason that freedom of religion has, throughout history, been one of the most significant cornerstones of freedom in general. Inasmuch as freedom, in the final reckoning, amounts to the ability to choose, it is the strong, the rich, and the majority – since the latter have the means and resources – that always enjoy a wider choice of different possibilities. [Such freedom, however] comes to naught for an individual or for a group that is weak, marginal, or a minority whose religion no one understands.

“The connection between faith and freedom becomes obvious when it comes to defending the weak, or those who have been marginalized for holding views different [from those of the mainstream]. Defending such people is the first [step] towards defending the personal and political freedom of members of a [certain] political group.

“The facts about the Yazidi community in Iraq... came to light on account of the stoning of a 17-year-old girl by the members of this sect, as a punishment for embracing Islam in order to marry the man she loved. The entire sect turned against a single helpless individual, just because their religion forbade that person to embrace another religion. Following this incident, Islamic groups immediately proceeded to murder 23 Yazidi men as they were on their way to work.

“Once again, we are witness to crime perpetrated by the majority, in all its might and power, against a defenseless minority. As if it was not enough that Al-Qaeda blew up four vehicles in villages with defenseless and unarmed populations, none of whom had proselytized their religion outside the village boundaries.

“The wall of silence was erected in the Arab world [regarding this incident], just as it had been in the past. The silence implied acquiescence and satisfaction, as if the angels and the devils had finally matched the two parts of the equation [i.e. the good and the bad].

“As long as the strong are always tyrants, murderers, and torturers of the weak, there is no reason to be surprised at the results of actions by the majority, or simply by those with the guns and cannon.

“Personal freedom begins when the weakest among the weak [are granted] freedom!”

 

POPE MAKES HEAD OF CHALDEAN CHURCH A CARDINAL

Iraq’s vulnerable Christian minority gets promise of support
The Associated Press
October 30, 2007

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq’s prime minister pledged Saturday to protect and support the Christian minority that has been fleeing the chaos and sectarian violence in the country.
After receiving the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Emmanuel III Delly, Nuri al-Maliki affirmed his government’s readiness and determination to defend the small community.

He also vowed to stop the outflow of Iraqi Christians, according to a statement released by al-Maliki’s office.

Delly, who is the head of Chaldean Church in Iraq and spiritual leader to all Chaldeans, has been outspoken about the need to protect minority Christians from Iraq’s spiraling violence.

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Delly a cardinal, when he named 23 new “princes” of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Christian community here, about 3 percent of the country’s 26 million people, is particularly vulnerable, and has little political or military clout to defend itself.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi Christians, who are mostly Chaldeans, have been targeted by Islamic extremists who label them “crusaders” loyal to U.S. troops.

Churches, priests and business owned by Christians have been attacked by Islamic militants.

Seeking better and safer life, about 50 percent of Iraq’s Christians are thought to have left the country, according to a report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the White House and Congress.

 

SYRIAN-CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT INDIFFERENCE

Bishop decries the government indifference about the abducted priests
AsiaNews
October 18, 2007

Mosul – Mgr Basile George Casmoussa, the Syro-Catholic archbishop of Mosul, has criticised head on both the central government and local authorities, guilty in his view of ‘indifference’ towards the fate of Christians in Iraq. He did so on Ankawa.com, an Arabic-language website.

The prelate has been involved in the difficult negotiations for the release of the two clergymen who were kidnapped last Saturday by an unknown group.

“Not a single politician has called us just to express their solidarity. Not one step of any kind has been taken,” he said, this despite the fact that everyone knows the deadline set by the kidnappers and the huge ransom they demanded.

In addressing the Christian community, Mgr Casmoussa calls on its members “to continue praying, because we need peace,” reminding everyone that “Iraqi Christians are loyal to their country and respectful of every group” who calls it home.

For many faithful, the archbishop’s words are a sign of the concern with which he is following the affair. But so far nothing new is known of the fate of Fr Mazen Ishoa, 35, and Fr Pius Afas, 60.

The kidnappers have demanded that a ransom of a million dollars be paid by October 20, Mgr Casmoussa said.

 

POPE URGES IRAQI PRIESTS’ RELEASE

Pope urges Iraqi priests’ release
BBC News
October 14, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI has called for the release of two priests kidnapped in Iraq during his prayers on Sunday. The two clerics of the Syrian-Catholic diocese of Mosul were kidnapped while attending a funeral on Saturday.

Pope Benedict, speaking in Italian outside the Vatican, asked that they “quickly let the two religious men go”. He said the news from Iraq “rattles the consciences of all those for whom the good of the country and peace in the region is held dear”.

The pontiff was speaking during his traditional Sunday Angelus blessing to pilgrims and tourists at St Peter’s Square in Rome.

“I learned today that two priests from the archdiocese of Mosul were kidnapped and threatened with death,” Pope Benedict said. “I call on the abductors to rapidly liberate the two clerics and I reiterate that violence does not resolve the tensions,” he said.

The two men were seized while attending a funeral in Mosul on Saturday afternoon, Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, Mosul’s head of the Syrian Catholic Church told news agency Associated Press.

Gunmen reportedly ambushed the priests’ car, dragged them out and took them to an unidentified location, according to Archbishop Casmoussa.

He told reporters he had delayed publicising the incident in the hope the kidnappers would demand a ransom and release the priests, but he had yet to hear from them.

The archbishop was himself kidnapped in January 2005 and released a day later without ransom after the abductors realised his identity.

The Syrian Catholic Church is one of the branches of the Roman Catholic Church.

It has been estimated that the Christian community in Iraq represents about 3% of the country’s 26 million people, though it is not clear how many of them have fled the country because of its violence.


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