By Erin Rodewald // May 8, 2015
(This article originally appeared at The Philos Project)
Sunday is Mother’s Day in the United States and many other countries around the world. It is a happy time to celebrate motherhood and the nurturing role that mothers play in shaping our families and our culture.
When my girls were small, they delighted in showering me with gifts: breakfast in bed, flower bouquets plucked from our garden, handcrafted trinkets fashioned from Popsicle sticks, string and glitter. Of course, the greatest gift was the joy these precious children infused into my life: their giggles, their hugs and their endless questions. My dearest desire and most fervent prayers have been for their health and safety and for the fulfillment of their dreams.
It is as a mother, therefore, that my heart breaks for my counterparts in the Middle East who are overwhelmed by unprecedented persecution simply because of their Christian beliefs. What of their dreams? What of their prayers? Here in the West, we worry whether our children are doing well in school, whether they have friends and if they are being treated fairly on the soccer field. The worries of mothers who have escaped places like Mosul, Qaraqosh and the villages near Sinjar Mountain are of the existential variety: Can I feed my babies today? Will they have a place to sleep? Will my children be kidnapped in the dark of night?
During the past year, these mothers have endured unspeakable horrors at the hands of radical Islamists. Their sons have been beheaded, their daughters have been brutally raped and tortured, and they themselves have been sold into slavery. What is the message of Mother’s Day for these families?
A new report by the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a Christian human rights organization founded by Pastor Randel Everett, warned that religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq are living on the edge of extinction. The Islamic State has systematically purged Christians and other groups – including Yazidis, Shabak and Turkmen – from their ancestral homelands in the Nineveh Plain of northern Iraq since June 2014. According to the Wilberforce Report, the Christian community in that part of the world has plummeted from approximately 1.5 million a decade ago to a mere 300,000 today.
In January, Senior Fellow and former Congressman Frank Wolf and a five-member delegation from the Wilberforce Initiative traveled to Iraq to document the ethnic and religious cleansing in the region. Over the course of a week, the team met with dozens of displaced Christians and other religious minorities in war-ravaged villages fewer than 2 miles from ISIS-controlled territory. Their aim was to better understand the extent of the human rights crisis and assess how the West can best assist this desperate community. The conclusions are grim.
Speaking to an audience of human rights activists, policy analysts and students at the American Enterprise Institute this week, Wolf commented on the plight of those persecuted in Iraq and the nature of the conflict: “This is a national security issue and a moral issue. We are not currently winning the battle against ISIS mostly because we are only doing a fraction of what can be done.” Wolf went on to describe specific recommendations to counter the atrocities he and his team witnessed while in Iraq. Among them, supporting local forces and establishing a Nineveh Plains Province uniquely designed for Christians, Yazidis and other besieged minorities.
Also speaking on the AEI panel were Nina Shea, a senior fellow and the director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, and Daniel Mark, an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Both underscored the importance of naming the threat sweeping across the Middle East and communicating its urgency to the American public. “The first point is to acknowledge who are the victims and why they are the victims, because policies flow from that correct analysis,” Shea said. “The radical Islamists today see religious freedom as a vice. They believe the apostates and blasphemers should be killed. This is the root of the problem, the root of ISIS: their utter rejection of religious freedom and the freedom of expression that goes with it.”
“How can we not weep for history,” Mark added. “The people on the other side – ISIS and their comrades in arms – are barbarians. These are people who don’t just go in for the usual rape, torture and killing of ordinary barbarians. These are people who separate women by eye color to suit the preferences of their ravagers.” In his sobering analysis, Mark argued that restoring communities that are already decimated by ISIS will be a Herculean task. While certain USCIRF recommendations, such as raising the refugee resettlement ceiling, may alleviate tremendous suffering and may be a moral imperative, they do little to address the issue of restoration.
Still, certain tools as identified by the USCIRF’s 2015 annual report would provide a means to bolster efforts to advance freedom of religion abroad and circumvent future crises. One recommendation is the expansion of the current classification of “countries of particular concern” or CPCs, to also include non-state actors. Such transnational or local organizations (e.g., ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda) have been identified by the USCIRF as some of the most egregious violators of religious freedom and drivers of religious and ethnic persecution. Purposefully recognizing and classifying these non-state groups as CPCs would trigger important sanctions and diplomatic actions.
Finally, the three panelists – Wolf, Shea and Mark – agreed that President Barack Obama must not further delay the appointment of the “Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia.” This vital position was created last summer when Obama signed into law legislation that passed unanimously in both houses of Congress. More than just an ombudsman, this special envoy will report directly to the secretary of state and be tasked with monitoring and combating acts of religious intolerance against religious minorities throughout the Middle East.
This Mother’s Day, as we enjoy the luxuries of Sunday brunch and the laughter of our children, we cannot forget the other mothers, those who are desperate and persecuted in Iraq because of their faith. Noted 18th century English politician and abolitionist William Wilberforce said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” Instead of looking away, take action in solidarity with the other mothers:
Engage: There are policy decisions that can be made. Petition Obama to appoint a special envoy for religious freedom. Learn more about groups like the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative and its recommendations for addressing the needs of the persecuted church in Iraq.
Donate: Make this year’s gift to mom a gift to moms in needs. Prayerfully consider donating to one of the many humanitarian aid organizations serving the persecuted church, such as Samaritan’s Purse, Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors or International Christian Concern.
Pray Believing: Some circumstances are beyond human comprehension or correction and require the hand of God. There is power in prayer as I Corinthians 2:9 reminds us: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived: the things God has prepared for those who love him.”