Chapman’s News & Ideas A Just War: Rescue the Christians of Iraq and Syria

Catholics and other Christians often appeal to the Just War doctrine of St. Augustine to decide whether force is justified in combatting armed evil. Many Christians have the de facto position of “Never.” But that usually is a mask for indifference or, worse, appeasement, as it was for many pacifists before World War II. Church congregations routinely are asked to pray for various persecuted and victimized peoples around the world, but somehow there seldom is any mention of Christians. Yet fellow Christians, one would think, should elicit especial concern, since the future of the Church is plainly challenged by persecution, and especially now by the arrant genocide going on in the Middle East.

I have been appalled by the reluctance of Christian officials to speak out in defense of Christians in an age when martyrs are more numerous than ever before, or at least since the initial waves of Muslim conquests from the 8th to 15th centuries. Only in recent weeks has the Pope seeming seemed to call for a military response, though even so he is eager to hedge his advice with various cautions and limitations. And yet we have the wrench appeal of the Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul, Iraq, whose own captured cathedral church has become a headquarters for the murderous ISIS regime that beheads opponents, shoots others, rapes others and sells women and children into slavery. Remember, please, that the Christians were in Mosul and other parts of the Middle East hundreds of years before the first Muslims and have not been persecuted in this way since the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. ISIS is a new group, not an old one, in any case, and has no standing whatever to impose its rule on anyone.

Says Archbishop Amel Nona, “Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.

“Please, try to understand us,” he continues. “Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.”

I have seen this statement criticized for recommending that Christians in the West go “against your principles,” but to make this criticism (from an armchair somewhere in the West) you have to show a willful disregard for the plain meaning. It is not a plea to stop loving your enemy, even as Christ did on the cross. It is not proposing an end to freedom of speech. And it is not suggesting that in a military response we abandon consideration for proportionality and the protection (to the extent possible) of civilians. No, it is to ask the West to evaluate its action not just in light of the principles that militate against planned violence and prevent us from getting involved in the troubles of others, but also in the light of higher principles of life and liberty. Historically our scruples against violence are far more serious than those of any other population that gains power. These reasons for non-violence must be overcome if justice is to be done and peace achieved. Sorry, but that sometimes is the case, and it appears that each new generation needs to learn the truth about it.

This subject has been the topic of at least a dozen posts in this space over the past decade. (For example.) What does it take to actually mobilize US public opinion and therefore the laggard US government?

UPDATE: Jim Fitzgerald of Colorado just advised me of a September 8-11 meeting in Washington, D.C. that is ecumenical, but has been organized mainly by Orthodox bodies in the U.S,. to call for stronger American action in defense of persecuted Christians in the Middle East. This is a much needed first step. See brochure below:

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