Yazidis flee from ISIS toward the Syrian border. Image via Al Jazeera
It has been difficult for me to blog over the past six weeks. Aside from spending some time in the northern Michigan woods and attending my sister’s wedding, I have been closely following the situation in Israel and Gaza since three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed two months ago. So far 1,960 Gazans have been killed and nearly 10,000 wounded. 67 Israelis have been killed by Hamas (3 civilians, 64 soldiers). These statistics do not take into account the three Israelis who were kidnapped and killed, the Palestinian who was burned alive in what appears to be a revenge killing by Ultra Orthodox Jews, and those killed by IDF forces in the West Bank. I lived in Jerusalem for a year, during which time I traveled all over the country and the West Bank. I would have loved to make it to Gaza, but it is difficult to get in without special permission. My heart is in that Land its people, and I have friends on both sides of the wall. The fighting died down recently with two 72 hour ceasefires, but apparently neither side was able to come to an agreement. As I understand it, the fighting is set to resume again soon. Rest assured, I understand the situation is far more complicated than just throwing out numbers, but they are nonetheless devastating.
During the lull in Gaza , I started paying closer attention to what was happening in Iraq after seeing some disturbing photos and articles on my Facebook feed. After a few days of heartbreaking research, I began looking for ways to help the religious minorities suffering as a result of ISIS’s campaign of brutality.
Add in my full time job, and needless to say, it has been difficult for me to take my 90s exploration seriously in recent weeks. I do plan on continuing and have some fun things planned (hip hop exploration, 90s Halloween movies, a Festivus celebration, etc.), but when I have an understand of a situation where there is great humanitarian need and I have the platform to raise awareness, support, and money, to help, I feel obligated to take advantage of it. I prepared a Facebook post with all the information in it I could muster about the crimes ISIS is committing and what we can do to help. The bulk of that post is recorded below. I sincerely hope you will read on and take action to help those who are being massacred and displaced by ISIS.
Over the past few days, I have been researching the situation in Iraq, trying to learn what has happened and what I can do to help. I want to offer some of that information here. This will not be not the best explanation of the situation or an exhaustive list of things you can do to help, but it is my best attempt. Please read on if you are interested in understanding and contributing to the humanitarian crisis going on in Iraq. If there is any misinformation here, or if you have any additional information that would be helpful, do not hesitate to contact me or comment below.
First of all, what is going on in Iraq?
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS, or IS for short) has recetly advanced into northern Iraq from Syria, taking over areas of land inhabited by Christians and other religious minority groups (here is a good article that plots the advance on maps for the geographically challenged). IS is a radical Sunni Muslim terrorist group that wants to set up an Islamic State ruled by Sharia Law. They even announced a Caliphate (a successor to Mohammed who rules in religious and military capacity) at the end of June of this year. They used to be an offshoot of al-Qaeda, but IS’s tactics are so savage and barbaric, that al-Qaeda actually broke ties with them (which sounds insane). People are saying we have not seen an evil like this on our planet since Nazi Germany or Genghis Khan. We are talking about mass executions, entire families being shot in the face, crucifixions, rapes, children being cut in half or decapitated, and people being burned alive. One person even cites an instance where IS decapitated children and set their heads on poles inside a park. There is a report of 1,500 people being massacred in a day. This is brutality beyond what we can imagine, and IS does not shy away from boasting about it on social media. It has been called “genocide” by President Obama and religious leaders and a “crime against humanity” by the UN Secretary General.
To learn more about IS, watch this video and read this article. Here’s the Wiki for good measure. Additionally, Vice recently released a five part mini-documentary on ISIS filmed inside Syria and Iraq.
When IS recently took control of Mosul, which is ancient Nineveh and the second largest city in Iraq, they gave an ultimatum to all the city’s Christians: death, conversion, or taxation. IS also marked the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter nun (ن), which stands for Nasrani, or Nazarine (one of two words that means “Christian” in Arabic. The other is Mesiahi, or “Messiahite”). This identified the homes of Iraqi Christians and put them at risk if they did not comply with IS’s demands. Many of them fled for their lives and have become refugees; some converted to stay; others paid the tax and were killed anyway. Many who fled were robbed by IS at checkpoints along the way. IS has recently taken control of Qaraqosh, a largely Christian town in Eastern Iraq, as well , and 50,000 Christians have fled for their lives.
Additionally, IS has destroyed ancient churches in Mosul, including an 1,800 year old building (although this is disputed here) and the traditional tomb of the Prophet Jonah. Other churches have been converted to mosques, and all the crosses were removed from the city. For the first time in 1,600 years, there is no mass being celebrated in Mosul.
Because Western Christians have been accused of suddenly caring about this humanitarian issue in the Middle East only because it involves other Christians, let me also say that IS is massacring and displacing other minority groups in northern Iraq as well, such as Shiite Muslims, Turkmen, Yazidis, and Shabak. I will not explain each group here, but in brief, the difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims has to do with who each group believed should succeed the Prophet Muhammad (for more, here are a couple vids and an article). As I understand it, IS marked Shiite houses the same way it marked Christian houses and is involved in setting off car bombs in Baghdad, which is a Shiite controlled area.
IS is also targeting Yazidis, an ancient religious group that combines elements of Islam, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism. IS considers the Yazidis infidels. Tens of thousands of Yazidis have fled IS, some into Kurdish areas and others to the top of Mt. Sinjar. Earlier this week, thousands were trapped on Mt. Sinjar without food or water. IS had surrounded base of the mountain, so it was impossible for them to escape without being killed. Here is raw footage of a helicopter rescuing Yazidis there and firsthand accounts of what happened here. In this video, a Yazidi woman in Iraqi Parliament pleads for the government to intervene on behalf of her people. Please watch the whole thing, and listen to the desperation in her voice.
On August 7th President Obama authorized air strikes on IS if they began to advance any further east, as well as humanitarian aid to Yazidis trapped on Mt. Sinjar. Two days later, he gave this update on the operation. Here is a video of the aid drops and air strikes. 20,000 Yazidis made it off Mt. Sinjar Sunday with the help of US air strikes, although it is unclear how many remain there. This report notes that the US sent 130 more military personal to Iraq on Tuesday; Australia has begun humanitarian air drops in Iraq; and France announced today that they will begin arming Kurdish forces in their fight against IS.
All in all, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people who are affected by IS’s advance in Iraq, and their attack on religious minorities is absolutely horrific.
With all that in mind, what can we do to help?
If you’re anything like me, you feel helpless in the wake of this incredible evil, injustice, and suffering. However, there are a few things we can do to get involved.
(1) Change your profile picture to raise awareness. Many have changed their profile pictures to the Arabic Nun in solidarity with Iraqi Christians who had it painted on their houses to identify them. I have received FB messages asking me what this picture means, and that has given me the chance to explain it to others. If you do change your profile picture, you may also explain why on the picture’s description or post an article that explains it.
The Arabic letter “nun,” which IS forces are painting on the houses of Christians to identify them. Many are changing their profile pictures to stand in solidarity with them.
(2) Study. Knowledge is power, and learning more about this crisis can not only help bring better understanding but allow us to help in ways that better aid those who are affected. I would also add that for those of us who are American Evangelical Christians who want to support Iraqi Christians, we need to understand that there are very few Protestant Christians in Iraqi. Instead, the Christians IS is targeting are mostly Arab Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians who have very different traditions and faith practices than we do. Consider visiting Catholic or Orthodox churches in your area to learn more about how they worship and why. I’m currently reading this book which gives a simple and helpful summary of Orthodox Theology. Also, we need to be careful of the way we speak about these Christians when this crisis subsides. They are always our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether they are persecuted or not and regardless of how different their faith may appear to us.
(3) Give. I found a number of humanitarian organizations that are doing good work on the ground in Iraq, and I want to highlight a few:
First, there is The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, founded by Canon Andrew White, who is known as “The Vicar of Baghdad.” From what I have learned about Andrew, he is quite an amazing man. He has been in Baghdad for 15 years and refuses to leave the country although he lives under lock down in his church (the only Anglican Church in Iraq) and visits his congregation only when guarded by heavy security. The church runs a clinic that happily serves anyone of any faith or ethnic background. He is also involved in the reconciliation of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, which is an incredible thing. He has appeared on major news outlets and updates regularly on Facebook and Twitter. If all this wasn’t enough, he is battling MS and walks with the help of a cane at 49. Here is a three part video on him.
I would highly recommend giving to his Foundation. You can do so via paypall here.
Second, there is adoptarefugeefamily.org, which works with the Jesuits to aid refugees. You can adopt a family and give once a month support or give a one time donation via paypall to support relief efforts in Mosul here (click on “Donate to Mosul Relief” in the upper right hand corner).
Third, you can help Iraqi Christian refugees by giving to Open Doors, an organization that serves persecuted Christians around the world.
Here are a few more I found: Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution, and Christian Aid.
Here is a Reddit thread that discusses ways to help Christians targeted by IS.
Of course, you can always give through Red Cross or other well known NGOs but I wanted to at least list a few others that may be helpful as well. I apologize that I did not have time to investigate each one as much as I would have liked, so I recommend doing your own research before giving. However, I hope you will give. For us city folk, it would be very easy to forego a few cocktails this weekend and give that money to those who so desperately need it. Others will be able to give more, but we can all give something. Even a little bit helps.
(4) For those who are so inclined, you may sign this petition that urges President Obama to expand humanitarian aid, increase air strikes against ISIS and arm Kurds, Sunni tribesmen, and others fighting ISIS on the ground.
(5) If you are a person of faith, spend time in prayer not only to bring requests on behalf of those suffering but also to increase your own solidarity with them.
(6) Share this post, not because I think it’s the best explanation of this crisis or most exhaustive list of ways to help, but because it will bring awareness and perhaps start conversations that can save lives.
(7) Leverage your social media platforms. Some of you reading this are also bloggers or have a large number of followers on social media platforms. Consider writing something about this issue or sharing an article that explains it. Posting links to charities is also helpful. Even a short blog post, tweet, or an Instagram can make a difference. I understand this may not be what your target audience expects to read, but this issue is more important than web traffic.
Thank you for reading this! I hope it is helpful and inspires you to look for ways you can aid those who have been so horrifically affected by IS. Again, if you see a factual error, have any helpful information, or know more ways people can get involved to help, do not hesitate to contact me or comment below. I’m not an expert on any of this, just a dude with a computer.