CBS Surprisingly Spotlights ISIS's 'Cleansing of Iraq's Christians'

CBS's Lara Logan refreshingly brought new attention to the plight of the ancient Christian communities in Iraq on Sunday's 60 Minutes, as they face annihilation by ISIS. Logan pointed out how ISIS, "just like the Nazis marked the property of Jews, Christian homes...have been marked with this red symbol....When ISIS puts it on your home, you either convert to Islam, pay an extortion tax, or face the sword."

The correspondent pointed out how one Christian couple had to escape Mosul, after members of the Islamist group hinted they were going to force their daughter to marry. She also featured an Iraqi Catholic bishop, who called for a military offensive against the homicidal extremists; as well as an Orthodox Christian bishop, who bemoaned the lack of the outcry from his Muslim neighbors over ISIS's atrocities: [video below]

LARA LOGAN (voice-over): The cleansing of Iraq's Christians from this land is something Archbishop Sharaf believes ought to be generating a much louder cry of outrage from his Muslim friends and neighbors.

ARCHBISHOP NICODEMUS SHARAF, SYRIAC ORTHODOX CHURCH: Speak up. Of course, there is good people – of the Islam people. There is not all Muslim people – they are bad. I believe. But where is the good people? Where is their voice? Nothing. Few, few!

LOGAN (on-camera): With everything that has happened here to the Christians, what has been lost?

ARCHBISHOP SHARAF: They lost our dignity here. I am sorry to say that. We don't have dignity in our country – in our land.

Logan first spotlighted a monastery founded more than 1,600 years ago where monks pray in Aramaic, the language which Jesus spoke: "[St. Matthew's] monastery was founded in 363, and has survived the Persian and Ottoman Empires, Mongol invaders, and Kurdish conquests. Today, it's threatened by the Islamic State, whose fighters advanced towards St. Matthew's gates shortly after taking Mosul last summer. Kurdish soldiers pushed them back to this village, where their flag still flies only four miles from the monastery."

The CBS journalist continued with the first excerpt from her interview of Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who detailed his escape from Mosul with only five ancient texts, and his guess that ISIS burned the rest of his church's collection – "Christian relics that may never be recovered," as she put it. After pointing up how the terrorists marked the homes of Christians, Logan continued with the account of the Christian family whose young daughter was threatened:

LOGAN: ...Just like the Nazis marked the property of Jews, Christian homes in Mosul have been marked with this red symbol. It's the Arabic letter 'N', for 'Nasara' – an early Islamic term for Christians. When ISIS puts it on your home, you either convert to Islam, pay an extortion tax, or face the sword.

Issah al Qurain is one of tens of thousands who had to make that choice. He was at home with his family in the Christian village where he'd lived all his life, when ISIS fighters came looking for him. He told us the fighters first took all his money – then, his wife and children.

LOGAN (on-camera): So, they were telling you convert, convert, convert?

ISSAH AL QURAIN (through translation): Yes – convert. In the beginning, I refused. I told them I was Christian, and I had my religion and they had their religion. But they told me, if you don't convert, we will kill you, and take your wife and children.

LOGAN (voice-over): He agreed, and was taken to Mosul to convert, where he was reunited with his family. Soon, ISIS fighters were asking about his young daughter, and he told us that frightened him more than anything.

AL QURAIN (through translation): They said to me that in Islam, the sharia says girls that are ten years old should get married. As soon as they left, my wife and I shut the door. We looked at each other, and she started to cry and pray. We were so scared they were going to take our daughter from us.

LOGAN: They escaped in the back of a taxi. Issah says they talked their way through three ISIS checkpoints, and traveled for over four hours on back roads to Erbil – where, like Archbishop Sharaf, they now live as refugees.

The correspondent then featured Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, who pointed out the deterioration of the situation for Christians since the start of the Iraq War in 2003:

LOGAN (on-camera): This is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world – thousands of years old.

ARCHBISHOP BASHAR WARDA, CHALDEAN CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF ERBIL: Two thousand years, yes – almost.

LOGAN: And when you look at it today, where is that Christian community here?

ARCHBISHOP WARDA: Disappearing – it's dying.

LOGAN (voice-over): Archbishop Warda said Christians in Iraq, ironically, felt safer under Saddam Hussein. Democracy brought a new wave of persecution, and prompted a mass exodus of Christians. When the U.S. withdrew completely in 2011, Archbishop Warda said the situation became even worse, because Iraq's new leaders were incapable of governing without help.

ARCHBISHOP WARDA: I think the American support was needed – needed forcefully. You cannot leave the country like this, and tell them, 'Well, we've liberated you. We cannot do the job for you, and we are walking away. And this is your country – rule it.'

LOGAN (on-camera): So, in your view, walking away in 2011 was just as damaging to Iraq as 2003 when the U.S. invaded?

ARCHBISHOP WARDA: Yes, yes. It's not blaming, but that's the reality. This is not what you came for in 2003. Four thousand sacrifices of the American soldiers was not meant for – to come to this – to this day.

Logan spotlighted the call for military action from Archbishop Warda towards the end of her 13-minute-long report. She also zeroed in on the Iraqi Christian militias fighting ISIS, who are receiving some support from Western volunteers:

LOGAN (voice-over): Most everyone we met welcomed U.S.-led airstrikes here, but they also said it's not nearly enough. Taking back Mosul – a city of about 1.5 million people – is widely understood to be a difficult prospect. Archbishop Warda believes the Iraqi army can't do it alone. And as long as the city remains in the hands of ISIS – who he refers to as Daesh, its Arabic name – no Christians will be going home.

ARCHBISHOP WARDA: For me, Daesh is a cancer. It's a disease. So sometimes, you take some hard measures – unfortunate measures – to deal and to treat this cancer.

LOGAN (on-camera): So you want to see a major military offensive to retake Mosul?

ARCHBISHOP WARDA: Yeah – to get Iraq to its normal situation.

LOGAN: And by getting Iraq to its normal situation, you mean restoring the border between Iraq and Syria?

ARCHBISHOP WARDA: Yes.

LOGAN: Getting rid of Daesh – the Islamic State?

ARCHBISHOP WARDA: Exactly.

LOGAN: Defeating them militarily?

ARCHBISHOP WARDA: Please God.

LOGAN (voice-over): The Christian community hastily set up militias to guard their deserted villages and homes along the front line, and they're getting a little help. We were surprised to come across American Brett Felton – a Christian veteran of the Iraq War – who traveled, on his own, from Detroit to train Christian volunteers. And this man, Khamis, who said he came from Australia – driven to defend the land where he was born.

LOGAN (on-camera): What do you think the Islamic State intends to do with the Christians here?

KHAMIS: To wipe them out – to be nothing – no place left that bears the name of Christian or Christianity. (clip of Iraqi Christians praying)

LOGAN: Christians in the frontier town of Alqosh live in the shadow of the Islamic State. Under constant threat, the militiamen keep watch as they celebrate their faith – and carry out traditions that are as old as Christianity on the Nineveh Plains.

NBDaily Foreign Policy Iraq Middle East War on Terrorism Religion Christianity Islam Catholic Church CBS 60 Minutes Video ISIS Lara Logan
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