ISIS Blows Up Ancient Wall of Nineveh

"Nineveh Adad gate exterior entrance" by Fredarch -- Wikimedia Commons

Before the destruction: “Nineveh Adad gate exterior entrance” by Fredarch — Wikimedia Commons

A part of Nineveh’s great wall was dynamited by ISIS militants, according to One of Mosul’s most distinctive ancient structures, the wall dates to the 8th century BC.

According to a local historian, militants

destroyed on Tuesday night much of the historic city wall located on Tahrir neighborhood on the left coast of Mosul….  Using a great amount of explosives, ‘Takfirists’ (Sunni Islamic terrorists) blew pieces of the wall considered the most important historical monument of the Iraqi province and the whole region.

Destruction of ancient monuments is common for ISIS, since some represent pre-Islamic identity while others are considered “idolatry.” They also loot museums wherever they go, but their delicate Islamic sensibilities don’t extend to the destruction of valuable portable artifacts, which are sold on the black market to fun their war machine.

The destruction of the wall calls to mind the dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban.

Remarkable Digital Reconstruction of the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II

The Metropolitan Museum of Art created this video flythrough of the spectacular Northwest Palace of Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (reigned: 883 to 859 BC) in the city alternately known as Numrud, Kalhu, and, in the Bible, Calah. The ruins are about 20 miles south of Mosul, Iraq. The palace walls were covered n reliefs (many of them now scattered throughout the world in various museums) depicting his reign and conquests.

Genesis 10: 8 Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Egypt became the father of Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naph-tuhim, 14 Pathrusim, Casluhim (whence came the Philistines), and Caphtorim.

Iraq TV Knows Who Really Created ISIS: Jews, Americans, and Satan

satanisisWell this is … interesting. MEMRI has translated a music video for a “satiric” Iraqi TV show that exposes the real source of ISIS. Naturally, it’s not Islam or the poisonous ideology that’s been painting the Middle East with blood for 1400 years. The inspiration for their behavior would never be so obvious as the text that says

Sura 8, Verse 12: God revealed His will to the angels, saying: “I shall be with you. Give courage to the believers. I shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels. Strike off their heads, strike off the very tips of their fingers.”

Sura 47, Verse 4: “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads.”

Nah, someone else had to be responsible, and of course it’s everyone’s go-to villain: the Jews, aided by the Americans and the devil. The video shows a Jewish woman (she’s wearing a Star of David) being wed to Satan by a cowboy, and giving birth to a stereotypical head-chopping ISIS fanatic. As the lyrics of the song say:

Jewish Woman: “Lead me to the altar, oh sisters, with explosives belts and devices. / I hope to get a ring on my finger from someone who will destroy the country.”

Devil: “We will call our child ISIS. / I don’t want to repeat it. / Summon him. Tell him to slaughter people. Summon him. Tell him to toy a little with religion.

At least they got the devil part right.

As long as Muslims, aided by Western cultural sensitivity, keep pretending that ISIS (in which the “I” stands for “Islamic”) has nothing to do with Islam, we will get nowhere. While it’s grossly inaccurate to say it represents the majority of Muslims, it’s equally inaccurate to say it is not Islamic or does not reflect ideas found in Islam. Let’s not lie to ourselves in the interest of political correctness.

They Have Drunk of The Everflowing Life

 There’s a paradox in martyrdom that we must accept even if we can’t reconcile ourselves to it: those being killed because of their faith in Christ are simultaneously tragic victims of injustice and barbarism, and glorious witnesses entering into everlasting life because of their sacrifice. Christ promised little more than this in the world, which would hate us because it hated him first.

In his Exhortation to Martyrdom, St. Cyprian praises those who die for the faith:

And lest anyone become frightened and disturbed at the difficulties and persecutions which we suffer in this world, it must be proved that it was formerly predicted that the world would hold us in hatred and would stir up persecutions against us, so that from the very fact that these things happen the faith of the divine promise is manifest in the benefits and the rewards to follow afterwards, and that whatever happens to Christians is nothing new, since from the beginning of the world the good have labored and the just have been oppressed and slain by the unjust.

The thing is, I don’t want to die for my faith. I don’t even want to suffer for it. I doubt very much that the Christians of Iraq do either. They want to be left alone in their homes in peace to live and love and worship as they choose. These aren’t airy abstractions and pious plaster saints: these are real men, women, and children being brutally murdered.

Antonio Ciseri's Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees

Antonio Ciseri’s Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees

Few saints sought martyrdom, though many embraced it when the time came. That’s why they’re saints. It’s not that many people have wanted to die for Christ, but that, when pushed to the point of decision, grace gave them strength to hold firm in faith and say, This far and no farther. The promise of something greater awaits.

Christians like to imagine what it would have been like to walk with Jesus in Jerusalem and sit at the Master’s feet. Given what we know of the times, the ministry of Jesus, and human nature, it’s more likely than not that most modern Christians would have been lining the via dolorosa and paying their “homage” not with bent knee and palm branches, but with jeers and spitting. His own friends and followers turned on and abandoned him. Do we think we’re any better?

If I am to be honest with myself, then I must assume that I would have been holding the scourge that drew flesh from His back or the hammer that drove in the nails. Anything more would be hubris. I know what it took for God to drag me back to the foot of the cross from the deeps where I was drowning. I have no illusions about what I would have done had the Master come along with his band of holy outcasts and said “Follow me.”

Likewise, Christians prefer to think we’d embrace that final cross if the time came. I certainly hope I would. I hope my faith would overcome my instinct for self-preservation. If  it did, it would only be by the grace of God, which is the most we can hope for when the time comes. We all die, and each only once. Only God can grant us the strength to die on our feet as Christians rather than on our knees as an apostates.

Far worse for the parent is the idea of watching your children not merely die for the faith, but be tortured for it. This is why the story of the mother and her seven sons in 2 Maccabees 7 was an important text for the Church fathers. St. Cyprian references it in his Exhortation, as do St Gregory Nazianzen, St Ambrose, St Augustine, and others in various texts.

The chapter depicts a mother and her seven sons who are tortured and executed by Antiochus for refusing to eat pork in violation of the Law. They are steadfast in their faith, and one after another the mother urges each to keep that faith even as her heart breaks to watch them die. One offers his hands and says

“I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.”

The mother, “her woman’s reasoning [fired] with a man’s courage,” says to them

“I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. 23 Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”

She urges her last child to “accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.”

As a late text which assumes the resurrection of the body as the reward for faith, 2 Maccabees offers a striking prelude to the gospel, and this was not lost on the Church Fathers when they used it for preaching. The youngest son even suggests that their sacrifice will be an expiation not merely for their own sins, but for the sins of the nation:

“For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of everflowing life under God’s covenant; but you, by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance. 37 I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by afflictions and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, 38 and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation.”

We are told in the final line that “last of all, the mother died, after her sons.” A mother would choose to die rather than watching her children killed before her eyes, so we have to wonder at the faith and courage she showed until the end.

She knew what every parent should know in our hearts: our primary goal is not to make our children smart, successful, or accomplished (although these are all worthy goals), but to get them to heaven. Again and again, seven times in all, the mother of Maccabees dashed herself against the ragged stones that were the heart of the king. She did not want fear of a “brief suffering” to keep her children from drinking of the everflowing life offered by God.

As the world continues to mint new martyrs, may we do everything in our power to protect their lives, but may we also pray for them to be strong the last, that faith may sustain them in the darkest hours and that, having suffered, they will attain a reward no army could ever take away.

We Broke The World

As I read about the horrors unfolding this week–capping weeks of inconceivable violence aimed at Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities–I found myself utterly unable to express anything about it in words. I’ve held off several posts on topics that seemed trite in the midst of such events, finally just Going For Cute as a respite from the unbroken gloom.

I wish I had something profound to add to the commentary my colleagues and others have been offering about the terrible events of the week, but all that comes to mind when I try to write is, “There are enough words out there already. Just shut up and pray.”As the world continues to mint new horrors that cry out to God, all we can do is cling to our faith in God and love for Him and our fellow man.

The danger we face in the west–from the comfort of our homes safely outside of zones of war and disease–is the tendency to let the Self intrude on these events: how we feel, how we react, what it means to us.

That’s natural. We only have our subjective reality and the horror experienced by another can only be understood in relation to our own understanding of horror.

However, I know that I will live and die without ever fearing that I might see my child decapitated before my eyes. This is the very stuff of the Book of Maccabees. They are things we hear about in history but never think we’ll live to witness. And then we do: in Serbia, Rwanda, Mosul. We have no real reference point, and so our attempts to understand it will always fall short.

Christians have one reference point that has to remain at the center of all our understanding: the cross. There’s a reason one hangs over every altar. It is the pivot point on which the world turns. Nothing, utterly nothing, makes sense without.

I finally watched Noah last night, and while it certainly has problematic elements, one thing it does exceptionally well is depict the world very close to the moment at which sin entered in.  As Noah says to Ham in the move, “We broke the world. We did this.” What we’re witnessing now is the fruit of that first sin.

The wood on which Christ hung was felled in Eden, by our hands. And after all this time, mankind still holds the ax at the root.

We are doing what we can–albeit too little and too late–as civilized people to try to help those on the brink of annihilation, and this is as it should be. We cannot solve all the world’s problems, but we damn well better solve the problems we created, even if it means a 4 point drop in the popularity polls.

I find it interesting that the threatened slaughter of the Yazidi triggered US action, but our leaders could barely raise a voice in protest when Christians were being ground into dust. As I’ve said before, the hour is clear: it’s 64 AD, and whether Christianity is a new faith as it was then, or an old faith as it is now, the persecution is for the same reason: we threaten those who seek power as an end. We upset the narrative. We are an inconvenient reminder that mankind not only broke the world, but killed its maker, and did both things as actions of a free will.

Christendom is shattered, but its greatest strengths live on in the hearts and communities of believers. That’s all we’ve got, and really all we ever needed, despite the glories of our past. We must live as Christians, against all danger and threats. We must forgive, against all wrongs. We must hope, against all evidence. We must love, against all reason.

Muslim Professor Murdered for Supporting Christians

Christians and Muslims lived side-by-side for centuries before the ISIS hoards descended upon Mosul.  Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a law professor from the University of Mosul, knew this well, and spoke out against the persecutions of Christians. He paid for his principled stand with his life when ISIS forces killed him.

From Vatican Insider:

Chaldean website – one of the news sources that offers the promptest updates on the inferno Christians are experiencing in Iraq – announced the news. Amidst the ocean of tragedies currently being witnessed in the Middle Eastern country, the website did not want to let this act of great courage go unnoticed. Professor Ali ‘Asali knew what he was risking: everyone in Mosul knows that in Raqqa – the Syrian city which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seized last year –there are many human rights activists who have paid for their opposition to ISIS’ acts of intolerance with their own lives. But Al ‘Asali was nevertheless unable to stand by in silence.

And so are many other Muslims, who have launched the “I am Iraqi, I am Christian” campaign in response to the letter N’s written on the walls of Christian homes in Mosul. Yesterday some of them turned up outside the Chaldean Church of St. George in Baghdad, with a banner displaying the slogan and posted a picture on Facebook.

The same article reports that the infidel tax (jizyah) for dhimmis (non-Muslim, second-class citizens), which some Muslims portray as reasonable, is $450 a month: an “impossible sum” for the people who have to pay it or die.

In other news, ISIS torched an 1800-year-old church. At least no one was inside. This time.

If the story of Mahmoud Al ‘Asali is true, then he is a hero and a martyr for two faiths. God bless him and all like him.

And, through our tears of grief and rage, may we also recall that for Christians, martyrdom for the Truth is a blessed thing, as Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry observes:

And yet. Yet. Yet there must be joy.The Pauline hope, the anticipation of the Eschaton: yes, in the fullness of time, every knee will bend, every mouth will proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and every tear will be wiped from every eye. And in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the martyrs will reign as gods in unimaginable joy, their glorified wounds illuminating the new Heavens and the new Earth.

But there must also be joy today. Because for as hard as it is for us in the Modern world, for us who are still infants crawling on the path to sanctity, as Christians we must view martyrdom as an occasion of joy and thanksgiving. Happy are you when you are persecuted for my sake, the Lord tells us. Happy are you when you receive the great privilege of being an icon of the Cross, a mirror of God’s glory revealed in the form of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, of being totally faithful to the Teacher.

Through my tears, I must rejoice, for joy is the proper response of the Christian to martyrdom: joy of testimony, joy of fidelity, joy of Christlikeness, terrible joy of the Cross.

May all Christians give perfect testimony of the total love of Christ and give glory to God in the centuries of centuries.


Islamists Marking Christian Homes for Targeting/Confiscation

Christians in Mosul had until Saturday to “accept Islam, pay extra taxes to Islamic Sharia courts or face ‘death by the sword,'” according to a message distributed by ISIS.

Christians are fleeing, of course, and ISIS thugs are marking Christian homes in order to take care of them later. If the people have not left, they will face the Sharia courts or death. In any event, their homes are forfeit to ISIS forces.

Twitter is filling up with images of homes being marked with the letter “Nun” (ن), the Arabic equivalent of our “N” and the abbreviation for Nasara, or “Nazarenes”: what they call Christians in a gesture of contempt to make them seem like outsiders in their own land.

This is what genocide looks like.

And it doesn’t end well.


UPDATE: In the interest of fairness, I changed the word “Muslims” in the headline to “Islamists.” Christians and Muslims, obviously, lived together in peace before ISIS arrived, and “Muslim” casts too wide a net.