The Italian journal, Corriere della Sera, published August 9 the statement of the exiled Chaldean Archeparch of Mosul, Amel Nona. The statement is brief and exceedingly powerful. Christians have been in Mosul for 1700 years. They are driven out or killed by the new Islamic State following the principles of its own founding.
We think that these tragic events do not affect us. Archbishop Nona does not agree. “Our sufferings 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.” This blunt passage is not unlike that of the Archbishop of Chicago who has stated that he expects his successors either to be jailed or killed.
Such events make us realize how difficult it is for us to understand something like the killings of Christians in Mosul and other Muslim places. We like to think we can get along with everyone, that these are deeds of “fanatics.” It cannot happen here. But we can no longer be so sure of this. It turns out that our constitutional and sentimental views almost make us blind not to the event but to its causes.
“Try to understand us,” Archbishop Nona pleads. “Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here.” Indeed, we can even argue that these principles paralyze us and make us blind to the reality of persecution by and in Islamic spheres. “You must reconsider our reality in the Middle East because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims.” We think these immigrants are coming to find jobs or to escape violence. But in fact many are coming with missionary purposes, to convert in one way or another everyone to Islam. The Christians of Mosul were given the standard Muslim choice—conversion or death. Some managed to flee. The Islamic State means business.
“Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions even at the cost of contradicting your principles.” We wonder: What is the man saying? “Contradict our principles?” Are these principles not what make us free? The Archbishop sees them as the avenues by which the Islam that is now destroying his diocese and city will destroy European and American cities. We find this preposterous. Hence, we will not consider that the Archbishop may well be right. This is just some religious aberration in some far-off place.
We are largely utopians who think that things are as we want them to be. We are not realists like a man becomes who sees his people killed and the physical buildings of his people either destroyed or taken over. Is the archbishop wrong to universalize his experience? Is this not just a passing local affair? “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 homes.”
The Muslims who immigrate into Europe or America often do not assimilate. They soon form their own enclaves wherein they can practice their own religion under their own law. This phenomenon is what the Archbishop was pointing to. The clash of values is a momentous one, but it is a clash of values, a completely different understanding of what man, God, and the world are about.
The Archbishop’s message to us is a warning. But it will not be believed. He seems to be aware of this. His witness is disturbing enough because it brings to our attention the plight of his people. But it is even more disturbing as an understanding of our culture and values from the outside. It is not that Islam is unintelligible. Rather, it is unintelligible if we persist on seeing it through our principles that are not universally accepted when we assume they are. “Try to understand” this fact. Such is the last message from Mosul’s Christian martyrs.
James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic and The Modern Age.