KAPOLEI, Hawaii (ChurchMilitant.com) - Christian mass murder continues unabated in the Middle East, and American policymakers are making moves that could doom the followers of Christ to another round of bloodshed. Yet Jason Jones is in a fighting mood.
"This is the Catholic moment," says Jones from his home in Hawaii. The Catholic activist, author and filmmaker recently returned from a two-week trip to Iraq and spoke with Church Militant Tuesday about American policy in the Middle East, expressing his hopes that the Trump administration will follow a different course.
"The decision to invade Iraq and leave Iraq has created one of the greatest catastrophes in the history of mankind," says Jones. Now, he is trying to convince Americans, and Catholics in particular, not to repeat the same mistakes.
Jones was raised in an atheist household. He joined the military at age 17 after discovering his girlfriend was pregnant. Without his knowledge, Jones' girlfriend aborted their child at the behest of her father while in the third trimester of her pregnancy. Jones was shocked.
At the time, he had not even been aware that abortion was legal. Yet it was not until he was deployed to Thailand and witnessed a young father caring for his dying child that Jones could truly feel the shock and pain of losing his own.
When Jones returned to Hawaii, he became involved in pro-life groups. His fight for the weakest among us and a belief in the innate dignity of human life led him towards the Catholic Church. Says Jones, "The Catholic Church knew the most about the dignity of the human person."
By 2001, he had decided he would become Catholic, and on August 6, 2003, he was welcomed into the Church.
In 2002, Jones formed a human rights organization, which came to be known as Human Rights Education Organization (HERO). The organization, along with Jones' 2015 book, The Race to Save Our Century, co-written with Catholic author John Zmirak, lay out a platform to "apply consistently the principles of Catholic social teaching" and to re-orient American foreign and domestic policy towards the fundamental moral truths.
Jones is a regular at pro-life events like the 40 Days for Life campaign, but his work has also taken him around the world. Some of his most prominent work is in collaboration with his friend, Brad Phillips of the Persecution Project, to gain attention and aid for Darfur in southern Sudan.
Jones starkly contrasts actual Catholic social teaching with the inflated talk of modern liberals. He lambastes the regnant culture of "victimism," or the habit of showing concern for victims in order to gain power for oneself. But real concern for victims requires real sacrifice. Jones quotes French philosopher Rene Girard: "When you are in solidarity with the vulnerable, you will also be vulnerable."
Jones' work eventually turned towards the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
His first interactions with Assyrian Christians occurred in the late 1990s. Building relationships and engaging with the people of the region led him to understand how many ethnic and religious minorities populated the area and how fragile the political situation that kept these minorities from Islamist subjugation.
Understanding the volatile situation, Jones became a critic of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, and now claims he was merely "parroting" Pope John Paul II, who at the time warned of the dangers faced by Iraq's many religious and ethnic minorities if the Baathist regime was overthrown. The Holy Father's concerns were realized in the resulting American invasion under the Bush administration and the country's abandonment under Obama, which have left the nation in disarray and decimated its native Christian population.
The full horrors faced by Christians were not realized until the 2010 attack on Our Lady of Deliverance Church in Baghdad. This marked the beginning of ISIS, the military group that now controls huge swathes of Iraq and Syria.
Jone strives to raise awareness of Christians' plight. His most recent trip to Iraq put him in contact with many of Iraq's Christians and allowed him to see in person the devastation wrought by the Islamic State.
One of his stops was the St. Matthew's monastery in northern Iraq. Established in 363 A.D., the monastery's library contains some of the world's oldest copies of Christian texts. But for the first time in its history, the monastery that withstood the armies of Muhammad and Suleiman had to be evacuated. The peshmerga, who make up the Kurdish army that has provided the most resolute defense against the ISIS hordes, reclaimed the monastery. It now provides shelter for many of the region's uprooted Christians.
The Kurdish region of northern Iraq is now home to 80 percent of Iraq's dispossessed Christians. Yet almost no one in the West seems interested in the region. When Jones spoke to an Iraqi Catholic priest in a refugee camp, he was surprised to find he was the only American who had ever visited. Traveling to other camps across Kurdistan, Jones heard the same thing: He was the first American ever to have visited. No one from the military or the State Department had been to see them.
In conversation with a high-ranking Kurdish official, Jones was self-deprecating, saying he was only a small-time filmmaker and activist. The official agreed that Jones was small-time for an American but told him, "A small American can do more for my country than the most powerful Kurd."
Jones also has sympathy for the Muslim victims of ISIS, whom he says are "absolutely horrified" by the group's atrocities.
Jones recounts witnessing a Yazidi girl who was re-united with her father by the peshmerga. A former general in the Iraqi army was there. One of the men began reciting a Muslim prayer, which sent the girl running to her father, shrieking in fear. Her barbarous captors had recited the same prayer in her presence. The former general fell to his knees and wept, disgusted and ashamed that his beloved prayer could frighten a child.
Jones notes that Catholic Christians are the one religion that have no "other." He said, "Not even the enemy is the 'other.'" This is not a pacifist philosophy, according to him. Christians must stop atrocities not only for the sake of the victims but for the good of those who might otherwise lose their souls for their crimes.
What steps must Americans take in the Middle East? Jones is blunt about the first one: "Wipe ISIS and al-Qaeda off the face of the earth."
And while Jones recognizes the need to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he hopes the United States will employ a more nuanced approach that keeps Syria's Alawite minority in power.
He warns Americans not to be too easily swayed by the press. "U.S. media are professional mourners," he claims. Powerful special interests in the Middle East "have the New Yorker on speed dial," but the weakest in the region have a harder time getting attention. Americans must use their sovereignty to act rationally and humanely.
"Sentiment is not enough," Jones said.
Jones also notes the problem faced in getting charitable donations to the region. He refers to a study claiming that only 0.5 percent of all Christian giving actually goes to the persecuted Church around the world.
And much of the aid money directed towards the region never makes it to refugees. Money sent to the region must first go through Baghdad, and the Iraqi government is more liable to send money to its allies in Tehran than to Kurdistan.
Jones is also disappointed by the passivity of Catholic bishops, who talk "more about immigration and pollution than genocidal war."
Catholics must remember their co-religionists in their prayers, he says. "We should pray for them by name in our churches every Sunday."
Jones stresses the need for American Catholics to appreciate the great gifts given to them and to realize those gifts come with great responsibilities.
To remind himself of this fact, Jones keeps in his home a shattered, plastic flower. The plastic flower was one of many retrieved from a church shot up by ISIS. Bullet holes scarred the face of Christ, the product of rounds of 5.56 NATO ammuntion from American M16s. These were the rifles supplied to "anti-Assad rebels" during the Obama administration and were used to desecrate churches and murder Christians throughout the region.
"Reminds me to pray for them," Jones comments.
Some of the shattered flowers he has given away, one to Tim Tebow's mother, another to Tulsi Gabbard, Jones' representative who has been one of the few congressmen to question American intervention in Syria. But Jones keeps one of the flowers for his own contemplation.
At present, he's producing a documentary about Obama's disastrous legacy in Iraq (the video trailer is embedded above). The film is being produced by Jones' Movie to Movements, a program of HERO.
A crowdfunding site has been set up to raise funds for Jones' film here.