Shortly thereafter, in July, ISIS announced through Mosul's mosques that the already-dwindling Christian population of 35,000 had the options to either convert to Islam or pay a protection tax, also referred to as “Jizya” according to traditional Islamic law. Those who refused were to “submit to the sword.”
Submitting to neither, Mosul's Christians, a people who had lived in the region since the first centuries thanks to the ministries of St. Thomas and St. Jude, fled the city by the thousands while ISIS began systematically destroying crosses, sacred statues, and up to 30 churches.
After having their homes desecrated with the letter “N,” meaning “Nassarah,” a term used for Christians in the Quran, the unfortunate souls left behind became targets for persecution.
Repeating what had already taken place just three months prior in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, Mosul's Christians endured an Islamic brutality unseen since the Crusades, suffering crucifixions, beheadings and death by firing squad. ISIS spared neither man, woman nor child. One gruesome photo circulating across the web showed ISIS militants pinning a naked woman across a table, with blood pouring from her slit throat.
While the atrocities were sharply condemned by Western leaders, including an endorsement by the Holy Father to take limited military action, militarily speaking, our response towards ISIS has been useless at best, and counter-productive at worst. Due to President Obama's staunch commitment to keeping his promise of not sending ground troops back into the Middle East, our attempts at stopping ISIS via airstrikes have either plainly not worked or even helped the caliphate.
Without a solid presence of troops on the ground to properly discern enemy combatants from civilians, ISIS has been using the subsequent collateral damage to bolster their propaganda machine with images of dead civilians contrasted with staged videos and pictures of ISIS militants planting flowers and repaving roads.
The gravity of the situation came full circle in February when ISIS unveiled its growing presence in northern Libya by releasing the video of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians being beheaded on a Libyan beach.
ISIS now holds territories in Iraq, Syria and Libya, putting them on Europe's doorstep, with the Mediterranean Sea as the only buffer. As of today, ISIS now stands just a little over 1200 miles away from Vatican City, and they have made their intentions to attack it known.
In the same video titled “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross,” ISIS boldly declared:
All Crusaders: Safety for you will be only wishes especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore we will fight you all together. The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden's body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood. …We will conquer Rome, by Allah's permission, the promise of our Prophet, peace be upon him.
Vatican security has since gone under high alert. In an interview with the Italian daily Il Giornale, Christoph Graf, commander of the Vatican Swiss Guard, assured faithful Catholics that they are “well organized” and “ready to intervene if anything happens.”
When asked if Pope Francis is afraid, Graf said, “I don't think the Pope is afraid of anything. … Anything can happen but you can see that he is not afraid.”
After the fall of Muammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has since become a hotbed of Islamic extremism, making ISIS' presence there especially dangerous by threatening to destabilize neighboring countries such as Algeria, whose leading terrorist group Soldiers for the Caliphate recently pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State, followed by Egypt's most active militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and Nigeria's Boko Haram, the same group responsible for killing 2,000 Christians in January.
According to counter-terrorism expert Harleen Gambhir of the Institute for the Study of War, the difficulty with ISIS, compared to what we experienced with Al Qaeda, is their ability to unite scattered Islamist groups into one succinct unit based on both their name and branding, fueled by a tremendously well-crafted propaganda machine.
While exact numbers haven't been confirmed, the CIA currently estimates ISIS to have 31,500 fighters under its command; but according to a Kurdish commander who had previously battled the caliphate, they could have as many as 200,000 loyal operatives with sleeper cells stationed Tunisia, Turkey, Jordan, Yemen, Afghanistan and even Pakistan.
Even when we make progress against the caliphate, including a supposed 25 percent loss of territory in Iraq according to recent statements from the Pentagon, the victories are very short-lived with little chance for long-term success. For instance, when thousands of Shiite militia, mostly from Iran, took back the ISIS-controlled city of Tikrit earlier this month, the Pentagon's shouts of “victory” proved illusory when, just days later, ISIS militants began making gains in Ramadi, a city only 70 miles northwest of the capital in Baghdad. Unlike in Tikrit, Shiite militiamen in Ramadi lay largely absent, with the fighting mostly in the hands of a weakened Iraqi Security force.
Though reports have surfaced that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may be severely injured, or perhaps even dead according to Radio Iran, the Pentagon has flatly denied both. Even still, as has always been the case with Islam, the death of a leader in no way guarantees victory. Sure enough, his replacement — a former physics teacher from Mosul named Abu Alaa Afri, whom Newsweek described a “rising star within ISIS” — already waits in the wings.
Anticipating when ISIS will strike next and where has proven a difficult task, but one thing we know for sure: They are here in the United States.
Back in February, FBI Director James Comey made a stunning statement, saying that ISIS lone wolves “exist in every state” and could very well carry out a one-man, or one-woman, terrorist attack anywhere they choose.
Just last month in New York, police arrested two women claiming to be “citizens of the Islamic state” for plotting to detonate homemade bombs in the United States.
Of course, amidst the growing threat of this abominable force, the Obama administration has barely even acknowledged the actual problem. While the president has certainly engaged ISIS militarily by continual airstrikes and, most recently, proposing to form a coalition of Gulf states to fight the Islamic threat, ideologically speaking, the president's toughest words against ISIS were “they have no place in the 21st century.”
Instead of using this as an opportunity to unite the West by declaring this an Islamic crusade against Middle-Eastern Christians, the President penchantly insists that ISIS not be labeled “Islamic” and for us lowly Westerners not to “get on our high horse” when calling it out.
This untenable position reached the height of absurdity during the National Prayer Breakfast in early February, where the President attempted to somehow create a moral equivalency between the very real and documented atrocities done in the name of Islam for the past 1,000 years versus the alleged atrocities committed by Catholics during the Crusades and the Inquisition. The President had this to say: “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
While no Catholic certainly denies that misdeeds were perpetrated during these time periods, there is a far cry from a religion that literally murdered its way across the Middle East and northern Africa at its very founding to a religion that was defending itself from eradication. To quote Catholic governor Bobby Jindal, “the Medieval Christian threat is under control, Mr. President. Please deal with the radical Islamic threat today.”
The President did not heed Governor Jindal's advice. Just two months later, at the Easter Prayer Breakfast, President Obama, once again, doubled down on his leftist, Christ-hating positions when he said, “On Easter, I do reflect on the fact that as a 'Christian,' I'm supposed to love, and I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned.”
When the most powerful man in the free world uses the holiest holiday in all of Christendom to bash the very religion upon which it's based, we all should be “concerned.”
Fortunately for Catholics, the Holy See has not stooped to such a low. In fact, in relation to ISIS, the Vatican has surpassed all expectations, eschewing modernist “Church of Nice” rhetoric in favor of hardline, forceful statements that rightfully label this a persecution of Christians while calling out ISIS for what they are: evil.
Three weeks ago, in what could almost be classified as a throwback to the Middle Ages, Rome's top exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, actually called ISIS “Satan” and blasted Western powers for their non-response “in face of the massacre of Christians.”
The Holy Father as well has shown his stronger side, dedicating this year's Easter Vigil to the Middle East's Christians and rocking the diplomatic world when he labeled the Armenian genocide of 1915 by Ottoman Turks for what it was: genocide. He has also continually called all Catholics to pray for their persecuted brothers in Christ.
Let us all answer his plea and pray for our persecuted brethren.