Barnabas Edit: “The Islamic State will remain” – IS’s tightening grip and its threat to the future of Christian communities

November 14, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead

ISISSyria, November 13, 2014: The Islamist group Islamic State (IS) has been asserting its control over territories it occupies in Iraq and Syria, in a series of developments that will be devastating to Christians displaced from their homes in these areas.

In perhaps the most direct blow to Christians displaced from Raqqa, a Syrian city held by IS, homes that were left empty when believers fled the Islamist advance are being given to Muslims from the UK, the USA, Germany and other European countries, who have moved to Syria to join IS’s cause.

But many other measures taken by IS to transform their hometowns into Islamist strongholds will also be alarming to believers who have hopes of returning one day. IS makes its victims repeat its slogan, “The Islamic State will remain”, before they are killed. In an effort to make this slogan fact, the group has been attempting to establish itself as a long-term power in the region by Islamising institutions and societies.

After conquering cities in Iraq and Syria, IS began to control their infrastructure. On 24 October, the group carried out a mass execution of police and army officers in Mosul, Iraq. These officials had previously not been attacked, although they had been required to disavow their former allegiance to the Baghdad government.

In the place of secular security forces, Islamist brigades are active in the captured territories. These include an all-female force of British jihadis that controls brothels full of captured non-Muslim women and girls who are being held as sex slaves in Raqqa.

Schools are also under strict IS control. In Raqqa, schools have just recently reopened; however, IS has only allowed them to operate for two hours per day, according to one report. Schooling is only provided for girls aged eight to ten and boys aged ten to twelve. Students are taught only three subjects: maths, Arabic and English.

In Mosul, mosques have also been targeted for control. Some mosques, which the militant group referred to “as places for apostasy not prayer”, were blown up when IS seized the city. Others have seen imams who do not agree with IS’s extremist brand of Sunni Islam placed under house arrest and replaced with younger clerics who support IS.

Women are particularly suffering under IS oppression. In Fallujah, Iraq, all women are required to wear a garment that covers their face. Girls under the age of twelve are forced to wear head-scarfs. Women are not allowed to leave their homes unless they are accompanied by a male relative.

As well as institutionalising its ideology and Islamising societies, IS has established youth training camps in an attempt to create an entire generation of future IS militants. Many children are kidnapped and sent to these camps. Others are sent by their families, as IS offers monthly salaries for families who provide children as recruits. IS is brainwashing these children with its radical Islamist views.

Resentment of the oppressive conditions imposed by IS has begun to build, especially in Raqqa, where Western jihadists receive special treatment. Although many of those living under IS rule are unhappy, the group has attempted to win over public opinion by providing basic services. Reports say that in Fallujah, the Islamist group cleans the streets, waters public foliage and subsidises flour.

Up to 200,000 Christians were forced to flee their homes in northern Iraq by the IS advance, and three and a half years of anti-Christian, Islamist violence in Syria have also displaced whole communities. Many believers feel that the IS threat is a death knell for Christianity in Iraq and Syria – a fear that will only be compounded by the group’s tightening of its oppressive grip on the towns and cities from which they fled.

The fate for those Christians who did not escape is more horrifying. According to sharia law, Muslims are allowed to take slaves as spoils of war in the context of jihad. Recently, IS published a document that lists the different prices for Christian and Yazidi slaves. These prices vary according to age: 40 to 50-year-old women are to cost 50,000 dinars (£27/ €34/ $43) each; 30 to 40-year-olds are to be sold for 75,000 dinars (£40/ €51/ $64) each; and 20 to 30-year-olds cost 100,000 dinars (£54/ €68/ $84) each. A girl aged 10-20 years is to be sold for 150,000 dinars (£80/ €102/ $128), and a male or female child aged one to nine years is 200,000 dinars (£107/ €136/ $170).

In response to the horrific suffering of the Christians of northern Iraq, Barnabas Fund is establishing a refugee camp outside the Iraqi city of Dohuk for displaced Christians. The camp will be called Sawra, which means “hope” in Assyrian – the mother tongue of Iraqi Christians. (Yezidis already have a camp, provided by the United Nations.)

– dr patrick sookhdeo

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