Mosul

Stay tuned: Mosul is being set up by media as a world Islamic capital

Stay tuned: Mosul is being set up by media as a world Islamic capital

For anyone interested in seeing how a devastated city with a history stretching back several thousand years can rebuild itself, look no further than some of the stories coming out about Mosul, the newly liberated north central Iraqi city.

Even before ISIS took over the place in 2014, Mosul had always been very dangerous and considered quite suspect. Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay, had lived there for years and even after they died in a gun battle in 2003, the place was rife with suicide bombers who killed whatever American military they found there plus many hapless Iraqis.

I was in the area in 2004, visiting the Kurdish areas north and east of Mosul and my guides only dared take me to a place within 30 miles of the city. They didn’t want me to risk getting any closer. Which is why I’ve been interested in international efforts to rebuild Mosul after two years of war have made it a ghost town in many places. This recent New York Times piece sets the stage:

BAGHDAD — The scars of battle remain deeply etched into the geography of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, with thousands of homes, buildings and places of worship destroyed during the nine-month fight to oust the Islamic State.

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Children of ISIS returned to Chechnya: Fine New York Times story haunted by faith questions

Children of ISIS returned to Chechnya: Fine New York Times story haunted by faith questions

In a New York Times photo, 4-year-old Bilal looks like any other kid sitting in bed, lost in a video game on a smartphone.

But there is a back-story. Bilal grew up in Mosul, Iraq, living on the run with his father, who was a fighter for the Islamic State. And right there is the question facing officials in Russia -- Chechnya, to be specific -- and in several European states: What should leaders in these nations do with children, especially boys, who grew up witnessing people beheaded, stoned and gunned down?

What about boys who were actually forced to take part in some of these rituals, as part of ISIS efforts to turn them into ultimate warriors? Are they, as one German official puts it, "living time bombs?"

That's the question at the heart of this fine Times story, which ran with the headline: "Raised by ISIS, Returned to Chechnya: ‘These Children Saw Terrible Things’." Here is a crucial summary passage near the top of this international-desk story:

As the American-led coalition and Syrian government forces captured cities that had been held by the Islamic State, they found among the ruins a grim human wreckage of the organization’s once successful recruitment drive: hundreds and perhaps thousands of children born to or brought with the men and women who had flocked to Syria in support of the Islamic State.
While Russia, which has so far returned 71 children and 26 women since August, may seem surprisingly lenient in its policy, its actions reflect a hardheaded security calculus: better to bring children back to their grandparents now than have them grow up in camps and possibly return as radicalized adults.
“What should we do, leave them there so somebody will recruit them?” said Ziyad Sabsabi, the Russian senator who runs the government-backed program. “Yes, these children saw terrible things, but when we put them in a different environment, with their grandparents, they change quickly.”

Now, as you would expect, I do have questions about the role of religious faith in all of this. I would have liked to have seen a bit more information about the role of Islam in this process.

After all, these children witnessed horrors that are hard to imagine. At the same time, they were raised to think of these acts as an essential part of a twisted, radicalized version of Islam.

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Now we're talking big news: ISIS attacks museums (plus Christians and other believers)

Now we're talking big news: ISIS attacks museums (plus Christians and other believers)

The story began with reports in "conservative" and religious media, which, tragically, is what happens way too often these days with issues linked to religious liberty and the persecution of religious minorities (especially if they are Christians).

Earlier in the week I saw this headline at the Catholic News Agency: "Patriarch urges prayer after at least 90 Christians kidnapped in Syria." The story began:

With reports circulating saying that ISIS forces have kidnapped at least 90 Christians from villages in northeast Syria, Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan said prayer is the only possible response.

“Let’s pray for those innocent people,” Patriarch Younan told CNA over the phone from Beirut Feb. 24. “It’s a very, let’s say, very ordinary thing to have those people with such hatred toward non-Muslims that they don’t respect any human life,” he said, noting that the only reaction to Tuesday’s kidnappings is “to pray.”

Alas, none of these believers were cartoonists. However, as the days went past the numbers in these distressing reports -- especially this soon after the 21 Coptic martyrs video --  began to rise.

I kept watching the major newspapers and, while I may have missed a crucial report or two, I did see this crucial story from Reuters -- always an important development in global news -- that represented a major escalation of the coverage, with several crucial dots connected. Do the math.

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Overwhelmed: Trying to see the big, historic picture in Iraq and Syria

Overwhelmed: Trying to see the big, historic picture in Iraq and Syria

Several times a year, a major national or international story simply takes over the news. The bigger the story, the more likely -- in my experience at least -- it is to have a religion-angle linked to it, often an angle of historic proportions.

However, since the primary religion of journalism is politics, in the here and now, religion angles often slide into the background in the coverage until, finally, the role of religion in a major story is so obvious that it cannot be denied.

This is what is happening right now with the story of Iraq, ISIS (or ISIL) and the persecution of religious minorities, especially in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain region.

The truly historic story that looms in the background is -- literally -- the death of Christian communities that have existed in this region since the early church. 

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