08/31/2016, 15.14
IRAQ – VATICAN
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Mar Sako: Islamic State’s threat against the pope is propaganda, moderate Islam is the real target

The Caliphate’s official magazine attacks Popes Francis and Benedict XVI, calls to break the Vatican’s cross. For Mar Sako, this is an attempt to "put pressure" on the West. Muslims who seek dialogue and reconciliation are at risk. Islam cannot know Christianity from the Qur’an. The Chaldean primate writes an open letter to Muslims to turn against the Islamic State “cancer”.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The direct attack and death threats made by the Islamic State (IS) in recent days against Pope Francis are part of a "propaganda strategy" to "exert pressure on the West using the figure of the pope,” Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako told AsiaNews.

This comes in the latest issue of Dabiq, the official magazine of the Islamic state’s ‘holy war’. The latter is also known as Daesh, from its Arabic acronym. From the cover titled ‘break the cross’ to its inside pages, the publication is a hymn to the struggle against Christianity and its best-known symbols, including the Vatican and the pope himself.

Carried across the Internet, with an English version for the international jihad, the magazine says why Muslims "hate and fight" – according to the Caliphate ideology – the "Crusaders”. As the leading Islamic extremist groups, Daesh uses propaganda for a personal attack on the pope in a probable attempt to respond through words to the military siege under which it finds itself in Iraq and Syria.

The latest issue of Dabiq, in addition to an article about the barbaric killing of Fr Jacques Hamel, 86-year-old French priest slain in his church by two young men, the paper attacks Francis for his concern for homosexuals and his work of dialogue with the moderate Muslim world. The magazine shows a picture of the pope with Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, who heads Cairo’s Islamic University, branded an "apostate" for calling Christianity a religion of peace.

Along with Bergoglio (and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), moderate imams and Muslim leaders open to dialogue are targeted. This is followed by attacks against Sufis and more calls for "holy war" with images of the recent violence in France, Bangladesh and Germany.

Last but not least, it shows children under ten parading in uniform, ready to fight, as the Caliphate’s "new generation".

"They want to intimidate the West using the pope's figure,” the primate of the Chaldean Church told AsiaNews. In his view, jihadists "do not distinguish between the secular state and the Christian religion, because for them there is no distinction between the political and religious realms."

"They have in mind a plan for a theocratic nation, based on Islam, mixed with basic ignorance,” the prelate said. “They believe that Christians have a theocratic state, which is the Vatican." They do not understand that "this is a different entity," whereas "the West is based on the principle of secularism."

Regardless of the direct attack, the pope "is not the real target. This is just propaganda for political purposes and objectives." It is “different, however, with respect to moderate figures in the Muslim world who are in favour of dialogue”, like the imam of al-Azhar.

"These are the direct targets,” the patriarch warns, “because they have a different, conciliatory ideology, open to others. Threats and attacks are one of the reasons why the Muslim world and Islamic authorities are afraid to speak openly against the Islamic State and firmly condemn its deeds."

For the primate of the Chaldean Church, a "strategy" is unfolding to "weaken" and "change the face" of the countries where there is an ongoing war. "There is a clear responsibility of the international community, the United States and Russia, who certainly know who is financing IS where it is getting its weapons," the patriarch said.

“We are facing a global danger and even if it is defeated as a military force, it will last in the form of an ideology," powered by "corruption and poverty" in a "deformed vision of jihad."

Muslims "must take a courageous and clear position," Mar Sako added. Jihadists “have nothing to do with religion and their verses are extrapolated out of context".

It is necessary to improve the level of education, the educational quality of schools, counter extremist media and channels that disseminate the extremist ideology, as well as help Muslims know "the truth" about Christianity encouraging “interaction and dialogue" because "what they know comes only from the Qur’an."

Finally, there must be unity among Iraqis to defeat Daesh, putting aside "interests and ambitions”. This is “a time of union. For politics and resolving ethnic and religious issues there will be time in the future.”

Recently, the Chaldean Patriarch also appealed to the international community, national and international authorities, and Muslims against the IS "cancer". Here is Mar Sako’s letter to AsiaNews:

It is time to stop spreading the cancer of the so-called Islamic State and similar organisations.

The world was taken by surprise when, in the name of Islam, the Islamic State (IS, Daesh) and similar organisations restricted human freedom, displaced and killed civilians or burnt them alive, took women captive and enslaved them, and demolished religious as well as cultural monuments. This kind of extreme ideology has ruined relationships among people within the same country and in the region.

Such events lead to the following question: Is it not time for Muslims and non-Muslims of good will around the world to deal seriously, not superficially, with this situation? Especially, when we know that the majority of Muslims are neutral or unbiased, open-minded and willing to work hard for the benefit of their countries and their fellow citizens.

Their initiative should be a united and strong stance, with which they can together stop the spread of the IS cancer, against isolation, extremism, hatred, violence as well as the rejection of coexistence, citizenship and advanced technology (modernity). They should put an end to what the Islamic State is proclaiming, namely that the only way to guarantee heaven is to kill innocent people whether with an explosive belt, a car bomb, or a knife, etc. This is truly the destruction of reason.

Muslims should show the real face of Islam to the world and confirm that extremism is contrary to their beliefs. On the other hand, they ought to explain the meaning of Islam’s message, which is different from what IS claims. As we know, the mission of all religions is love, tolerance and forgiveness and should be understood by considering the spirituality of the text and its indications. Therefore, we believe that Muslims have to show commitment to the core message of Islam, respecting God and other religions.

In conclusion, Christians are waiting for governments and religious authorities to work together to confront and dismantle terrorism and extremism through a culture of freedom, reason, openness, tolerance, coexistence, love, as well as respect for human rights and diversity.

This can be achieved through reforms to school curriculum (which is currently the major source of teaching extremism), establishing the foundations of peace, stability, cooperation and justice; adopting civilised, calm and courageous dialogue to resolve crises that affect and devastate people and their countries; and establishing a state of law and institutions.

Finally, people have the right to enjoy a stable and secure life and are entitled to equal rights and duties with a reasonable level of services.

To prove what I am saying about injustice and constraining human freedom in addition to the misuse of religion, I am listing below excerpts from some religious sermons and fatwas that attack Christians and that must be dealt with decisively:

- Every religion other than Islam is infidelity and off track, and every place of worship other than Islam’s is the house of heresy and deviation . . .

- Those who believe that churches are places where God is worshiped, or that what Jews and Christians do is some sort of worship, are considered infidels . . .

- Prohibition extends to warning Muslims against greeting Christians at Christmas and Easter.

- Pray that God may make all Christians' wives widows and their children orphans.

Such speeches and attitudes produce, no doubt, people who translate the hatred carried by these words into action against those classified as “infidels” by certain fatwas.

Christianity was born and bred here, in the East, and Christians are the owners of this land, forming an essential part of the fabric of Middle Eastern society. They built and developed Arabic culture and civilisation. It is unfortunate that they have been unfairly attacked throughout history and their existence in the region has been repetitively threatened.

For this reason, there is an urgent need to formulate a brave, clear and official stance to support and encourage them to stay in the Middle East since the majority of them represent the most skilled people in education, economics, culture, etc. This can be done by providing security and legitimate rights to every human being, so as to achieve equality, consolidation of co-existence, etc.

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