Najeeb Moussa Michaeel is one of the candidates for the coveted recognition by the EU Parliament. During the rise of the Islamic State, he saved hundreds of centuries-old manuscripts and documents. For the prelate, citizenship is the basis on which to build coexistence in a nation threatened by foreign forces worse than the Islamic State. Education is the best weapon against obscurantism.
Mosul (AsiaNews) – Najeeb Moussa Michaeel, a Dominican, has been the archbishop of Mosul in northern Iraq since January 2019. A few days ago, he was nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Parliament. Last year, the prize went to a Ilham Tothi, a Uyghur scholar.
For Archbishop Moussa, this is not a " personal recognition, but one for Iraq as whole;" above all for those who "suffer or have suffered" in the past few years of war and jihadist violence, as well as for working to protect “a heritage in danger of extinction”.
He notes that it is important to remember the great threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) group against the country and the world because “a people without a heritage is a dead people”.
Born in Mosul, Najeeb Moussa Michaeel was forced to flee the city first to the Nineveh Plain, then to Iraqi Kurdistan, when IS forces occupied it.
Over the years, he has worked on the preservation and digitisation of more than 800 ancient manuscripts in Aramaic, Arabic and other languages, as well as thousands of books and centuries-old letters.
His tenacity in saving this cultural heritage from jihadist madness earned him the nomination for the EU prize, together with the democratic opposition in Belarus, Polish LGBTI activists and the environmental movement Guapinol.
As the official statement of the European Parliament explains, the prelate “ensured the evacuation of Christians, Syriacs and Chaldeans to Iraqi Kurdistan and safeguarded more than 800 historic manuscripts dating from the 13th to the 19th century.”
It goes on to say: “These manuscripts were later digitised and exhibited in France and Italy. Since 1990 he has contributed to safeguarding 8,000 more manuscripts and 35,000 documents from the Eastern Church.”
The archbishop describes his action as a "rescue operation" of an invaluable asset "from the jihadi clutches”. This “nomination represents an honour,” which he ideally shares with the peoples of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen who “are going through tough times because it is a duty to save not only the heritage” but also and above all “people”.
Archbishop Moussa still remembers “the bullets flying over our heads, as we sought shelter with our hands carrying precious volumes” during the sudden flight.
He considers the nomination to the Sakharov Prize “as a signature on every page of these manuscripts"; it is also a way to remember “the innocent victims, especially the Yazidis, a peaceful people who had to face a real tragedy and to whom I feel particularly connected.”
This also represents "an encouragement to all Iraqis" who suffer but want to continue living.
"To save the manuscripts and people during the advance of Islamic State forces, many feet and many hands were needed. At that time, I called on God to have ten feet and ten hands to save books and people, and he replied by sending me many young people who helped me in this mission.”
Faced with a shared tragedy, “we have seen a shared response from everyone, including Muslims who have done an extraordinary job to help Christian families and save their cultural heritage.”
Now more than ever, "we need true peace in order to continue living as a community based on the principle of citizenship, overcoming barriers of race, religion, ethnicity . . . This is the only viable solution for the future.”
To rebuild Mosul and all of Iraq, "it is necessary to rebuild homes, churches, work activities, offering young people jobs to avoid the desire to flee," the archbishop added.
"Iraq could be subjugated by neighbouring countries and external forces. This is inadmissible; we cannot allow Deash (IS) to be replaced by forces that are equally, if not more dangerous.”
Human dignity must be accompanied by the "ultimate value of education in schools, churches, mosques, where it is necessary to fight hatred by every means, encourage positive statements, about brotherhood. Education remains the best weapon against obscurantism and the evil of our time.”