By Jorge Castorena
Two Internet beheadings. Five countries terrorized. Dozens of villages destroyed. Thousands dead. Millions of people watching around the world.
This is the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as it violently establishes an Islamic regime in the Middle East.
Did that catch your attention? Are you terrified? Or, are you annoyed at yet another ISIS article?
I am most decidedly a news junkie. It’s a problem.
But I’ve never been much for news stories that are meant to instill terror in their readers and viewers. “A man contracts mad cow disease while mowing his lawn and singing Cher. Could this happen to you? Find out at 11.”
OK, I made that one up.
By my above criteria, I should be ignoring the headlines about ISIS. Many of them take a “these evil terrorists are coming to get you” approach, and they’ve been running these stories since June. And yet, I can’t seem to look away.
These are some of the headlines that have caught my attention:
“ISIS ‘Systematically Beheading Children’ in Iraq; They Are ‘Killing Every Christian They See,’ Says Chaldean Leader.” (The Christian Post)
“ISIS Crucifixion Of Children Could Lead To A Christian Holocaust.” (Western Journalism)
“Iraq crisis: Islamic State accused of ethnic cleansing.” (BBC News)
“UN to investigate alleged human rights abuses by ISIS.” (CNN)
But why should we care? The conflict is happening thousands of miles away. It is yet another Muslim-extremist group that is terrorizing the Middle East, which isn’t exactly known for its political and religious stability. ISIS began as a sub-group of al Qaeda, and its goal is to establish an Islamic caliphate, a totally-Muslim state ruled by a religious leader. It doesn’t sound like anything we haven’t already heard about. It has nothing to do with me.
ISIS can hardly be called a terrorist group. It is now a militarized movement with a daily revenue of $3 million in funds and weaponry, according to the Washington Post. Some terrorist experts estimate that as many as 50,000 militants and rebels are fighting with ISIS. In stark contrast to what we’ve known about terrorism in the past – when terrorism largely included isolated attacks and suicide missions – the Islamic State is carrying on a full-fledged war. And so far, they’re winning.
Although their focus is mainly in the Middle East, here is where I really start to get alarmed. Militants have now released videos of the beheadings of two American journalists, taunting President Obama and stating that the executions were consequences of American intervention in the conflict.
ISIS hates the West. It hates America. It hates democracy. It hates Christianity.
It has everything to do with us.
The ISIS’ fight isn’t just about territory, or the right to rule. It is about a religious conviction to cleanse the earth of all “unrighteousness.” The goal is converting people to Islam, and executing them if they refuse. It is about establishing a powerful, influential regime worthy of competing with the West and the First World.
There were 2,000 civilian deaths in June alone. To date, more than a million people have been forced to leave their homes and go to refugee camps.
When ISIS took over the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June, the group released an edict that forced all citizens to convert to Islam or face execution. Property was taken away from Christians, large Christian communities were robbed, churches were turned into mosques and figures of Christ were burned. Many women have been taken as sex slaves, and ISIS is now running a human-trafficking industry.
Recent reports are now finding that ISIS is crucifying Christians and other minorities, beheading them or burying them alive, according to CNN. There are pictures of ISIS militants beheading Christian children.
Leaders ranging from the pope to Middle Eastern prime ministers are calling this the onset of a Christian holocaust, and it is not showing any signs of stopping.
And then I had the thought: I’m a Christian.
Through the ISIS conflict, we are witnessing the body of Christ be persecuted to a scale the modern world hasn’t really seen before. We talk about Christianity being silenced in America and that increasing secularization is pushing Christians to the margins. Yet we seem to forget that I still have the freedom to write this article and attend Asbury. I went to church on Sunday and enjoyed a great lunch at Texas Roadhouse afterwards.
We must understand that the goal of ISIS is to take that freedom away all over the world.
I don’t know how much I can do about ISIS. In a speech last week, President Obama said that the United States does not yet have a strategy against the Islamic State, and he’s known about their threat since at least January. If the government has no idea how to deal with ISIS – granted, the U.S. government doesn’t have many ideas about how to deal with a lot of things – then what in the world is a 20-year-old college junior going to do about ISIS?
Prayer is a powerful thing. I know I can pray, for both the persecuted Sunni Muslims targeted by ISIS and for my brothers and sisters in Christ killed every day in the conflict. There are also organizations providing humanitarian aid that could be helped financially. I believe whole-heartedly that we are called to be lights for the nations, and sometimes all that is required is a short prayer or in some way giving to a cause, or both.
At the very least, we are called to be informed. I am a big believer in the notion that information is power, and it’s amazing what one can learn by reading the news and doing a little bit of research. We cannot remain ignorant. We cannot turn a blind eye, or else one day, perhaps very soon, we won’t even know what hit us.