There are pictures one cannot forget -- for instance, of Russian troops hoisting their flag over burning Berlin in 1945. It was the end of Nazism but the rise of Communism. Another photo is of U.S. Marines raising the American flag over the battle-scarred Japanese island of Iwo Jima.
Today the West faces another totalitarianism: radical Islam. One place that witnessed the new horror is Mount Sinjar in the Nineveh province of Iraq, once a home to religious minorities, especially Christians and Yazidis. Thousands of years of history changed when the jihadists of ISIS invaded Sinjar in August of 2014. They slaughtered men and enslaved girls and women. Christian churches were razed to the ground, and houses of worship, looted.
In 2016 alone, 90,000 Christians around the world were murdered for their faith, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Between 2005 and 2015, 900,000 Christians were martyred. According to Open Doors, another Christian advocacy group, one out of every 12 Christians today experiences extreme persecution for their faith; the total comes to 215 million around the world.
"The persecution of Christians is real. It is global in scope, brutal in its nature, daily in its occurrence, and growing worse than ever", said University of Notre Dame Professor Dan Philpott. A recent report by the World Council of Churches put the number of Christians left in Iraq at fewer than 250,000. "Christianity is finished", said Canon Andrew White, the great vicar of Baghdad.
Christians have also been fleeing Sinai: the Egyptian branch of ISIS has been slaughtering them in a campaign of "religious cleansing". ISIS released a video calling on its supporters to target Christians across Egypt, describing them as its "favourite prey". The Islamists then targeted two packed Egyptian churches, where they slaughtered 47 Christians. From Cairo to Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray in northern France, churches now appear Islamists' preferred targets.
There is, in all this bad news, a beam of hope; the valiant Kurdish Peshmerga fighters liberated Sinjar and rescued tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians. On Easter Sunday, an unidentified soldier planted a cross on the soil where a Mount Sinjar church had once stood. It was a declaration of the resurrection of life after the onslaught of the Islamic State. This cross was like the flag raised in Iwo Jima.
Yet, no Western newspaper, which could help the public rally for their Christian brethren, published this extraordinary photograph. Why? Our general unwillingness to address any threat indicates a Western impotence in the face of barbarism. An editor at the Daily Mail, Piers Morgan, has commented that while terror attacks in the Western capitals all got "huge attention," the ones against Christians did not.
"They want Christianity eradicated, and they want to convert all Muslims to their crusade. They want it to be a holy war. And they want Christians gone. And I don't think that narrative is getting the attention it should get in the American media and, I have to say, in other media as well around the world".
"The Western world has long gotten used to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, as if their bad lot is inevitable and simply has to be accepted," noted a Canadian philosopher, Mathieu Bock-Côté, in Le Figaro. "Christianity is destined to die or have no more than a residual existence in what used to be its cradle".
While natural disasters such as tsunamis or earthquakes spur solidarity throughout the West, the disappearance of entire Christian populations and their ancient civilizations never seems to disturb anyone. Perhaps it is a sign of denial by the West. Perhaps it is the result of rejecting Judeo-Christian history and humanistic values -- those that cause the demonization the foremost victim of jihad, Israel, instead of the jihadists trying to destroy it. In 2014, we saw tens of thousands of people marching in the streets of European capitals in favor of the Palestinians, even as they were carpeting Israel with missiles and shouting "death to Israel and the Jews". We have seen how unspeakable Christian agony in Islamic lands has led to only a few hundred people turning out on the streets of London and Paris.
Our media and intelligentsia are always on the alert to defend everything coming from Islam, whether women's veils or the "right not to be offended" by cartoons. The same establishment, however, lies in a coma when Christian symbols come under attack. Wilfred McClay, in an essay, "The Strange Persistence of Guilt", notes that while religion is in retreat in the West, guilt seems as powerfully present as ever, and a cult of being or protecting a victim proliferates. People rush to nurture the perfect victim: threadbare, with no identity, who has run away from "war". Christians under Islam are not part of that group. Muslims are.
The West today keeps on hiding its deepest secret: that there is an Islamic war going on against our own Judeo-Christian civilization. Few people in the West see in the media the houses of Christians in Mosul marked with an "N". The Islamic State painted it for "Nasrani" ("Nazarene") -- Arabic for "Christian". A genocide symbolized by one letter. But no one sees it or cares.
American television networks devoted six times more air-time to covering the death of a gorilla, Harambe, than they did to the Islamic State beheading 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya, according to a study by the Media Research Center. How is it possible that the killing of a gorilla moves the Western public more than 19 Yazidi girls burned alive in a cage? Few people saw the photograph of Khaled al Asaad, the brave archaeologist who refused to lead ISIS to the antiquities of Palmyra. The henchmen of ISIS beheaded him and hung him upside down. We turned away in horror.
A famous 9/11 picture by Thomas Hoepker, taken at a restaurant in Brooklyn, shows a group of young New Yorkers sunbathing, relaxed and calm, observing the smoke rising from the Twin Towers on the other side of the East River. Since then, the only enemy we ever point to is us. We censor the existential threat Western civilization is facing -- whether on an Iraqi mountain or Paris's Champs-Élysées. If Eastern Christianity can be extinguished so easily, Western Europe will be next.
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.