When a 1,400-year-old Iraqi Christian monastery was destroyed by the Islamic State (ISIS) most of the world condemned the demolition -- except for spokesman for the U.S. military's Operation Inherent Resolve, Col. Steve Warren.
"Thousands [of Iraqi Christians] have been killed, hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee," said CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview with Col. Warren the other week. "There is legitimate fear -- you're there in Baghdad -- that the long history of Christians living peacefully, productively in Iraq, is coming to an end. How worried should we be about the Christian community in Iraq?"
Col. Warren's response: "Wolf, ISIL doesn't care if you're a Christian ... We've seen no specific evidence of a specific targeting towards Christians."
Except that roughly two-thirds of Iraq's 1.5 million Christian citizens have been killed or forced to flee the country by ISIS and its jihadi predecessors over the past decade. This has nothing to do with their religious identity?
In Iraq and everywhere else it has conquered, ISIS has, at a minimum, rigorously enforced on pain of death Islam's dhimmi laws, which require Christians to pay extortion money (jizya) for "protection," and agree to live by a set of degrading rules.
Often, ISIS fighters skip these formalities and simply torture to death Christians who refuse to convert to Islam. ISIS then releases the footage online for propaganda purposes. Most notable are two videotaped mass executions of 21 Egyptians and 30 Ethiopians in Libya last spring, but there have been many lesser-known instances. When, in 2014, a group of Iraqi Christian children refused to renounce Christ and said, "No, we love Jesus," ISIS decapitated [them] and mangled their bodies.
Also, last summer in Aleppo, Syria, ISIS tortured, mutilated, publicly raped, beheaded and crucified 12 Christians for refusing to convert. Escaped eyewitnesses have reported that ISIS places Iraqi and Syrian Christians in cages or coffins and sets them on fire.
ISIS kidnaps Christians and demands ransom payments for their release. It forces female captives into sexual slavery. A 12-year-old girl, raped by an Islamic State fighter, was told that "what he was about to do was not a sin" because she "practiced a religion other than Islam."
ISIS has sent operatives disguised as refugees into U.N. refugee camps in Jordan to kidnap young Christian girls to sell or use as slaves.
The Islamic State seems committed to expunging all physical traces of Christianity in areas it conquers. It has demolished dozens of ancient churches -- up to 400 churches have been destroyed during the war in Syria alone -- not to mention countless crucifixes, statues, graves, and other relics. The Islamic State has ordered the University of Mosul to burn all books written by Christians, and decreed that the names be changed of all Christian schools in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. Some schools have been there since the 1700s.
ISIS's destruction of a 1,400-year-old monastery is nothing new. Last summer, ISIS set fire to a 1,800 year-old church in Mosul and bulldozed a 1,600-year-old monastery in Homs as a response to "worshipping a God other than Allah."
The Syriac Orthodox Church of St. Ephrem in Mosul, Iraq, before it was captured by the Islamic State (left), and after.
In short, Christians are absolutely experiencing "specific targeting" by the Islamic State. ISIS also kills Muslims who get in its way, but only non-Muslims -- chief among them Christians -- are enslaved, raped, and sometimes forced to convert to Islam on pain of death. Although Islamic law, or Sharia, legitimizes the killing, enslavement, and rape of non-Muslims, it prohibits treating fellow Muslims that way, unless they are deemed takfir [excommunicated] or apostates.
Few informed observers dispute that the Iraqi Christian community is severely threatened by ISIS. According to the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial, ISIS persecution of Christians "fits the definition of ethnic cleansing." David Saperstein, the United States ambassador at large for religious freedom, also acknowledges that it is "primarily Christians" being persecuted for their faith in Iraq.
For the official spokesman of the U.S. military's fight against ISIS to make such remark is deeply disconcerting. But what if Col. Warren is not to blame -- what if he is just a military man doing his best to comply with demands from politicians up at the top not to acknowledge the suffering of Middle East Christians?
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians (a Gatestone publication published by Regnery, 2013), is Shillman fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and Judith Friedman Rosen fellow at the Middle East Forum.