Aleteia June 10, 2015
You take your wife to what you thought was a family restaurant, far removed from the watchful eye of the puritanical rulers of your city. To get there, she has to be covered in black from head to toe, with only a narrow slat for her eyes, like any woman who wants to come out of the house. You settle down and tell her, “Honey, you can take that face mask off and relax. They’re not going to come around here.” She happily obliges, and you look forward to a nice meal in a place where you used to go when you were engaged.
But the owner hurries over to your table, frantically urging you to persuade your wife to cover up again. “They come around unannounced. If they see this, they’ll flog me,” he warns.
Welcome to Mosul, Iraq, where the Islamic State group has run the show for a year now. The scene from the restaurant was reported by the BBC, which published video smuggled out of Iraq’s second largest city. The report describes a city where the Islamic State exerts a tight control on everyday life, even banning crayons and colored pens for kids, but a populace which is far from embracing the radical form of Islam that the group wants to impose in its “caliphate.”
It was on June 10, 2014, that Mosul fell to the radicals in the midst of their blitzkrieg across northern Iraq, and Iraqi security forces collapsed and ceded ground and US-built military hardware to ISIS. As the new masters settled in, they offered Christians a chance to convert to Islam or pay an exorbitant tax. Tens of thousands of Christians and other minorities decided to move out. Later in the summer, the places of refuge they found on the Nineveh Plain also were overrun, and the now-internally displaced persons (IDPs) began what has become a year-long sojourn in Kurdish controlled areas, particularly Irbil.
The BBC’s secretly-filmed videos and report describe many of the things that have already become known, such as the demolition of mosques that house shrines or other “idolatrous” objects of veneration, or the confiscation and marking of Christian homes.
They also describe the harsh Islamic law ISIS embraces and its methods of enforcing it.
“Since IS took the city, it has been applying the ‘Laws of the Caliphate,’ as it calls them. The minimum punishment is flogging, which is applied for things like smoking a cigarette,” said Zaid, who, like others in the report, was identified by a pseudonym. “Theft is punished by amputating a hand, adultery by men by throwing the offender from a high building, and adultery by women by stoning to death. The punishments are carried out in public to intimidate people, who are often forced to watch.”
“According to IS, everything is ‘haram‘ (forbidden) and so I end up just sitting at home all the time,” said Hisham. “Even simple leisure activities like picnics are banned now in Mosul, under the pretext that they are a waste of time and money.”
Most schools are closed, and those that are open teach only ISIS ideology. Fuel is in short supply, pollution is widespread, and construction is halted. The Islamic State group collects all rents and demands a quarter of everyone’s salary. Imams have been replaced with pro-ISIS clerics, and propaganda is spread through “media points” and through one-on-one conversations on public buses.
Said the older brother of a youngster who came home from school humming an ISIS song, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the goal of this organization is to plant the seeds of violence, hate and sectarianism into children’s minds.”
Such sentiments hold out hope that the group will never be widely accepted, and, it seems, if Mosul is liberated from ISIS control, there will be much rejoicing locally. ISIS itself expects that there will be that attempt, at least, and if they are not spending on basic services, such as garbage collection, they are certainly preparing to defend the city, the report indicates.
“IS knows the [Iraqi] army will try to retake Mosul, so they’re taking precautions,” said Zaid. “They’ve destroyed the city by digging tunnels, building barricades, planting mines and bombs, and filling the city with snipers, which will make it very difficult for the army.”
Ominously, but not surprisingly, the video footage shows military equipment being hidden in civilian-populated areas.
Former residents of Mosul have become dispirited, and talk that Iraq may not be able to attempt a liberation until 2016 have not bolstered hope.
“As the months have passed, so our hopes of returning to our homes have faded more and more,” Father Georges Jahoula, a priest of the Syrian Catholic Diocese of Mosul, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. “Many Christians have found themselves obliged to seek this hope elsewhere, outside Iraq.”
News coming out of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain is only adding to the suffering of the Christian community. Mosul’s Syrian Catholic Church of Saint Ephraim was turned into a mosque just yesterday, a cynical gesture by ISIS to mark the first anniversary of the capture of the town. “Incidents such as this, for the fundamentalists, symbolize their triumph over Christianity. For us, it’s another wound in a heart that has already been pierced through and through,” said Father Jahoula.
According to Fides, the Vatican’s news service, the church was taken over by the militants a year ago and will be reopened as a “mosque of the mujahideen.” According to local Iraqi media reports, the church has been draped with Islamic State’s notorious black and white logo, with “There is no God but Allah” and “Prophet Mohammed” written on it.
But Zaid, in the BBC report, said something that should give the former Christian residents of the city hope for returning. Mosul was home to some 60,000 Christians, the report said. Many Christian IDPs from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, traditionally the more Christian areas of Iraq, have said that it would be difficult to return because their Muslim neighbors looted or took over their properties. But this man says he would be happy to see the Christians return.
“If the government manages to take Nineveh Plains and Mosul back I will be very happy,” Zaid said. “I hope that the internally displaced people and refugees will be able to return so that we can work together to build a safe and united Iraq. IS is the enemy of humanity.”
News coming out of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain is only adding to the suffering of the Christian community. Mosul’s Syrian Catholic Church of Saint Ephraim was turned into a mosque just yesterday, a cynical gesture by ISIS to mark the first anniversary of the capture of the town.
The Christian neighbourhood is devoid of all life. Homes and properties are all marked with the “N” to indicate that it is now the property of ISIS.