When is silence a shrewd political strategy and when is it simply cowardice? That is the question we must ask this week as western leaders remain silent as the faithful are driven out of Mosul by Islamists determined to end the 1,600-year Christian presence in the city.
As we search for an answer, it’s instructive to reflect on the dilemma Pius XII faced during the Second World War. At first, he encouraged the Church to speak out forcefully in defence of the Jewish people. Inspired by his words, the Dutch bishops issued a pastoral letter in 1942 protesting against the deportation of Jews. The Nazis responded by intensifying the persecution.
As the historian Pinchas Lapide put it: “The saddest and most thought-provoking conclusion is that whilst the Catholic clergy in Holland protested more loudly, expressly and frequently against Jewish persecutions than the religious hierarchy of any other Nazi-occupied country, more Jews – some 110,000 or 79 per cent of the total – were deported from Holland to death camps.” From 1942 onwards, Pius curbed his public utterances, focusing his efforts instead on saving the persecuted through back channels. Are David Cameron, François Hollande, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama making a similar calculation as they watch the extinction of Iraqi Christianity? Do they fear that if they denounce the predations of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) they will give credence to the claim that Christians are western proxies and accelerate their demise?
There is a clear way to distinguish strategic silence from its craven variant. Although Pius XII was circumspect after the Dutch experience, he worked consistently behind the scenes to preserve Jewish lives. His relative public silence concealed decisive action. What does the silence of Cameron, Hollande, Merkel and Obama conceal? It’s just possible they are working quietly to rescue Iraqi minorities fleeing ISIS (not just Christians, but also Mandaeans, Shabaks, Shiite Turkmen and Yazidis). But there is no evidence we are aware of to suggest this is the case.
Silence is morally justified when speaking out would endanger a covert rescue mission. But to the best of our knowledge, western leaders have essentially abandoned Iraq’s minorities to their predators. The silence that accompanies this betrayal is surely of the cowardly rather than the statesmanlike variety.
Report: Former UK ambassador to Holy See criticises Number 10 as Christians driven out of Mosul
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