The Holy See is usually hostile to American military intervention in the Middle East. Not this week. Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq, told Vatican Radio that American strikes are “something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State] could not be stopped”. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Pope’s envoy to the UN, said that “military action in this moment is probably necessary”.
President Obama is bombing Iraq with – so far as we can tell – Pope’s Francis’s approval. But this does not reflect a significant change in Vatican foreign policy. Rather, it points to a unique situation: the slaughter of Christians and other minorities by a rapidly assembled Islamist army whose immediate aim is the religious cleansing of the Middle East of any community that does not share its beliefs. The Islamic Caliphate is the jihadist equivalent of the SS or the Khmer Rouge. “Butchery” is hardly a strong enough word: Islamic State death squads have been literally cutting children in half for the crime of being Christians or Yazidis.
This tragedy is shocking and in many ways unexpected, but at the same time it has arisen out of circumstances that the West has chosen to ignore for many years. The gradually escalating persecution of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians has not pricked the conscience of anti-American activists, even though it was provoked by the US invasion of Iraq. Nor has President Barack Obama given the subject much attention until this month, when the non-Christian Yazidis starving to death on a mountain captured the popular imagination.
Mr Obama has taken the right decision, though it is deplorable that neither he nor David Cameron interrupted their holidays to deal with this crisis. The spectacle of the President on the golf course and the Prime Minister on the beach while ancient communities were being systematically destroyed was a disturbing one, to say the least.
This brings us to the question of Britain’s contribution to the fight against one of the most evil armies the world has ever known. Britain is confining its contribution to surveillance, aid drops and “military resupplies” to Kurdish troops desperately trying to push back the Islamic State. Is this sufficient? No, it is not. Colonel Tim Collins, one of Britain’s most respected commanders, told The Daily Telegraph this week that an ancient civilisation would be “extinguished” unless we joined the American air strikes. General Sir Mike Jackson, former Chief of the General Staff, has said much the same. And Cardinal Vincent Nichols – hardly a hawk in foreign affairs – has said that the Government’s aid drops are insufficient and called for “urgent help and protection” for minorities in northern Iraq facing “medieval marauders”. As a Catholic newspaper, we will state what should be obvious: humanitarian aid is not sufficient to protect these minorities. If ever there was a just war, this is it.
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