Mosul (AsiaNews) -- A crusade is under way to impose Islamic law in Mosul in northern Iraq, a city where threats and violence against Christians have reached the level of real persecution for ideological and political ends. As Christmas draws near, Christians are confined to their homes that have become like "prison" which they dare not leave for fear of kidnappings and killings. It is difficult for them to emigrate because Arab and European countries have decided to close their doors.
Kidnappings and murders are the order of day for Christians in Baghdad too, but in Mosul the situation is different and more worrying. Testimonies that reached AsiaNews claimed that actions directly targeting Christians of Mosul are not motivated solely by lucre -- ransom demands, property seizure -- but rather there is a political plan behind them. Sunni extremists have this city as their stronghold and they seem to be aiming to set up a so-called Islamic Emirate incorporating the provinces of Salahaddin, Anbar, Diyala, Baghdad and part of Wasit. Mosul would be the capital.
Up to a year ago, members of the Christian community were confident things would change but now they have only words of despair to describe their situation. "We are living the period of Advent, the happiest of the whole year, as if we were in prison. The world is preparing to celebrate while we prepare to die. Who will listen to our cries, who can help us now that we feel like strangers in our own homeland?"
The Patriarch of Babylon for Chaldeans, Emmanuel III Delly, urged all Chaldeans of the world to observe the "Bautha" fast of Nineveh (a feature of the Assyrian liturgy to commemorate the fasting of residents of Nineveh during the time of the prophet Jonah) on 18 and 19 December "so that the Lord may concede the gift of peace to our Iraq, of security and stability and that a climate of brotherhood and charity among the sons of Iraq may come about."
Campaign against "non-Islamic dress"
Violence against Christians in Mosul escalated after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Many churches and convents were immediately attacked or bombed. Bishops and priests started to be kidnapped. The most horrible event of all was the killing of the Syro-Orthodox priest Paulos Eskandar, whose beheaded body was found on 11 October in the eastern area of Mosul after two days of captivity.
Muslim fundamentalism is impinging more and more on daily life. On 12 December, a group of fundamentalists stopped a bus with Christian students on board; they boarded the bus to distribute flyers dictating that girls should wear the hijab (veil) and that boys should dress in a sombre manner, not in western-style clothes. The same technique was used to get the message across the university: unknown men pasted flyers and posters in areas where Christian students usually meet up. The warning is clear: "Whoever violates the principles of sharia will be punished according to Muslim law."
In early December, the conductor of a route bus imposed his decision to divide men and women on the vehicle, forbidding them to sit next to each other. Other flyers recently ordered owners of clothes shops to cover mannequins on display with a veil. And tradesmen had to obey, using plastic bags instead of veils. Further, some public toilets have banned the use of soap because it "did not exist in Muhammad's time". Orders reach the point of absurdity: restaurants cannot prepare mixed salads with cucumbers and tomatoes because one represents the female and other the male gender.
An important fact to note is that it is not only poor and illiterate people who are swellings the ranks of extremists: university professors and educated people also believe it is right to impose such controls on the population.
Against non-Muslim art
According to Iraqi police, Sunni extremism is supported by foreign terrorists. A new campaign has been launched against "non-Muslim art". In November, public statues held to be pagan were destroyed. A famous statue in the north of the city, in al Zihour, was destroyed because it portrayed a group of women carrying jars on their shoulders. Other targeted works dated back to the seventies and included statues of some important artists like an Arab poet, Ani Tamman, and a singer of religious music, Mullah Othman al-Mosulli.
The website of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting said that a militant arrested in October explained his group's objectives during his interrogation: put an end to American occupation, bring down the Iraqi government and introduce sharia in the country.