In the Holocaust the Germans had a term they used when they aspired to expel all the Jews from their country. It was "Judenrein," meaning "cleansed without Jews." Today we call it genocide or ethnic cleansing.
We saw it with the Jewish populations in some Arab lands in the 1940s when the state of Israel was established. Now the same process of "ethnic cleansing" has occurred in the ancient city of Mosul, Iraq, in its historic Christian community. As a result of the military incursion of ISIS, the Islamic state has successfully occupied a broad swath of cities and towns in Iraq and Syria. Tragically, it has expelled the Christian community from its ancient roots in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.
The history of Christians in Iraq goes back to the first century. Assyrians adopted Christianity and formed the basis of the Eastern Rite of Christianity. They wrote and spoke in the language of Eastern Aramaic. The history of their relationships with the Islamic community consisted of many peaceful times as well as massacres against the Christian communities throughout the Middle Ages.
When Iraq became an independent state in the 20th century, large scale attacks were carried out against the Christian communities for their support of the British colonial administration. By 1987, when the last official census was taken by the Iraqi government, there were more than a million Christians living in Iraq. Saddam Hussein tolerated Christians because he was secular, but still he outlawed the speaking of their language (Aramaic) and prohibited people from giving Christian-sounding names to their children.
During the Iraq war in 2007, more than 2 million Iraqis left the country. Many Christians fled to Syria, Kurdistan and Jordan. A number of Christian clergymen were murdered from 2003 onward, which led to a further exodus of Christians from their homeland.
In 2008, the Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was found murdered and buried outside of Mosul. Ever since, there have been outbreaks of brutal attacks in Christian majority neighborhoods in Baghdad as well.
When the ISIS military invasion of Iraq began these Sunni Muslims issued a decree that every Christian family had to pay a tax of $470 to remain, or convert to Islam or leave the country. This decree is familiar to Christians and Jews from Islam. Islamic law has a category called "dhimmi," which is a legal status of non-Muslims living in an Islamic state. Most of the tolerance aspect applies to laws of property and contract obligations.
Muslim caliphates throughout history used the dhimmi status to not only subjugate Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus under their rule, but they also used the legal status to benefit economically from these communities. For having the protected status of dhimmi, Christians and Jews had the freedom of worship but in a muted way so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities. By Western standards this would be called living as a second-class citizen. By Muslim standards it was a religious law that had practical benefits for minority communities while at the same time made sure they understood that Islam was the dominant and official faith in these respective countries.
Today, Christian homes in Mosul have been painted with the Arabic letter "N," which means Nassarah, the Arabic word for Christian. In July, the Islamic State issued a decree that all Christians would have to leave the city and thereby end the 2,000 year presence of Christians in Mosul.
Most recently the terrorists of the Islamic state blew up the Christian holy site of the tomb of Jonah the prophet. Remember that Mosul contains the ancient city of Nineveh, which was the capital of the Assyrian culture, and, of course, is where the Bible says Jonah preached. Sunnis destroyed the 14th century church that was then turned into a mosque, which still contained the remains of the whale -- and its tooth -- that swallowed Jonah.
Between Hamas, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad and the Salafis from Saudi Arabia, we see just how pervasive the impact of radical Sunni Islam is. Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is an off-shoot from Shia Islam, which draws its support from Iran.
Christians in Iraq are victims who deserve our support and deserve to hear our voices protest their treatment and exile after 2,000 years from the city of Mosul. The question is whether the expulsion of Christians from Mosul marks the beginning of cleansing all religious minorities in radical Islamic societies from the Middle East.
Our silence is deafening.
Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him at twitter.com/rabbibloom.