In a small town in America an obscure, unrepresentative Christian clergyman talks about burning a book. Six weeks later, thousands of miles away, Islamic militants exact their revenge: the cold-blooded murder of more than fifty innocent churchgoers. That’s what seems to have happened in the appalling al-Qaida-linked massacre of Catholic worshippers in Baghdad on Sunday.
Rarely has the full, murderous madness of jihadist ideology been so blatantly exposed as in the words of the terrorists who carried out this atrocity, hence my extended quotation from Martin Chulov's Guardian report below.
Note, if you will, that the attackers make no reference to avenging the occupation of Iraq, or ‘western foreign policy’. Rather, the massacre of dozens of utterly blameless people is seen as the price to be exacted for the destruction – no, not even that, but the threatened destruction – of some printed pages. Note also how, in this contorted logic, the choice of target is justified because the victims are ‘infidels’ – people who have the audacity to believe something different from their Islamist attackers – and are therefore already bound for hell, whereas the attackers themselves, who claim that their massacre of the innocents is ‘halal’ – permissible under religious law – appear to trust in a god who rewards with 'paradise' those who shoot and bomb whole families to death.
Some liberals have baulked at using the term 'clerical fascism' to describe the ideology of Islamism. But surely the closest analogy between what happened this weekend at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad is with Nazi revenge massacres of village populations, or Ustase 'cleansing' of ethnic and religious minorities. Somehow, though, the invocation of divine approval for this latest outrage makes it seem, if anything, even more terrible:
At sunset yesterday, Raghada al-Wafi walked excitedly to mass with news for the priest who married her a month ago. Tonight, exactly 24 hours later, she returned to the Our Lady of Salvation church – this time carried by her family in a coffin that also contained her unborn child.
Today the priest who blessed her marriage and pregnancy minutes before he was killed will also be buried, as will several dozen other members of his congregation – all of them slain by terrorists in an attack that has drawn condemnation from around the world and left the fate of Iraq's beleaguered Christian community evermore uncertain .
Fifty-eight people, most of them worshippers from the Chaldean Catholic community, are confirmed to have been killed in the massacre, which was carried out by al-Qaida-aligned gunmen, some of whom claimed to be avenging a foiled move by a small-town US pastor to burn the Qur'an.
Survivors spoke of religious taunts, random killings and then a gunman slaughtering hostages en masse as the Iraqi army stormed the church to end the four-hour siege.
Ghassan Salah, 17, had just arrived for the Sunday night service with his mother, Nadine, and brother, Ghaswan, when the gunmen burst through the cathedral's huge wooden doors. "All of you are infidels," they screamed at the congregation. "We are here to avenge the burning of the Qur'ans and the jailing of Muslim women in Egypt."
Then the killing began. Ghassan and seven other survivors described to the Guardian a series of events that have broken new ground in a country that has become partly conditioned to violence throughout eight years of war. Thar Abdallah, the priest who married al-Wafi was first to be killed – shot dead where he stood. Gunmen then sprayed the church with bullets as another priest ushered up to 60 people to a small room in the back.
Mona Abdullah Hadad, 62, was in church with her family when the gunmen started shooting. "They said, 'We will go to paradise if we kill you and you will go to hell'," she said. "We stood beside the wall and they started shooting at the young people. I asked them to kill me and let my grandson live, but they shot him dead and they shot me in the back."
"They said it was 'halal' to kill us," said Hannah, whose 10-year-old son was shot in the back. "They hated us and said we were all going to die."
Witnesses interviewed consistently said that some of the gunmen spoke Arabic in a non-Iraqi dialect, supporting a government claim that the operation was foreign-backed. It was carried out in the name of an umbrella group for global jihad causes, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, which has previously targeted Christians and churches, but on a much smaller scale.