By Mindy Belz 321 pp., $25.99 Tyndale, 2016
Most Americans are aware of the failed U.S mission in Iraq, but fewer likely know about the ongoing brutal Islamic State oppression of Christians and other minorities.
Tens of thousands of Christians have fled Iraq in the wake of bombings, kidnappings, ransom demands, rapes and beheadings.
Mindy Belz, senior editor at the Christian magazine World, journeyed to Iraq several times to investigate the ongoing slaughter, frequently at great personal risk. In her new book, “They Say We Are Infidels,” Belz writes with authority about Iraq’s history, politics and culture.
The book is timely, coming out just weeks after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accused the Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS, of committing genocide against Christians and others by wiping out whole communities, enslaving women and girls for sex, and destroying churches and monasteries in Iraq and Syria.
When ISIS gained control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, it imposed Sharia law. Enforcers amputated a hand from anyone caught stealing. Adulterers could be stoned to death and non-Muslim women were captured and repeatedly raped. One ISIS contingent held classes on proper beheading techniques.
A United Nations fact-finding mission concluded that children in Syria were being “killed or publicly executed, crucified, beheaded and stoned to death.”
For eight years U.S. troops tried to stabilize Iraq, but the effort fell apart when American forces withdrew, just as ISIS was ready to seize large parts of the nation. The United States suffered 4,400 combat deaths and spent billions of dollars on a wasted campaign.
Belz is a fine writer who displays obvious affection and admiration for her subjects’ courage. She bonded with some of the women, including an Iraqi refugee named Insaf, who had settled with her husband and children in Canada, but returned to Iraq each year to deliver cash to suffering families.
Belz is often asked why she puts herself at risk by traveling to a war zone, leaving behind her husband, who approves of her work, and four children. People cite the Bible when they say a woman’s place is in the home, not near a battlefield. She responds, “I only hear Jesus saying, ‘Feed my sheep.’”
This book is not a jeremiad, but Belz clearly believes the United States underestimated the strength and determination of Islamic fighters. “No one at the top seemed to understand … the depth of brokenness and cruelty most Iraqis had experienced.”
Hundreds of thousands of desperate Christians fled Iraq, while clinging to the hope that one day they will be able to return. Terrorists sometimes offered three options: Convert to Islam, pay a ransom or leave the country.
Belz delivers solid reporting from a war-torn nation that remains in the grip of an ugly, barbaric genocide that has not received the attention it deserves, as ISIS continues its march toward creation of an Islamic state.
Bill Williams is a free-lance writer in Connecticut and a former editorial writer for The Hartford Courant. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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