(photo credit: REUTERS)
GENEVA - Middle East Christian leaders called on Muslim governments and religious authorities on Tuesday to condemn Islamic State for its assault on minority religious communities and to take the lead in efforts to destroy its power in Iraq and Syria.
They told a news conference that the reaction so far from Arab countries had been "timid" to the militant group's killings and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Christians in massacres against all religious and ethnic minorities.
"The situation of Christians and other minorities amid the massacres and atrocities of (Islamic State) is dire and our future in the region is at stake," said Patriarch Ignace III of the Syrian Catholic Church of Antioch.
"The leaders of Arab countries and the Arab League have to stand up and do something."
Patriarch Sako I of the Chaldean Catholic Church said in Iraq over 10,000 Christians -- who have had large communities in the Middle East for some 2,000 years -- in Iraq had been killed by the militants and some 170,000 expelled from the north.
In areas under Islamic State control in Syria, around half a million Christians had been forced to flee areas where they had long lived at peace with their Muslim neighbors.
"We are calling on the religious leaders of the Muslim countries to issue a fatwa (religious edict) against the killing of any human being, not just other Muslims," said Patriarch Sako. "So far, their voice has been very timid."
A parallel statement from the two patriarchs and 6 other church leaders including Greek Orthodox and Coptic prelates said the ideology of Islamic State was against human rights, and was a threat to society in the Middle East and across the world.
"If not strongly condemned and effectively destroyed, then this ideology will damage the entire system of human rights," the group said. The top priority was to defeat Islamic State and "do away with its murderous policies".
The two leaders told the news conference, called by the Vatican mission to the United Nations in Geneva, that they were nervous about the US bombing campaign
against Islamic State, saying it could boost Arab popular support for the militants.
"It needs boots on the ground, just bombing is no solution," said Patriarch Sako. "But these should perhaps be Arab boots. The Arab League should be involved. This is primarily the responsibility of the Arab states."
In intense efforts over the past few days, US diplomats have found little concrete support from regional countries seen as wary of stepping into a sectarian war between the Sunni militants of Islamic State and its Shia opponents.
But Patriarch Ignace said there was a reluctance among Arab political and religious leaders in countries where Islam and the state were closely entwined to recognize the human rights of Christians and other minorities.
"(Islamic State) was born in this context, an amalgam of religion and the state," he said. "Our Arab friends tell us they want us to stay but we have to ask them: what are you doing to stop the fanaticism of your fellow Muslims?"