GENEVA - Middle East church leaders have urged Arab governments and Muslim religious authorities to strongly denounce the Islamic State for its onslaught on minority religious communities.
Those being persecuted include Christians, Yazidis other minorities and Shia Muslims who do not follow the Sunni brand of Islam the IS purports to represent.
The Christian leaders said Tuesday that Arab leaders, including those in the Arab League, should lead in efforts to destroy the power in Iraq and Syria of the IS which claims to speak in the name of Islam.
The leaders representing Iraqi Christians, Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church, based in Baghdad and Patriarch Ignace III Yousif Yunan, of the Syriac Catholic Church of Antioch, based in Beirut, attended a press conference at the United Nations in Geneva.
They were invited by Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, head of the Holy See's Permanent Mission to the U.N. to speak on Christians in the Middle East: Citizenship, Human Rights and Their Future.
'ISSUE A FATWA'
"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."
The Christian leaders said they have many friendly conversations with their Muslim neighbors, but when it comes to strong public pronouncements against the "genocidal actions" of the IS, their voices are not heard.
Sako said, "We are Christians and we have been here [in Iraq] for 2,000 years. In 10 years more than 10,000 Christians have been killed."
Before the war that ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, he said. Now there are 400,000.
"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.
"The leaders of Arab countries and the Arab League have to stand up and do something."
Patriarch Ignace said Arab political and religious leaders in countries where Islam and the State were closely interwoven were not inclined to recognize the human rights of Christians and other minorities.
He said the Islamic State "was born in this context, an amalgam of religion and the state...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?"
The two patriarchs and six other Middle East church leaders said they had come to Geneva to give testimony about the "dramatic situation" afflicting their communities and countries.
Noting the continuous Christian presence in the region since the time of Jesus, the Christian leaders said, "now particularly in Iraq and Syria we are targeted by IS criminals for out religious conviction."
They noted, "They persecute us in the 'name of God', a clear violation of the fundamental right to religious freedom."
The religious leaders statement said the IS ideology has "resulted in genocide, murder of innocent people, forced displacement and other grave abuses."
They warned, "ISIS [another name for the IS] is a threat not only to Christians and other religious and ethnic groups, but also to the whole society, in the Middle East, and to the international community."
Monsignor Tomasi said, the mechanism for the international community should be the United Nations.
"To use force does not necessarily mean war. The international community is called to do something."
The two Middle East church leaders said they were uneasy about the U.S. bombing campaign against the Islamic State, noting it could boost the support of people 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."