Interview with Najeeb Michaeel Moussa, finalists of the 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought proposed by Identity and Democracy group at the European Parliament. He is a Chaldean Catholic priest, archivist and scholar. In 2018 he was made Archbishop of Mosul, Iraq. Michaeel is well known for his efforts to aid the evacuation of Christians, Syrians and Chaldeans when Daesh captured Mosul in 2014. He was of great assistance to the displaced people of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain during the Daesh persecutions. The archbishop is also famous for saving a trove of ancient manuscripts, including documents belonging to the Eastern Church, which form part of the spiritual and cultural heritage of humanity.
By Marco Gombacci
- “The European Union has undoubtedly lagged behind the European peoples who have courageously mobilized to express their solidarity with the Christians of the East in general and the Christians of Iraq in particular.”
- “We have retained natural values: the defense and promotion of the family, living faith, pride in our identities and our roots. All things that I see slowly disappearing in Europe.”
- “In Europe, you neglect the importance of your treasures, your cultures, your civilization. And you sometimes give way to fundamentalist or Salafist movements that gradually impose their ideologies on those around them, to become bearers of hatred and disrespect for the countries that welcome them.”
- “For terrorism, if you do not make it disappear by law and firmness, it is you and your children who are exposed to the danger of kneeling.”
- “Europe is becoming the sick child of the modern world, because it is moving away from its faith and its cultural and religious roots.”
1. You have been named and shortlisted for the Shakarov Prize 2020, the most important human right prize in Europe. Do you think Europe acknowledged the suffering of the persecuted Christians in Middle East or there was too much silence on this issue during Isis reign of terror?
I think that the European Union was aware of the persecutions that have affected Christians in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, but also in Lebanon where there are attacks such as in the village of Qaa in the northern Bekaa.
But I believe that this awareness was difficult to verbalize. Charles Peguy, a beloved author of French Catholics, reminds us that “We must see what we see” and therefore say the suffering we see even when it destabilizes our analytical grids, our geopolitical convictions, our political correctness.
The European Union has undoubtedly lagged behind the European peoples who have courageously mobilized to express their solidarity with the Christians of the East in general and the Christians of Iraq in particular. In the field, in the refugee camps, in our dioceses, in the middle of Nineveh and in Iraqi Kurdistan, we have seen dozens of volunteers who have come from Europe to express their friendship and closeness to the displaced persons and refugees. We experienced a real solidarity that was exemplary.
I also recognize that my nomination for this award is not for myself. It is recognition and proof of this awareness. I want it to be long-lasting. Mesopotamia and Iraq must once again become centers of civilization that offer their fruit to the whole world. And Christians will be major actors in this renaissance.
2. What is the future of Christians in Middle East? Are there any chance they will return to their homes? What Europe can do to help them?
There are different challenges. The first is that of rooting. Today the international community is not sufficiently aware of the danger of an East emptied of its Christians. A good part of our vocation is to be the salt of the earth in the midst of devastation and tension. What will happen if we leave?
Some are already returning because they realize that the West is not the lost Paradise, nor the delights of the “Hanging Gardens of Babel” that they were promised. They also return because they are spiritually and culturally oriental and that in their path of identity, a return to the land of their fathers is often a stage of construction or reconstruction.
What can we do to help us continue our vocation in the Near East? Three things: pray, build, alert. We need to work for the security, cultural and physical, of our communities so that they may always better understand the meaning of their presence. We must not be Christians inhabited by fear, but men full of their mission: witnessing to Jesus Christ. This is paradoxical for the modern world, but it is the lesson of the first Christians. In the midst of peril, the more we witness, and the more we pray, the safer we are. Because in the end, our security is not of the world, it is for the world, and it comes mainly from above.
This does not mean that we should not do everything to ensure our concrete situation. I believe that for this, our healthy and free collaboration with the States must be supported, encouraged and defended. Finally, I hope that Europe is aware of the danger of the emergence of ideologies as harmful as that of the OEI, and that it will react more strongly if this ideology emerges again.
3. What is your advise to Europe on how to deal with terrorism and fundamental islamists? Do you see any danger in the open doors policies on migration?
My first lesson is that of faith. Islamism fills a void, an emptiness. In the East, we often look at Europe with envious eyes. But we have retained natural values: the defense and promotion of the family, living faith, pride in our identities and our roots. All things that I see slowly disappearing in Europe. I said it in the European Parliament: “I am more afraid for Europe than I am for Iraq”. Here, in some ways, we have lost everything; here, you neglect the importance of your treasures, your cultures, your civilization. And you sometimes give way to fundamentalist or Salafist movements that gradually impose their ideologies on those around them, to become bearers of hatred and disrespect for the countries that welcome them.
This approach must be the first. Secondly, one would have to be short-sighted not to see that Europe is naive in the face of terrorism and uncontrolled and unattended immigration. As a human and Christian, I believe in the primordial place of the neighbor and to immerse it. They will always find in me the heart of a brother who loves them. I am also in love with European cultures: they will always find in me a friend who advises them. Not all these people come to love you, or to serve the countries that welcome them. If you do not control and fight the outlaws, and those who refuse the values of your country and human rights, and impose their own laws, you will lose your way of life, your culture, your peace. For Catholics, naivety is not charity, prudence is. It is indispensable to have an eye for love, and an eye for prudence, this is how you are invited to look at migration.
As for terrorism, if you do not make it disappear by law and firmness, it is you and your children who are exposed to the danger of kneeling.
4. Are you worried that Christians could face persecution also in the Western world?
They have suffered persecution and for a long time. I am a Dominican. I know that the congregations were expelled from France at the beginning of the 20th century. It was necessary for the religious to give their lives for their homeland in the war trenches so that they could return to France. It was Father Henri Lacordaire, a lawyer and Dominican who re-established the Order in France in 1838, who preached to live “God and freedom.
Europe is becoming the sick child of the modern world, because it is moving away from its faith and its cultural and religious roots. By dint of turning away from the Church and its heritage, it falls in love with the worst fundamentalist, lax or individualistic ideologies, as long as they are opposed to those who built it. This is an immense sorrow for those who love Europe. A pain that will be repaired only through education and culture, through knowledge and the coming out of a false vision of secularism, which must not be instrumentalized to oppose God and spiritual values.
Secularism is the distinction between God and the State, not opposites. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God,” he said, our Lord Jesus Christ. (Mark, XII, 13-17).
We must fear false gods, slavers, violence and the sword, and not turn away from the God of love and peace. Christians all over the world are undergoing a real ordeal, and always give martyrs, because of the fanaticism of a god of sword and violence. Unfortunately, you also have your martyrs murdered by the same ideology and by the same fanatical groups. All over Europe, people are falling because of the expansionist Islamist ideology. Father Hamel and his assassination, like many other innocent victims in Europe, should have been an occasion for awareness and vigilance. Too bad that was not the case. Europe: Wake up