Global Holy War: The Rise of a Christian Army Against ISIS
It is the American documentary filmmaker Matthew VanDyke’s mission to build an army composed of Christians in Iraq that could take on ISIS.
VanDyke gained notoriety as a rebel fighter in the Libyan Civil War. The filmmaker publicly supported the Arab Spring revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East.
According to a press release, when two of VanDyke’s friends, journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, were beheaded by ISIS, he became determined to stop what he describes as “this scourge on humanity” (1). Consequently, VanDyke is residing in Iraq, assisting Christians in defending themselves against ISIS.
In 2014, VanDyke founded the Sons of Liberty International (SOLI), which trains vulnerable groups to be able to defend themselves against insurgents and terrorists. The decision to form a professional Assyrian army was conceived following the infamous ISIL surge across the Niveheh plains in North-western Iraq. The insurgency saw hundreds of Assyrians and other religious minorities slaughtered and enslaved.
VanDyke spoke of how Iraq’s Christian community has been pushed around for too long.
“Sons of Liberty International’s mission is to step in where the international community has failed,” said VanDyke. “The future of Christianity in Iraq is uncertain. Supporting Sons of Liberty International is a tangible way to make a difference.” (1)
Earlier this year, this non-profit organization trained more than 300 Iraqi Christians to fight ISIS. In May, the group began another training session, focusing on the training of sergeants and officers. A former West Point instructor has been enlisted to lead the training and, according to the press statement, all the men being trained are members of the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU).
The NPU comprises mainly of Assyrians who have already volunteered to fight ISIS. As the Restore Nineveh Now website states, thanks to the work of the Assyrian Democratic Movement in Iraq, the NPU is already being organized, trained and equipped to fight ISIS (2).
Determined to “cleanse” Iraq of the Islamic State and Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in February this year, the first wave of Assyrian Christian volunteer for the NPU completed boot camp at a clandestine training camp just ten miles from the front lines with ISIL.
As American Aljazeera notes, the NPU plans to grow by the thousands in forthcoming months and much of Iraq’s dwindling Assyrian Christian minority have placed their hopes on the self-preservation on the NPU. VanDyke noted that the atrocities being committed in Iraq, including kidnapping, using women as sex slaves and loss of homeland, has whipped Christian Iraqis into a fighting mind-set. “Their morale and capabilities are higher than almost anything I’ve seen,” said Matthew VanDyke.
VanDykes’ Sons of Liberty International project has attracted considerable attention in the West, partly due to VanDyke’s involvement. The project is crowdfunded online with a goal of raising $12,000 to train local Christian forces, starting with the NPU. According to its crowdfunding page, the $12,000 goalpost is symbolic, representing Christianity – 12 disciples and 12 tribes of Israel (3).
American Aljazeera notes around $250,000 in funding has already been raised for the Assyrians’ various military, humanitarian and political efforts in Iraq.
As a report in the Voice of America highlights (4), the NPU is seeking to coordinate efforts with other local groups battling Islamic State militants, including the Kurdish Peshmerga fighting force. However, according to Michael Knights, an Iraq security specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, neither the Kurds nor the US have “lifted a finger to liberate towns, like [the Assyrian city of] Qaraqosh, which are a 10 minute drive from Kurdish front lines.”
The same report continues that other small religious fighters are only interested in defending their own territory and consequently “making the conflict a necessarily sectarian battle.” Concerns have also been made about whether forming explicitly Christian armies, which involved Western volunteers, would bolster appeal of the ISIS, which already claims to be “fighting a holy war.”
Knights however is not convinced that the forming of Christian armies with foreign volunteers would change the nature of the conflict or increase support for ISIS.
“ISIL is sure as hell fighting a holy war against them. They won’t be put off by any US volunteers who are using the same language in return. We are already at a medieval barbarity stage and ISIL did that on their own,” said Knights.
VanDyke insists that it is not a religious war and stressed he does not see himself as a modern-day crusader.
“The Assyrian Christians have lived in peace with their neighbors and they will continue to. They are interested in defending their own lands against ISIS and any other terrorist threats and that’s it.”
Others, however, are not so convinced a holy war isn’t coming and believe it’s already arrived.
As a report on DC Clothesline says (5), World War III is a religious war which has already started and unless the march on Islam is stopped, Christians around the world will continue.
Concerns are being raised about how when the so-called politically favored Muslims are “getting away with” crucifying the non-politically favored Christians, the media remains silent.
Support of Vandyke’s Sons of Liberty International could be viewed as being a tangible way to end the atrocities being subjected by ISIS on Christians, which could make a difference to a religious that is bestowed with uncertainty in Iraq and, as Vandyke says himself, “step in where the international community has failed.”
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