Iraqi Christians experience 'unprecedented' levels of persecution as Christianity in Middle East nears extinction

(AP)An Iraqi nun, left, speaks with a Christian man who fled with his family from Christian villages near Mosul province in Iraq, at a school which turned as a shelter for the displaced Christian families, in Ainkawa, a suburb of Irbil, with a majority Christian population, Iraq, Friday, June 27, 2014.

Christian and Jewish leaders spoke out last week regarding the persecution of Christians in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Open Doors CEO Dr. David Curry, Simon Wiesenthal Center Interfaith Affairs Director Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, and Iraqi Anglican Church vicar Canon Andrew White described the condition of Iraqi Christians and urged the Western world to help the religious minority.

ISIS imposed a July 19 deadline on Christians in Mosul to convert to Islam, pay a tax, leave the city, or be put to death. Hundreds of thousands have fled the city in recent weeks. Dr. Curry called the expulsion anomalous.

"The persecution and treatment of Christians in Mosul is unprecedented in modern times," he said in a statement. "This latest forced exodus of Christians further shows why Western governments and the people in the West need to cry out in support for religious freedom in the Middle East and elsewhere.

"If this does not move us concerning the near extinction of Christianity in the Middle East, it's likely nothing else can."

Rabbi Adlerstein also warned of the dangers of religious extremism.

"Too many of us thought that forced conversions and expulsions of entire religious communities were part of a distant, medieval past," he said. "There was little that we could do to stop this horrible episode.

"It is not too late to realize that many others – Christians today, but certainly Jews, Baha'i, Hindus, Muslims and others – are mortally endangered by a potent religious fanaticism that threatens tens of millions, and which still can be resisted."

Many Christians and Shiite Muslims fled to Kurdistan and other areas of northern Iraq. Canon White described their situation as critical.

"Things are so desperate, our people are disappearing," he told BBC Radio last week. "We have had people massacred, their heads chopped off.

"The Christians are in grave danger. There are literally Christians living in the desert and on the street. They have nowhere to go.

"Are we seeing the end of Christianity? We are committed come what may, we will keep going to the end, but it looks as though the end could be very near."

Canon White also asked Britain to do more to help the displaced Iraqis.

"We do not want Britain to forget us. We - and I'm saying 'we' talking like an Iraqi Christian - have always been with the British because they have already been with us," he said.

"Individual churches, individual Christians in Britain, have been a bigger help than anybody around the world."