So far, there is only propaganda – but there is a lot of it, which is already exploiting three years of real suffering across three countries. It is exploiting people’s concern in order to spread fear and drive ethnic cleansing. Some unfortunates, who are concerned for the endangered communities in Mosul, have shared the first then the second piece of propaganda.
Has the Islamic State burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul? Part one…
Iraqi Canadian civil engineer Rabea Allos supposedly demonstrated his claim that ‘ISIL [had] burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul, Iraq’, by sharing a photograph of a burning church. drzaidg confronted him: ‘liar. That’s Egypt.’ Allos answered back: ‘get your facts right. Think before you write.’ He has continued to promote this line.
The news crossed from English into Arabic and back again. Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac community service Ankawa and Muslim-Christian convert-activists Walid Shoebat and Theodore Shoebat published the same photo.
And the claim crossed other language barriers quickly too. (It’s inevitable. I mention it because it makes the murmur of rumours ever more difficult to drown out.) Seemingly, first arnûn (@arnun21), then Süryani Kültürü (@suryanilercom) and others spread it in Turkish: ‘The Assyrian Catholic bishopric/diocese has been set on fire by ISIL. [Musul’da bulunan Süryani Katolik Metropolitlik merkezi IŞİD tarafından ateşe verildi.]’
Others appealed: ‘ISIL has burned the Assyrian church of Mosul. They’ve been holding 49 Turkish diplomats for 37 days. My God, help our diplomats. [IŞİD, Musul Süryani kilisesini yaktı.37 gündür 49 Türk diplomatını tutuyorlar Allahım Sen diplomatlarımıza yardım et.]’
The first piece of “evidence” is a photograph of a church in Egypt in 2013
But drzaidg was right. I tracked down Mena Fakhry’s original tweet (@menafakhry), which proved that the photo showed the Church of el-Amir Tadros el-Shatby/Prince Tadros/Saint Tadros the Martyr in Minya, Egypt, on the 14th of August 2013. Reaffirming the photo’s origins, CoOkiE had shared it within minutes: ‘Another coptic church in #Menia (st.Tadros church) is burnt by #MB supporters the terrorists.’ And Copts United had republished it within hours.
Amongst others, notably, ArtMuseumGeek (@ArtMuseumGeek), Anthony de Rosa (@AntdeRosa) and Rana Allam (@Run_Rana) worked to stop its spread. Thankfully, Alamet#HandsOffSyria (@alamet0) posted a corrective for the Turkish-language audience: ‘I’d retweeted it too, but it’s from Egypt, really. The Church of Tadros was burned in Minya last year. [Ben de RT’lemiştim ama Mısır’danmış gerçekten. Geçen sene Minya’da yakılan Tadros kilisesi.]’
Has the Islamic State burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul? Part two…
When the claim was reported in detail, Al Arabiya and Ammon News published ‘a photo [supposedly] released [on] Saturday [the 19th of July 2014]’, which ‘show[ed]‘ that the Islamic State had burned the church. That photo spread in Turkish as well: ‘ISIL has burned a 1,800-year-old church. Işid 1800 yillik kiliseyi yakmis.]’ [Update (21st July 2014): Filadelfeia Chalkidona reported that ‘extremists [εξτρεμιστές]’ of the Islamic State/Caliphate (το Ισλαμικό Κράτος/το Χαλιφάτο) had ‘burned the historic church of Saint Peter [έκαψαν την ιστορική εκκλησία του Αγίου Πέτρου]’.]
The second piece of “evidence” is a photo of a fire outside an Armenian church in Mosul in June 2014
This is a rapid recycling of recent confusion and propaganda. I debunked this a month ago. Piecing together information from an Armenian source in (major Armenian refuge) Kirkuk and from the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Amel Shamon Nona, the Church of St. Etchmiadzin was not even set on fire last month. Jihadists attacked the army base next to the church and that explosion caused fire damage to the church. As then, still now, despite the Islamic State’s promotional brochures of ethnic cleansing, there are no photographs of the church’s destruction or its ruins.
[Update (20th July 2014: Abdul Malek (@truthsMaster) has found a video that shows the unburned church and a burned vehicle outside (which was probably the source of the fire in the propaganda photo).]
I also posted a Turkish-language correction: ‘The photograph was taken on the 11th of June. The fire was outside the Church of Saint Etchmiadzin. [Fotoğraf 11 Haziran’da çekmiştir. Ateş Eçmiacin kilisesinin dışarıdaydı.]’
[Update (21st July 2014): I corrected Filadelfeia Chalkidona in Greek. ‘[Η φωτογραφία από εκκλησία και πυρκαγιά τραβήχτηκε πριν έναν μήνα κι η πυρκαγιά ήταν έξω απ’την εκκλησία.]’ Δηλαδή, δεν υπάρχει καμιά μαρτυρία ότι πυρπολήθηκε το επισκοπάτο των Συρίων Καθολικών, καμιά μαρτυρία για την καύση Χαλδαίας Εκκλησίας Αγίου Πέτρου, στη Μοσούλη. Η υποτιθέμενη Εκκλησία Αγίου Πέτρου είναι Αρμενική Εκκλησία Αγίου Ετσμιατζίν. Η φωτογραφία τραβήχτηκε πριν έναν μήνα κι η πυρκαγιά ήταν έχω.]
Has the Islamic State burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul? Part three…
Muslim-Christian convert-activists Walid Shoebat and Theodore Shoebat reinforced Al Arabiya‘s photo with ‘a photo of damages Muslims did inside the church’.
The third piece of “evidence” is a photo of an Armenian church in Syria in October 2012
As Reuters’ photojournalist George Ourfalian documented on the 30th of October 2012, as the Atlantic published on the 8th of November 2012, the Shoebats’ alleged evidence was in fact the ‘burned interior’ of the Armenian Church of Surp Kevork, ‘after clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, at the al-Midan area in Aleppo’. [Update (20th July 2014): Harald Doornbos (@HaraldDoornbos) has been sharing the corrections in English and translating them into Dutch.]
[Update (21st July 2014)] Has the Islamic State burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul? Part four…
Erbil-based Noor Matti (@NoorBabylon) complained, ‘#Assyrian cathedral burned in #mosul. No international attention what so ever.’
The fourth piece of “evidence” is a photograph of a church in Egypt in 2013
As documented in John McManus’s report for BBC News, then specifically identified in Larisa Epatko’s report for PBS Newshour, the image is another view of the Church of Prince Tadros in Minya after its arson on the 14th of August 2013.
[Update (23rd July 2014)] Has the Islamic State burned down the Syriac Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul? Part five…
When San Diego 6 News journalist John Carroll interviewed Iraqi Chaldean local Ray Dawood, the broadcast displayed images of destruction that had come from the Christian refugee community in Iraq. Apart from photos of the Church of Prince Tadros and the Church of Saint Etchmiadzin, it displayed a frame that reportedly ‘show[ed] them [the Islamic State] blowing up a church‘ in mid-July.
The fifth piece of “evidence” is a photo of a Husseiniyah in June 2014
I’d already begun to wonder about the means of communication and corroboration of the rumours, because I’d seen a supposed image of the destruction of Jonah’s tomb that looked as if it had been scanned from a print-out. This report’s secure paper trail led me to consider, are these the photos being used to further terrify Christian refugees from Mosul?
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – or presence
Ankawa, Shoebat, Al Arabiya and Ammon News also said that the church was 1,800 years old. As Religious Dirt‘s Prof. Douglas Boin (@austin_hoya) noted, a ‘”1,800-year-old” church? That would make it earlier than the earliest ever known. Terrible loss [if true] but needs [a] date check.’ Indeed. [Update (22nd July 2014): Christopher Jones (@cwjones89) has helpfully pointed out that ‘the oldest known church dates to c. 235 AD‘.]
The oldest church in Mosul, the Church of Saint Peter (Shamoun al-Safa) was built in the Thirteenth Century, so it is not even 800 years old, let alone 1,800. Naturally, the Syriac/Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Ephraim/St. Ephrem (the diocese of the community) must be younger. And the Chaldean Archbishop’s residence was first built in 1995. So, not a single claim or piece of identifying information appears to be accurate.
None of the images that have been appropriated and abused look anything like St. Afram, with or without its cross. Unfortunately, I am still only confident enough to say that there is no evidence that the church is no longer standing.
Waiting for people to choose between subjugation, exploitation, exile and death is not protecting them
There may, somewhere, be photos that show that the Islamic State is ‘protect[ing]‘ churches. But at least some of the photos are ‘fake‘ (real, but of different people, at a different time, in a different place). And, anyway, the Caliphate is not “protecting” them in any meaningful sense. As Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented, the Caliphate’s fighters are holding the churches while they force their Christian communities to convert to Islam, pay a jizya tax as non-Muslims under Islamic rule, go into exile or be killed.
Historical fiction is just that, fiction: it is reckless and dangerous to spread false information
When ArtMuseumGeek tried to stop the first photo’s misuse (with a fine series of tweets @ArtMuseumGeek), Little John (@YourGunShowTix) defended the logic of ‘”historical fiction“-style fakes’ that I’ve decried before: ‘the picture doesnt really matter as long as the fact is true the See was burned down…. if it’s a file image, how is it misleading? Is the fact the See was burned down untrue? No…. Do you know the media uses stock photographs when there are none from the covered event?’ As I’ve detailed before, it is reckless and dangerous to publish false news.
If you have/install one of the image-searching add-ons to Chrome, Firefox, whatever, you can check an image with two clicks: right-click on the image, left-click on “search Google for this image”. Otherwise, you can still check an image with three-and-a-bit clicks: right-click on the image, left-click on “copy image URL”, then search Google for that URL.
The Islamic State is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Da’ish, Da’esh or Da’ash.