Human Rights

“Where are the Voices?”: Cardinal Wuerl on the U.S.’s lack of response to Iraq

Recently, Cardinal Wuerl offered the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the Catholic University of America. Right before the exit hymn began, he asked to share a final thought with all of those in attendance and those watching from behind the television screen. The parishioners and students, me included, took a seat, expecting some form of reiteration of the homily for that day. (You can get the full speech here.)

What followed were some of the most powerful words I’ve heard spoken thus far about the ISIS crisis in Iraq and Syria. The silence of the room only emphasized the dire message Cardinal Wuerl was trying to get across: where are the voices?

The American government and people have had little to say about the ethnic cleansing going on in Iraq and Syria. Thousands of Christian, Shiite, Yazidi, and Mandean people (including women and children) are being abducted, expelled, and killed. ISIS is trying to cleanse their “state” of these religious groups.

At the time, President Obama’s vague statement on the matter was simply that we do not have a strategy yet for Syria.

After that “strategy” was released to the press, Steven Sotloff, an American journalist was beheaded in a video criticizing Obama’s response and foreign policy.

Cardinal Wuerl’s speech was meant to call out to the public to stop sitting idly by while our brethren are being persecuted by ISIS.

In an effort to wake the U.S. up, Wuerl looked directly at the camera and stated, “Often we’re asked, ‘How is it possible that in human history atrocities occur?’ They occur for two reasons. Because there are those prepared to commit them, and there are those who remain silent.”

No longer can the people of the United States (government, organizations, students) silently watch this injustice take place. Cardinal Wuerl makes it clear that although these people are not directly part of our nation, they are a part of the human community and should be treated as such.

Near the end of his speech, Wuerl delivered the final blow to his hushed audience: “I don’t want to have on my conscience that I was complicitous in something as horrendous as this simply by being quiet. And I ask myself: where are these voices? Where are the voices of parliaments and congresses? Where are the voices of campuses? Where are the voices of community leaders? Where are the voices of talk show hosts and radio programs? Where are the voices of the late night news? Where are the voices of editorial columns? Where are the voices of op-ed pieces? Why a silence?”

With the wrap-up of such an iconic speech in front of me, I began to question my part in all of this. When it comes to something as important as my human brothers and sisters being murdered for something as free to me as religion, how can the world keep turning? Even while the US government ignores this human rights violation, what am I doing for our human community in Iraq?

This speech calls attention not only to those persecuted in Iraq, but also to those of us who do not even have a voice before persecution: the unborn. Millions of our tiniest community members are killed right under our noses, and who has spoken out for them? We need to prioritize speaking truth on their behalf, because they are a part of our human community

Where is my voice? Where is your voice? Where are the voices of our government? We need to speak up and raise awareness for those brutally persecuted. Silence is crime’s best accomplice.

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