Violence a world away protested in El Cajon

"If they are killing us in the name of Jesus, we need to unite."

About 150 people and a light rain showed up at Prescott Promenade on August 2 for an evening rally to protest violence against Christians in Iraq and Syria. The rally, organized by the San Diego East County Chaldean American Commerce, was among the worldwide events held that day to protest actions taken since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized control of Mosul, Iraq, on June 10.

The local event featured people speaking English, Arabic, and Aramaic as they prayed and spoke about topics that included contacting lawmakers, a plea for unity, and an endorsement for Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) for president.

Some rally participants held crosses and pictures of Jesus. The flags displayed included the purple flag of Syria carried by a girl in a purple dress. Some children held signs with the words "I am a Nazarene" below a red Arabic letter "N." The letter stands for Nazarene, the Arabic term for Christian. Islamic militants in Mosul spray-painted the letter on Christians' homes.

Ben Kalasho

Ben Kalasho

In an announcement about the rally, chamber president Ben Kalasho said his organization is working on a petition that asks U.S. representatives to "seriously consider" working for a safe haven in Iraq's Nineveh Plains for Assyrians (people also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) and other minorities.

Prescott Promenade is one block south of Main Street, and the Good Mojo Band began playing at 6 p.m. at the Downtown Café on Main. This resulted in an interesting juxtaposition of sounds.

While Catholic Melkite Church deacon Tony Kabban (who wore a Hard Rock Café T-shirt) led the group in "The Lord's Prayer," the band played "Proud Mary.''

The presidential endorsement came from Paul Hannosh, who ran unsuccessfully in June 2014 for U.S. representative for California's 8th District (which includes north San Bernardino). He advised the group to contact elected officials by phone, email, and through their staffs, "especially during an election year. Rand Paul is the only presidential candidate standing with our brothers and sisters."

Johnny Sargon Jacob, chairman of the Assyrian Democratic Movement of San Diego, said that Christians were forced to become Muslims 1400 years ago. He reminded the audience that ISIS had recently given Christians three choices: convert, pay a $400 tax to worship as Christians, or be killed.

Fadl Alissa

Fadl Alissa

As Shiite shiekh Fadl Alissa of the Imam Ali Islamic Center in Lakeside spoke in Arabic, a man held a sign that read, "Al Qaeda is cancer in the human body. Need to be removed. Al Qaeda & ISIS rule by terror. Will destroy humanity."

Claudine Barin of the Seyfo Center USA said, "I was expecting to see more people." There were about 6000 people at the Sydney, Australia, rally, she said. Barin, a representative for the Assyrian National Broadcasting in San Jose, said Middle Eastern Christians aren't asked by their persecutors whether or not they're Orthodox. "If they are killing us in the name of Jesus, we need to unite."

Kalasho also called for unity. "I want us to be defined not by our differences, but similarities. We have to turn a new page of togetherness for the cause of humanity."

Chamber board member Vivian Haisha (Shabilla) ended the rally with an Aramaic prayer and said, "You can go in peace or stay around and talk." She pointed to Main Street and said if people were "hungry, Mezzah restaurant is owned by Iraqis.”

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