The Corner

The State Department Responds to NR’s Report on Sister Diana Momeka

The State Department is apparently trying to cover up an embarrassing, politically damaging, and possibly discriminatory act. In an e-mail sent to me on Thursday, Kathryn Fitrell, press-unit chief of the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs with State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, requested that I revise the text of my National Review article on the denial of a visitor visa to Sister Diana Momeka. I refused, and then on Friday — as the Department honored World Press Freedom Day — the Bureau contacted my employer, the Hudson Institute, with the same request.

DOS has offered no legitimate reason for us to comply. I reported Sister Diana’s account of a conversation with Christopher Patch, an officer with the U.S. consulate in Erbil, and now I am asked to remove his name because, according to the e-mail sent to me, he “did not conduct a visa interview with Sister Diana Momeka.”

But Sister Diana in my article did not characterize the conversation as a visa interview. Neither did I.

In Sister Diana’s account, Mr. Patch offered her a critical insight into the reason she was denied a visa: She was classified as an IDP (internally displaced person), presumably more liable to overstay a visa and settle illegally in this country, although she is employed in Iraq, teaching at the Babel College for Philosophy and Theology, and the temporary nature of the visit she has applied for is vouched for by the prioress of her community, as well as by a member of Congress and others.

The order of Dominican sisters to whom she belongs says, and I believe them, that their only member to resettle in the United States did so in 2012 — that is, before ISIS — and that she had a green card, which means she resettled legally. The Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena have an established, 150-year-old presence in Iraq and are committed to helping the remaining displaced Christians of that country.

In citing Sister Diana’s IDP status, Mr. Patch simply articulated the unspoken. But is there yet another explanation for her being blocked by the Erbil consulate general from traveling to Washington for meetings at which she was to report on the situation of Christians in Iraq? She was to be part of a delegation whose other members, representatives of two other religious communities in the region, the Yazidi and the Shia Turkmen, were granted visas.

If Sister Diana’s IDP status was the issue, why were Yazidi IDPs granted visas last October? It so happens that every Christian survivor and eyewitness of ISIS’s religious-cleansing campaign is now an IDP or refugee.

As an articulate, English-speaking Iraqi Christian, who is not only personally a victim of ISIS but also an aid worker with a broad perspective on the suffering of the Christian community there, Sister Diana would make an exceptional witness.

Whether conscious or not of her high value in that regard, those who decided to block Sister Diana from entering this country on a visitor visa acted in a manner consistent with the administration’s pattern of silence when it comes to the Christian profile of so many of the jihadists’ “convert-or-die” victims in Syria, Libya, Nigeria, Kenya, and Iraq. In typical U.S. condolence statements, targeted Christians have been identified simply as “lives lost,” “Egyptian citizens,” “Kenyan people,” “innocent victims,” or “innocent Iraqis.”

Sister Diana Momeka meeting in autumn 2014 with the Reverend Johnnie Moore of the Cradle Fund and, to her immediate left, the Syriac Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Yohanna Petros Mouche. Photo courtesy of the Cradle Fund and the Institute for Global Engagement

That Sister Diana is a Christian IDP seems to be relevant to the consul’s denial of her visa application. It is why I think the State Department seeks to discredit my NR piece by calling her attribution of the quote to Mr. Patch “incorrect.”

Nina Shea is the director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

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