Tuesday, 27 August 2013

‘Christianophobia’ and the Middle East

I’ve just finished reading ‘Christianophobia’ by Rupert Shortt, who is the Religion Editor of the Times Literary Supplement. This tragic account of the persecution suffered by Christians across the world in the twenty-first century is both thought provoking and balanced, and I would highly recommend it to anyone of all faiths and none. It is also deeply shocking reading for any Christian or indeed any person of good will in the West. Some of the most chilling chapters focused on the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and the fact that the violence, persecution and discrimination against Christians in the Middle East is grossly under-reported by the Western media.

What so many forget is that Christianity is not a foreign or colonial import to the Middle East. Instead, the Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity and was exported to us in the West! Most of the Christian minorities in the Middle East predate both Christianity coming to the West and also the arrival of Islam. The Coptic Orthodox, the Syriac Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, the Eastern Catholics and many other ancient churches all trace their roots back nearly two thousand years.

Today in most Middle Eastern countries, Christianity is under extreme pressure. This summer alone has seen countless attacks on Christians and churches in Egypt following the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps the most shocking story to come out of the chaos in Egypt was the murder of ten-year-old Jessica Boulous on 6 August. Jessica was shot dead as she walked home from a Bible class simply because she was a Christian. 

Sadly, Jessica’s murder is not an isolated incident in the Middle East. Christians in Iraq have almost been eradicated since the West’s catastrophic invasion in 2003. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph’s Edward Malnick, Canon Andrew White leads Iraq’s only Anglican church, St George’s Baghdad, and says that there ‘used to be 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, but now we have only got 200,000 left.’ While no community was left unscathed in Iraq’s mayhem, Christians in particular were singled out by Islamists and have suffered unimaginable suffering. 

Syria too is seeing its Christian minority (which is around 10% of the population and mostly made up of ancient church communities) increasingly threatened by jihadists as a result of the horrendous civil war. As I write, Western governments are beginning to talk about military action to punish the Syrian regime for the sickening chemical attack on civilians last week. What will launching a few missile strikes actually achieve? Whatever happens in Syria, I fear that Christians will be caught in the middle and suffer the same terrible fate as Christians in neighbouring Iraq.

Lord Sacks, the out-going Chief Rabbi of Britain’s Jewish community, again speaking to the Daily Telegraph, has said that what is happening to Christians in the Middle East is the ‘religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing’ and he is shocked that no Western political leaders have spoken out against the shocking violence against Christians. The sad truth is that defending the human rights of Middle Eastern Christians is not in the strategic interests for the West, any more than it is for the other power players in the region. 

It is now time for Western Christians and for people of good will, from all faiths and none, to stand up on behalf of a beleaguered and ignored minority.

Christians in the West really need to wake up. How can we waste all of our time arguing about gay marriage, women bishops and the style of our worship services when fellow brothers and sisters are facing such unspeakable atrocities? The situation for Christians in the Middle East is desperate and is getting worse as the region becomes more unstable. 

So what can we do? There are some brilliant organisations working in the Middle East which we could all support financially, such as Embrace or Andrew White's Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East. We can all raise awareness of this issue through social media, lobbying MPs or simply telling other people about it. And finally, we can all pray that God would bring an end to the suffering of both Christians and of all people who call their home in the Middle East.

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