Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Are we all Nazarenes now? The eradication of Christianity in Iraq

In northern Iraq we are seeing the systematic and brutal eradication of Christianity by ISIS. Through murder, rape and expulsion, ISIS have succeeded in eradicating Christianity from the northern city of Mosul. Last Saturday, Christians were given an ultimatum: ‘We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract - involving payment of jizya (a tax on non-Muslims); if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.’ Chillingly, the Arabic letter ‘N’ for ‘Nazarene’ has been painted on Christian homes to mark them out from the rest of the population. Not surprisingly, most Christians have decided to leave and so ends an ancient Christian community in Mosul which long predates the birth of Islam itself. 

The Arabic symbol for 'N' painted on Christian houses
What is even more shocking is the deafening silence from the West. Of course there are whole host of international crises occupying the world at the moment. The shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine and the awful atrocities in the Gaza strip have caught the world’s attention. However, very little attention has been given to the plight of Christians in Iraq. What is happening to them is no different to the ethnic cleansing that happened during the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

As Tim Stanley eloquently writes in a blog for The Daily Telegraph: ‘The West’s direct intervention in Iraq has created Hell on Earth for its Christian citizens.’ The sad truth is that Western nations such as Britain bear some of the responsibility for the current genocide of Christians in Iraq. The 2003 invasion fatally unbalanced the delicate eco-system between different religions and ethnic groups in Iraq. Since 2003 Christians have found themselves under attack and now with the implosion of neighbouring Syria and the rise of ISIS across both Syria and Iraq, Christians are caught in a hellish firestorm.

I am profoundly angry with what is happening to Christians in Iraq, but even more so with the response of most in the West. I am also deeply frustrated that more energy is spent on internal wrangling with the Church over women bishops and gay marriage than on speaking out for Christians and other minorities who are enduring the most appalling suffering. I also know from previous blog posts that more people have been interested by what I’ve written on the Pilling report than on the suffering of Christians in the Middle East. For me that is a damning inditement on the skewed priorities of comfortable Western Christians. Of course I agree that, for both sides, the debate on gay marriage and other controversies is important, but surely the genocide of fellow brothers and sisters demands that we put our own sectarian differences aside and focus our energies on acting for them.

There is much that we in the West can do. Primarily there is prayer. Ultimately, all we can do is call on God to help those who are suffering terrible persecution. We can also petition our political leaders to make this situation a priority for the international community. There is a shocking unwillingness for Western political leaders to speak out on this issue. Finally, we can also give financial support to support those families who have been forced out of their homes and into exile. Open Doors and Canon Andrew White’s Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East are two organisations that are appealing for help to provide for Christians who are now refugees in their own land.

The response of the West is simply not good enough. Quite rightly thousands have been out on the streets of Britain protesting against the latest incursion into Gaza, but where are those who are standing up for the Christians of Mosul? On social media many people of all faiths have been using the symbol ن to symbolise their support for the Christians of Iraq, but in the West how many of us really are all Nazarenes now?

‘Speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.’ Proverbs 31:8-9

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