What part of “kill the infidels” is it you don’t understand?
A woman lights a candle for the scores of Iraqi Christians left dead and wounded after the siege at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad (Photo: AP)
Two more Christians murdered in Iraq on Monday night and another three yesterday, as the community is driven to extinction.
And on theÂ Today programme earlier this week there was yet another segment about this persecuted minority, perhaps suggesting that the media are waking up to what many Iraqis themselves call “genocide” (the word, incidentally, was coined in 1936 after a previous massacre of Iraqi Christians).
However the Left largely remains in denial about the situation faced by Middle Eastern Christians, despite widespread evidence by various human rights organisation.Â TheÂ Guardian had a piece on Friday in which the writer argued that this was part of a ‘clash of civilisations myth’:
One article inÂ Foreign Policy went so far as to suggest the church attack might spell “the end of Christianity in the Middle East” altogether. Yet such generalisations play into the hands of radicals wanting to perpetuate the clash-of-civilisations myth. Though anti-Christian feeling may be rising on the extreme radical fringe of some Arab societies such as Iraq, this should not obscure the harmony that has long been a characteristic of other parts of the Arab world.
However, as Robert Fisk has suggested declining Christian numbers could also be largely due to demographics and favourable immigration conditions rather than increased persecution.
In fact, large parts of the Arab world remain tolerant and display deep inter-communal harmony. The fact that most of Iraq’s displaced Christians have fled not to the west but to other Arab states, notably Syria and Jordan, seems to illustrate this.
Moreover, at a broader societal level across the region, it seems wholly unjust to suggest Arab Muslims are suddenly turning on their Christian compatriots. A radical fringe in each state may share the extremist views of al-Qaida, but that does not mean they are accepted by mainstream society. Even Islamists such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood expressed their disgust at the Baghdad bombings, and called for Cairo to protect its churches. This issue varies across the region more than generalist commentators are allowing for.
Christian numbers may be diminishing and the radical fringe may sadly be gaining the upper hand in certain pockets such as Iraq, which the international community should rightly condemn. However, the Arab world in general remains a place where Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for centuries, and look certain to continue doing so. Perhaps we should be celebrating this fact rather than exaggerating the extent to which the whole region is suddenly becoming anti-Christian.
Yes, cynical old British media. There we are focusing on the one unfortunate incident where dozens of people happened to be slaughtered in a church, when we could have focused on literally dozens of Iraqi churches where no one was murdered by Islamists that weekend.
It is understandable that the writer might believe this line, as his expertise is in Syria and Jordan, two countries where Christians are protected. Jordan is ruled by a benign monarchy and Syria by a secular dictatorship famed for its poor human rights record. They don’t tolerate Islamism in Damascus, which is probably why it’s so pleasant and the women’s famed beauty is generally not imprisoned behind the veil; in fact the current debate about torturing jihadis in the West must be baffling to Syrians, for whom waterboarding is probably considered the equivalent of being sent on safari by a misguided liberal judge.
Christians in Jordan and Syria are protected. But despite the Left’s “myth of the myth” of the clash of civilisations, the simple fact is that almost nowhere in the Islamic world are Christians free in the same way Muslims are free in Europe.
Deniers of this essential truth usually fall back on historical arguments about Islam’s famed tolerance, but this is deceptive. During the high middle ages, the Islamic world was far more tolerant than Christendom, but it couldn’t be otherwise. North of the Alps Europe was 95-99 per cent Christian, so minorities faced persecution; the “Muslim world” had enormous Christian minorities throughout this period and in some cases majorities, and this goes for modern-day Iraq, Syria, Egypt (probably majority Christian until the 18th century), Lebanon and Palestine.
That they slowly became Islamic was largely down to two facts of life which make a mockery of the tolerance myth: Muslims could not generally become Christians, and Christians had to pay a special tax, and so the class of people who subsidised the rest of the population gradually shrank over generations (a system that bears more than a passing resemblance to the modern British welfare state).Â From the 19th century a third factor arose when it became possible for Christians to emigrate to the West.
An Iraqi-British acquaintance of mine called Mardean Isaac says about theÂ Guardian article:
“Using the word ‘tolerance’ here is slippery and insidious: ‘tolerate’ in the contemporary west means ‘see as at the least completely acceptable, at the most, equal or superior to’. See homosexuality, plurality of religion, lifestyle, modes of thought and being.
“Contrast with Islam’s historical ‘tolerance’, which has been apparently in continuous operation for centuries: see the jizya tax; see the requirement to wear distinctive clothing to demarcate non-Muslims; see the massive incentives to convert; see the economic and social marginalisation of the communities of subjugated peoples, from constraints on the social aspects of religious practice to building restrictions; see the barring of non-Muslim men from marrying Muslim women.”
Why is the European Left so unwilling to accept both the Islamic world’s past and present? Even Arab Muslim writers in the Middle East, who would like their countries to be more tolerant, accept the truth.Â Iraqi news agency AINA reports:
According to Dr ‘Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims has not been as warm as some claim; in fact, it has often been tragic.
He argues there are plenty of passages in the Koran that justify religious persecution and that Al-Qaeda’s description of the Baghdad church as “a corrupt den of polytheism” echoes Ibn Taymiyya’s teachings.
Dr. Hussein says that the terrorists, aided by Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran, are seeking to empty Iraq of its Christians.
Another Iraqi commentator, ‘Aziz Al-Hajj, argues that the experience of the Iraqi Christians is no different from that of other Christians in the Middle East, who all suffer blunt discrimination, aggression; abuse of rights, and pressure to emigrate.
Al-Hajj points to the difference between the Muslims’ reaction to Islamophobia and their reaction to discrimination against non-Muslims in their own countries: When a Western politician makes an Islamophobic remark, or when a Western newspaper publishes what is viewed as offensive cartoons of the Prophet, Muslims scream blue murder. Yet very few raise their voice in defense of Christian Arabs, or call for the equal treatment of Christians and other non-Muslims minorities in Muslim lands.
The article also points out that, in covering the recent Catholic Synod of Eastern Churches, the Arab press focused on one point â€“ the Israeli occupation â€“ but ignored others, such the Synod’s call for religious freedom and equality before the law.
Al-Hajj highlights the difference between the state of religious minorities in the West and in the Arab countries. In the West, he says, Muslims practice their religion in freedom, and maintain thousands of mosques. Moreover, they are free to spread their religion, and openly celebrate each new convert. In contrast, Christians in the Muslim world are arrested for allegedly trying to spread Christianity, and a Muslim who converts to Christianity may face the death penalty.
Writing in Al-Hayat, columnist Houssam Itani described the crimes committed against Iraq’s Christians as part of a broader problem in Arab society, which is becoming increasingly monolithic in religion and ethnicity, destroying the last vestiges of cultural diversity.
Itani says that, if one considers Al-Qaeda’s threats against the Egyptian Copts, the Islamist pressure on the Lebanese Christians to make bitter and dangerous choices, and the aggression against the Christians in Iraq, the only possible way for Christians to escape this “dark environment” is to emigrate.
A number of columnists and officials underscored the need to protect the Christians in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.
In the same vein, the editor of the daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Tariq Alhomayed, wrote an editorial titled “Protect Iraq’s Christians,” in which he stated: “It is imperative for all Iraqis, and not just the government, to protect Iraq’s Christians from killing, deportation and all the other kinds of persecution they are experiencing â€” particularly considering that they have never take part in anti-Iraqi alliances…”
Even Arab Muslims do not believe the Left’s shtick about Islamic tolerance.
What frustrates so many Iraqi Christians is that they look to the European Left, defender of minorities and of liberal democrats, to protect them, and are met with a wall of apathy. Why do people care about Palestinians and not us, someone asked me at the demonstration last week. Because it doesn’t fit into some convenient narrative?
Mardean says of theÂ Guardian article that: “The writer is at pains to toe the old ‘the vast majority of people just want to get along’ line, which is all well and good as a vast abstraction, but when you’re in a situation where the actions of a few extremists have immense socio-political sway because they are prepared to use any means, no matter how violent, to advance their agenda and there’s no counter-balancing force to try and halt them, it doesn’t matter that they don’t represent the ‘majority’ view.
“The evidence that genocide of Christians in Iraq is underway is overwhelming. I simply despair at the entire reaction of the Left to our part of the world. It’s as if they’re talking about some Daily Mail article about rising crime and how scaremongers are exaggerating it to instil fear in people and get them to vote Tory.”
“’Christians’ were indeed relatively fine under the Ba’athist regime in Iraq, and the other secular nationalist regimes the author has mentioned… but what secular regimes did do is completely stamp out any ethnic differences.
“Christians in Iraq during this time are now still often referred to as ‘Arab Christians’ (as the author has scribbled down ignorantly), simply proving Saddam’s Arabisation campaign was largely a success. The fact is, a lot of us do not identify as Arab Christians. A lot ofÂ Assyrians left in the past not because of religious persecution but ethnic discrimination.
“If I wasn’t being kind, I’d say the whole article is basically a shrug in the face of our mass exodus from the Middle East and the validation of a ‘Christian West’ and a ‘Muslim East’. He almost implies we should go West, but expects many of us to stay, which is deeply troubling.”
On the radio piece on Monday morning, the question was asked whether Iraqi Christians should be evacuated to the West, which is the easiest solution and would avoid awkward conversations with our Middle Eastern allies.
But fearless Iraqi Christian MP Yonadam Kanna, of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, said that allowing Iraqis to move to Europe would help the Islamists. He told the BBC:Â “This is our home, we have been together with Muslims and this is our destiny to stay together. This is almost parallel to what al-Qaeda is doing to us, because al-Qaeda is pushing me out and you [the Europeans] are pulling me out. It is against my people’s interests.”
They don’t want to leave their jobs as professors to become cleaners in the West. In fact the ADM has repeatedly called for the establishment of an autonomous region in the north of the country for the country’s indigenous minorities, including not just Assyrian Christians but Mandeans, who worship John the Baptist, and Yazidis.
As Max says:Â “The great majority of Assyrian Christians in Iraq do not want to leave whatever happens. I saw a sign at a protest in Northern Iraq last week, which read ‘I am not a guest in this country. This is my country too’. As long as Assyrian Christians want to live there, and a great many do, it is the government’s responsibility and our responsibility as recent invaders to provide for them and ensure their safety.”
Indeed. I just saw on Twitter that William Hague sent a message wishing a “Happy Eid-ul-Adha” and a “safe return to all to British hajjis”. As he should â€“ but doesn’t he have a responsibility to do something about Iraq’s Christians?Â Â 87 Comments