Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The War on Christians

B.A. and I watched the BBC News channel at 11 PM to see the latest updates on the genocidal Islamist persecution of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria. We watched in vain. Not a mention.

When I was a child I wondered what had happened to the first Churches--you know, the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Colossians. The only ancient churches we ever heard about outside St. Paul's and St. Peter's Letters were Rome and Jerusalem, and Jerusalem (confusingly) was very rarely mentioned by the media as a city of Christians. A kindly adult--probably my mother--kindly informed me that they had been destroyed by Muslim invaders. Many of those countries we think of as Muslim or Islamic were once Christian. Within living memory, Syria and Lebanon were Christian countries. The indigenous people of Egypt, the descendants of those who worshipped pharaohs, are the Coptic Christians.

And so today. The Church of Mosul has been destroyed. Our churches are burning. Our brothers and sisters have been told by a raggle-taggle band of Islamist marauders to convert, pay a punitive tax or die. Monks are being driven from ancient monasteries; Christians girls and women are being gang-raped. And this means Christ is being driven from His home; Christ is being raped. Christ is being told to convert to a false religion. Christ is being told to cough up money He doesn't have. Christ is being murdered.

I know we have clicked our tongues and shaken our heads over the horrors of the modern world, and felt awful for Hindu girls gang-raped by other Hindus, and for African Muslim (or African Traditional Religion) girls mutilated by African Muslim (or ATR) women. We have been justly furious at those soi-disant Christians in former Yugoslavia who raped other Christian and Muslim women and had the nerve to ask why the Christian West did not take their side. We wring our hands over Israel, and are shocked by the virulent ant-Jewish hatred of what is now called "the Muslim world". We have been told many horrors, but rarely advised what we can actually do about them. So helpless we have been made to feel that it may come as a surprise that British activists actually drove to former Yugoslavia during its civil wars to personally pick up refugees and bring them to safety.

I wish I could drive to Syria. Indeed, I wish I could drive! Because this time it's not about "them"--foreigners, even if foreigners for whom we feel deep sympathy, as Canadians and Europeans felt for Americans on 9/11. It's about us Christians, us Catholics, even. The Chaldean Christians of Iraq are in communion with Rome; they are ours; they are us. So what are we going to do?

I will tell you what I have done so far, not to toot my own horn (which would be disgusting under these circumstances) but to help inspire you to do something yourselves.

So far I have contacted a friend in the media office of the (self-defined as Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, and an acquaintance in media office of the Catholic Church in Scotland. I have written to a Canadian Catholic journalist who has reported on the sufferings of Middle Eastern Christians, and himself been to Syria to speak with Christian refugees, for advice as to what Christians might do in the UK. I have sent a note to my fellow novelist, Fiorella de Maria, who has connections with refugee aid in the UK. I have sent comments of support to Tim Stanley for his excellent op ed in the UK Telegraph. I have changed my Facebook photo to the "Nazarene" symbol being spray-painted on the houses of Christians in Iraq. And I have spread news of a rally to be held in London, England, outside the Parliament buildings, this Saturday.

All that without leaving the house.

Today I will leave the house to meet with a Scottish journalist whose politics are normally the exact opposite of mine. Although he is not a church-attending Christian, he has great sympathy for the Christians of the Middle East, perhaps because he is a true liberal, and objects to any minority being destroyed by religious fanatics--even if that minority is Christian and even if those religious fanatics are a branch of Islam*.

So if this agnostic, left-wing journalist is willing to do something for our brothers and sisters, i.e. us, then what are you willing to do? What can you do?

If you really cannot do anything else, you could go to Mass on August 1. But please thing of something else as well. Talk to your friends. Organize a protest. Write emails to journalists and newspapers. Ask an expert to come to a public meeting in your church hall and then paper the neighbourhood with flyers.

*It appears that what is or is not Islamic is purely subjective and depends entirely upon the person claiming to speak for Islam. And thus there are very nice Muslims who don't see much of a difference between just being a good neighbour and being Muslim, just as there are very nice Christians who also don't see much of a difference between just being a good neighbour and being Christian.

Only if millions of Christians outside the Middle East come together and scream and work on behalf of those of us being persecuted in the Middle East will anything be done. The BBC is too fixated on Palestine, Putin and pedophilia to pay attention to anything else. To get the attention of the non-Christian establishment, we will have to shout together.

Update: I'm reliably informed that the Jesuit Refugee Service makes very good use of donations, and has tons of expertise in helping refugees.


Mira said...

"We have been justly furious at those soi-disant Christians in former Yugoslavia who raped other Christian and Muslim women and had the nerve to ask why the Christian West did not take their side."

I'm not sure who you are talking about here? I'm Croatian, I live in Croatia, I was five when the war started and I vividly remember how happy we (Croatians) were when Croatia finally gained diplomatic recognition by the European Economic Community members and subsequently the United Nations. And yes, we really couldn't understand why the Christian West didn't take our side (sooner). And why we even weren't allowed to defend ourselves against rampant and violent Serbian aggression in Croatia and Serbian and Muslim aggression against Croatian Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"So helpless we have been made to feel that it may come as a surprise that British activists actually drove to former Yugoslavia during its civil wars to personally pick up refugees and bring them to safety."

Scottish International Relief (SIR) is a charity that began in 1992 when two Scottish brothers Magnus and Fergus MacFarlane Barrow filled a Jeep with aid and delivered their cargo to Međugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That was the beginning of a beautiful and noble charity that is now called "Mary's Meals" - (today, "Mary's Meals" provides free school meals in hundreds of schools worldwide and feeds over 800,000 children daily). I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Magnus and he said that his family couldn't just stand aside and do nothing while the war ravaged on. Catholics in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina will be eternally grateful for their heroic efforts.

Seraphic said...

Well, I was talking about Bosnian Serbs, actually.

Seraphic said...

That is to say, the Bosnian Serbns who said that.

Seraphic said...

And thank you for your story! The ones I knew about were Britons of Pakistani origin.

Emily said...

Thank you for bringing our attention to this matter. Today I just came across an article on the English Alarabia web site describing ISIS's destruction of an 1,800 year old church. ISIS also allegedly destroyed the tomb of the prophet Jonah with a sledgehammer.

Mira said...

I apologize if my previous comment came out a bit defensive - but I'm so used to people pointing fingers in the wrong direction - as if Croatians started the war. We didn't. We had to defend ourselves and it was hard to see the world stand by and watch - so it seemed. Even today, almost twenty years since the war ended, there are people missing, houses destroyed and lives changed beyond belief.

What happened here was that yesterday's neighbours and friends became today's mortal enemies - divided by their nationalities and religion. Catholics from Bosnia and Herzegovina especially - they bore the brunt of combined Muslim and Serbian aggression, violence and persecution.

That's why I can truly sympathize with the plight of our Christian Brothers and Sisters in the Middle East.

I commend your efforts to make a difference. I will try my best to do something about it, even if it's only to raise awareness about it or donate money toward a relief fund. And pray. Pray that Dear Lord stops madness and hatred.

Thank you so much for everything you write! I only recently stumbled upon your blog but I think my life would've been a lot different had I known about your little corner of the Internet and the wonderful community you gathered around it sooner. I learn something new every time I visit here. :)

Anonymous said...

Friends, a small plug for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. This is the Pope's personal charity, administered by the Vatican. CNEWA does excellent work supporting Christians in places like Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Ukraine, and other places where so many people are victims of violence today. If you would like to help with humanitarian and pastoral support, they would be a great place to start:


Magdalena said...

Dear Anonymous,

I won't discuss what you said here, especially since I am neither Croatian nor anything else former Yougoslavian, and I have never lived in a war, thank God. Maybe Mira hit a nerve with you, I don't know. But don't you think peace starts right in our own lives, in dealing with the people we meet every day, including the ones we meet online? Don't destroy the very peaceful, open and friendly atmosphere of this nice little corner of the internet.

(Seraphic, you may of course delete this. And thank you for raising awareness for our poor brothers and sisters in the East!)

Mira said...

Dear "Anonymous 23 July 2014 23:38".

First of all, thank you for your comment. It was very interesting to read.
"The Croat" has a name - you are free to address me by it. But I'm really proud to be Croat so I don't mind it terribly.

I see that you are very well informed about Croatia's history and our current affairs. Much better than I am, for sure. What I wrote about in my previous comments was based solely on my experiences.

Like when my dear friend's father was taken away in Vukovar in 1991, by Serbs from Vukovar - people they knew - never to be seen or heard again. To this day the family doesn't even have his bones to bury.
Like when my 86-year-old grandfather was forced to flee during night from his village in Central Bosnia. He had slippers on when he left and had to hike a mountain to escape. Why? Because until that moment he refused to believe that his lifelong neighbours and friends - Muslims - would turn on him. He was wrong. His house was looted, his books torn to pieces and then oil poured over.
Like when my mother was almost killed by a shrapnel when Zagreb was attacked by missiles in 1995 - a Serbs' retaliation for Croatian army's successes.

I really do hope that you don't have your own experiences to counteract mine.

Seraphic Singles is one of my favourite blogs and I don't want to turn this comment box into some kind of political battleground.

I wish you - and the Christians in the Middle East - who are the ones who deserve all of our attention, prayers and help right now - well.

Nzie said...

That was admirably restrained, Mira.

Back to the current crisis - there is a social media movement to support Christians using #WeAreN. Whether it will be effective at all in protecting Christians, I don't know, but at least the more we raise awareness, the more likely there is to be action (as with the recent case of Miriam Ibrahim). I have a twitter account devoted almost exclusively to human rights issues so I tweeted it. It's also tied to my Facebook. Hopefully people saw it. It did get retweeted once.

I feel a bit badly, because recently I have spent a lot of effort on a local matter that doesn't involve any loss of life. But there is a big hullabaloo involving a battle for conscientious capitalism over Gordon Gekko capitalism, at a local grocery chain with a lot of workers, including members of my family. In the larger view, loss of life is more important, but the way I've divided my efforts does not reflect that.

Seraphic said...

Sorry Anonymous's comment stood for so long. Yesterday was a very busy day, and I forgot to check. (And I should have known someone would come to fight with Mira, so that's my fault.) There are lots of places on the internet where armchair warriors can drag up their own favourite narratives of the past; this is not one of them.

Mira's comments can stand because she has first person experience of what it is like to be caught in a war-zone in which Christians in particular (Roman Catholics in her case) are attacked by their once-respected and respectful neighbours.

However, let's keep to the crisis at hand, shall we?

Seraphic said...

And I am really ashamed, Mira, that someone reading MY BLOG referred to you as "the Croat" instead of by your name. I'm sorry that happened.

[The Yugoslav civil wars were fought in a minor but still nasty way among immigrants to Canada, too, and as I was an adult at the time, and in the late 1990s working for the Department of Foreign Affairs, I remember how appalling it all was. My military brother's friends were involved in the conflict as peacekeepers, and I had Serbian, Croatian and Slovene friends and acquaintances. Recently I met Alan Little, the BBC correspondent who wrote "The Death in Yugoslavia", which I more or less had memorized by 2000, and although really I do not want to get into it, I have reasons for always differentiating between Bosnian Serbs and Serbs.]

Sheila said...

This makes me feel rather pleased that I don't rely on TV stations to filter my news. I read almost exclusively what my friends link on Facebook, so the main news I hear is this story and also updates on the Holy Land (also heartwrenching).

I'm afraid awareness campaigns leave me a little frustrated, though. What exactly do we hope will happen, even if our story *does* get plastered all over everywhere? In the US, people are trying to get Obama to bomb Iraq, as if that will help, but my general feeling is that it will not, like our last bombing of Iraq didn't help (it made things so much worse for Iraqi Christians) and that innocent bystanders will just suffer more because we got involved. But short of that, I don't know what there is *to* do.

Humanitarian aid to help these people relocate would be good, I suppose, so thanks for the link to that.

I have a Christian friend in Iraq (well, in Kurdistan, which is swiftly becoming not at all the same thing) and she says Christian refugees have been flooding into Kurdistan for months, and being welcomed. So perhaps the best solution we can hope for is to provide the means for people to resettle there or another place where they can be justly treated. I wish America were better about accepting refugees. During the Yugoslavian conflict we accepted lots -- my parish was flooded with Albanians because our priest was the only one in the diocese to speak their language -- but currently we're in our own refugee crisis that we are handling poorly. That is, we are gearing up to send all those unaccompanied children back to the violence and human trafficking they were fleeing from. :( So I have no hopes we're going to suddenly open the doors to Iraqi Christians, if Catholics on our doorstep are getting turned away.

Cojuanco said...

Oddly enough, most of ISIS' practices (demolishing churches and Shia mosques, imposing FGM, expelling Christians) seems contrary to Islam as traditionally practiced in the region for centuries. FGM, for example, is associated with African Muslims (and other religions).

I've heard a theory, first applied to the Afghan context, that when a Muslim society is in a prolonged state of war, in the absence of the state, you get these rather new, comparatively Puritanical flavors of Islam. Largely because a lot of young men (which most of the Taliban, and now ISIS, are) don't have a decent education, or marketable skills, or any concept of their actual practiced heritage (because their elders are often dead, see?). So they get the theme park version of their religion from radicals, and it meshes with them, because their only marketable skill is violence. Usually violence at people who can't fight back. This kind of Islam always seems to appeal to the sorts of people who, due to the constant violence, have neither a degree, nor a trade, nor a farm, because of institutional collapse.

Heather in Toronto said...

Very insightful, Cojuanco. I suspect that this cultural collapse into religious brutality isn't limited to Islam, either, but is a characteristic of violent fundamentalism in general. The witch hunt crazes of early modern Europe come to mind. And there are and have been violently fundamentalist strains of Buddhism, as bizarre as that might seem to us in the West who are more familiar with the image of the Buddhist as the peaceful vegetarian monk in saffron robes.

Lena said...

I'm glad you posted this.

Sheila said...

This is what I learned in college, as well -- that Islam becomes radicalized in certain circumstances. Just as the Jews at the time of Christ had a fanatical strain of Pharisaism -- the feeling was that God had let them fall into the hands of the Romans because they had not adhered to the Law strictly enough, and so soon they had made up all kinds of extra laws to be sure they were doing enough. In the same way, when Islamic peoples are threatened, they often find solace in an extreme form of their religion, which is a lot more literal and more harsh than Islam was, say, in the Middle Ages.

And also there's a lot of it that really has nothing to do with religion at all. It's about feeling oppressed by this or that other group, about having lost their ancestral lands (which so many people in the Middle East have), about revenge for something done in the last generation, about power vacuums caused by destabilization of previous regimes. It's all so complicated, and far too easy to blame it all on Islam. Islam is being used as a unifying point by violent people because they know it has broad appeal where they are.

Cojuanco said...

Hence why this didn't happen in Egypt, even under Morsi - the disaffected in a place with semi-working social institutions are often too busy in election campaigns, or in protests, to be violent on the order of ISIS. I thonk what people forget is that war, even just wars, tend to wreck more than just cities - they often destroy the basics of civilization.