The news of the massacre of Christians in Iraq still hits me hard. Several of my sisters and brothers being murdered in cold blood is not a pleasant sight or thought. My feelings go in the range of the Old Testament eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth only to subside with the different range of readings on love your neighbour also shining bright from within my holy scripture. I cannot settle down to one clear reaction though and my senses sweep the universe for an answer to this injustice on my people, even though I do not know them personally and my relationship with them is rooted to my historical and hierarchical connection with Antioch and the Syrians.
I felt a deep attachment to the protest organised by the Syrians in the U.N. in New York which members of the Malayali Syrian community also participated in. The world wide protest is not limited to the injustice in Iraq but also against a growing intolerance of fundamentalist Muslim groups all over the world. The hate speeches (sermons) delivered to young Muslims incite a growing flame of a jihad or war that has to be won at any cost. The Christian world and especially the Syrian Christian world are also reacting to this.
In India the Muslims comprise a larger group than the Christians but are not the majority group nevertheless. In Middle Eastern countries this is not the case, with a Christian minority existing among an overwhelming majority of Muslims belonging to different sects of Islam. This over riding presence in conflict zones even goes to the extent of ethnic and religious cleansing. The feeling there is therefore of survival and a day to day existence rather than arguing on a basis of equal terms.
Indian Syrian Christians including my church the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox church in India is at a position of advantage and has not suffered the enduring hardship of Syrian Christians in the Middle East starting from Turkey and extending to other places and ending in a systematic and concerted effort at wiping out an entire community. This story has been largely untold and the Syrian community in India has also not understood this historical context of our Syrian sisters and brothers in the Middle East. We have sought to be attached to the Syrian heritage but we have not had to endure the hardship that they have endured. Our hardships have been due to schisms which have divided us into various denominations, all laying claim to the same history and heritage.
The situation in India for the Syrian Christians has been different. Minority politics and political parties favouring Christians as a whole have meant that we have by and large not been put to such tests by the majority of this land. It is therefore a different experience for us. The Indian Muslim has struggled on two fronts. On the one hand they have had to prove their love to their country India and on the other hand they have had to prove their love and allegiance to their religion Islam. They have been called traitors from within and outside India. Their existence in India is therefore a difficult one and also one where they try to understand themselves. They have also suffered ethnic and religious cleansing battles by Hindu fundamentalist groups.
As an Indian Syrian Christian, what does one say to the atrocities against Christians in Iraq? A sizable population of Muslims in India will condemn the killings as much as we do. But the protests in the U.S. and Europe will have a totally different colour to it because of the support it will get from various groups. What has the Syrian Christian community in India done when children have been robbed of their childhood and education, women have been battered at home, dalits have been burnt alive, adivasis and tribals have been buried alive and branded as anti-state, and people with disabilities have been shunned into a corner? There have been occasional voices of protest but as a community we have not voiced our protest as we are still unaware of what happens in our own country.
Can this be a problem of illiteracy? It is unfortunately not possible to hide behind that argument as the community has a good literacy rate. The problem could then be a selective literacy which has been followed for decades by different Syrian churches in India. This selective literacy has also blinded our eyes to the sufferings of our Syrian sisters and brothers in Iraq and elsewhere. We therefore have to learn about our sisters and brothers everywhere, India included. It would be harsh and immature to jump at Muslims in India for what a certain sect of Muslims is doing in Iraq. But we also have to protest what a certain sect in Iraq is doing to Syrians there, as the right to live, the right to worship and the right to belong is intrinsic to one’s existence as a human being. We also have to join protests which are off line and online in different parts of the world to affirm the humanity of all. This is what we have been offered at the garden of Eden. And no one has the right to take it away.