Friday, August 1, 2014

Christians and minorities in Iraq, Syria and Palestine: A plea to wake up

It is essential on a quiet day and in times like this to be quiet and listen. Listen to what is happening around us. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the Israeli aggression has been heard but have we heard the voices of the Christian minorities in Syria, Iraq and Palestine? What usually happens in the predominantly U.S. leaning media is that any media narrative is written for an audience which has been brought up on a Jewish (Zionist)- non Jewish story, where the Christian audience may likely support the Jewish aggression as the reaction of a retributive and revengeful God. In the midst of such narratives, one should listen carefully in such a time as this and on such a day as this.
There should be an alternative listening. Where are the stories of Syria, Iraq and Palestine? Where are the stories of minorities, including Christians in these countries? When are we going to stop this act of wilful blindness whereby we refuse to see certain things?

Syria has suffered from civil war for more than three years. Ishan Tharoor writes that 1,70,000 lives have been claimed in three years. The Christian population in Homs according to Barnini Chakraborthy has reduced from 1,60,000 to 1,000. In Iraq, in and around Mosul especially, the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria) group had a July 19 deadline to convert to Islam or pay a Zizya tax or face execution. Unconfirmed reports have also said that ISIS asked all girls and women between 11 and 46 to be circumcised. In June 6,00,000 Iraqi’s were driven away from their homes.The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako said, “How in the 21st century could people be forced from their houses just because they are Christian, Shia, Sumi or Yazidi?

There has been a lack of understanding from the West, partly coming from the ignorance that there are no Christians in the Middle East. A Christian, Palestinian tourist guide who told the tourist that he was Christian was asked by the visitor in Jerusalem, "When did you convert to Christianity?" Such is the unwillingness to understand the culture and background of Christians in Iraq, Syria and Palestine. It is a lack of understanding stemming from years of neglect and ignorance about other ancient forms of Christianity.

Christian and other places of worship in Iraq have been destroyed and manuscripts burned. Christianity was introduced in Iraq in the 1st century by St. Thomas and St. Thaddeus (St. Jude). ISIS militants have beheaded, mutilated, raped, stoned and even crucified people. Christianity and pluralism have been crucified! The threats are “Leave with the clothes you are wearing” and doors are marked as Christian. Churches have been converted by the ISIS group and Christians along with others are on the run. A Syrian Orthodox bishop and a Greek Orthodox bishop were kidnapped in Syria in April 2013 and are yet to be released. The Syrian Orthodox Patriarch has asked all churches to pray for peace on August 3. We urge you to join us and voice your protest against this inhuman act by a group of people who have no religion and humanity on their mind.

(Excerpts from a presentation done on July 30, 2014 for the Quiet day worship in the United Theological College, Bangalore.)

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