As we head into the fall of 2014, the world seems to be a very dark and uncertain place for those who practice the Christian faith. Between the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria (and the resulting slaughter and displacement of Christians in the middle east) and the seemingly relentless advance of secularism and rejection of traditional Christian values in the West, many Christians are wondering how Christianity can survive and advance in our modern world. In this edition of Radio Free Acton, Acton Institute Co-Founder and President Rev. Robert A. Sirico talks on this topic with Os Guinness, public intellectual and author most recently of Reniassance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times. Guinness reminds us that our generation is not the first generation of Christians to face a world in flux, and gives advice on how Christians should face the uncertain future.
Just as armed citizens have been protecting themselves and their property in Ferguson, Mo., small groups of Christians are forming in militia-style units in areas of Syria and Iraq. While most Christians believe they are allowed to protect themselves and others using force if necessary, it is a religion of peace. Christ himself urges us to “turn the other cheek.” Yet the outrageous and barbaric violence against Christians is moving some to call for a more aggressive stance against ISIS.
Edward Pentin reports that these Christian militia groups have some strong backing:
One senior official [in Rome], speaking to me on condition of anonymity, believes that if the Islamic State begins making serious inroads into Lebanon — a country that’s no stranger to sectarian armed groups — Christian militias will become an everyday reality.
Small numbers of armed Christians are already established in Iraq and Syria. A group which calls itself “The Lions of the Canyon” reportedly has been protecting several Syrian villages while other Christian militias took up arms in Aleppo for the first time in 2012.
Evangelical pastor Michel Youssef, an advocate of armed Christian civilians in Iraq, recently told the website Act for America that the idea to form militias in Iraq was the “only way to protect our families and friends from attacks because we are tired of awaiting an action from the government which is preoccupied with politics and never looks after us.”
In an ugly twist on the world of online dating scams, ISIS (the Islamic terrorist group responsible for much evil in places like Syria and Iraq) is now actively recruiting girls and women in the West to join their cause. Jamie Detmer reports that ISIS is now using social media to seek out females who want to join the cause, mainly by stressing the domestic life that supports it.
The propaganda usually eschews the gore and barbaric images often included in the general fare of jihadist online posts, such as the beheadings last month of dozens of Syrian army soldiers after a base was overrun in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa.
Instead, the marketing focuses on what one analyst calls the “private sphere,” concentrating on the joys of jihadist family life and the “honor” of raising new fighters for Islam. The online recruiters stress the pleasure of providing the domesticity that a warrior waging jihad needs and by doing so serving Islam.
Conflicts in Syria and Iraq have converged into one widening regional insurgency and Iraq risks a full-scale civil war after an al-Qaeda-linked militant group called ISIS quickly seized a large section of the country’s northern region. The group has already taken Mosul, the country’s second largest city, and is within striking distance of Baghdad.
Insurgents stripped the main army base in the northern city of Mosul of weapons, released hundreds of prisoners from the city’s jails, and may have seized up to $480 million in banknotes from the city’s banks.
Government forces have stalled the militants’ advance near Samarra, a city just 68 miles north of Baghdad.
How did ISIS take control of Mosul?
The short answer: the Iraqi army ran away. Iraqi officials told the Guardian that two divisions of Iraqi soldiers – roughly 30,000 men – simply turned and ran in the face of the assault by an insurgent force of just 800 fighters. Senior government officials in Baghdad were equally shocked, accusing the army of betrayal and claiming the sacking of the city was a strategic disaster that would imperil Iraq’s borders.
Who is ISIS?
To view a statue, holy card or icon of a martyr is one thing. To view the death of a believer, in bloody reality, is another. We can clean up the vision, but the ugly truth of martyrdom is grotesque. According to Open Doors, a ministry which serves persecuted Christians worldwide, martyrdom is a real and current crisis.
Open Doors lists the ten currently most dangerous places for Christians are:
- North Korea
- Saudi Arabia
Recent events in Syria have created what The New York Times is calling an “historic” refugee crisis, with more than 2 million people leaving the country.
In August, hundreds of thousands poured over the border to Iraq, describing “a campaign by jihadi fighters to destroy agriculture and cut power and water supplies in Syrian Kurdish areas.” Lebanon’s population has exploded by 20 percent due to Syrian refugees, and Jordan is trying to deal with over half a million people seeking refuge from Syrian conflict. (more…)
The National Catholic Register asked prominent Catholic intellectuals Michael Novak and George Weigel to address the current U.S. involvement in Syria and its involvement with Iraq 10 years ago. While both supported the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, they have a different take on the current situation with Syria.
First, George Weigel;
There were obviously a lot of things that could have been done better in securing the peace after the regime fell,” he acknowledged, in a reference to the Bush administration’s inadequate planning for both an on-going jihadist threat and the costs of rebuilding a battered nation.
“But anyone who thinks that the world or the Middle East would be better in 2013 with Saddam Hussein in power in Baghdad, having re-ramped-up his WMD [weapons of mass destruction], is living in a fantasy world.”
As the civil war in Syrian continues to escalate, Christians are increasingly becoming the target of violent attacks. Catholic and Orthodox groups in Syria say the anti-government rebels have committed “awful acts” against Christians, including beheadings, rapes and murders of pregnant women.
Today, the conflict has morphed into a full-fledged civil war in which more than 100,000 people have perished. The most capable units on the rebel side — those spearheading the fight against the secular government — are composed of Islamist militants, many of whom fought U.S. forces in Iraq. The militants now accuse Christians of being supporters of Assad’s regime.
“They have threatened to cut our throats,” said Bahri, a Roman Catholic. “I love my country, but if it means having the terrorists slaughter me, my wife and our two boys, I’d rather escape to Lebanon.”
These ancient Christian communities, some of the oldest in the world, have generally been protected by successive Syrian governments, including Assad’s. But that security was lost when rebel factions began mounting increasingly ferocious attacks on them throughout the country.
On Aug. 17, rebel gunmen shot dead 11 Christians and wounded three more in central Syria, eyewitnesses and human rights activists said. In April, two bishops were abducted in rebel-held areas and an Italian Jesuit priest, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, went missing last month while on a trip to the rebel-held northeastern city of Raqqa.
“We did not hold prayers in the monastery on Sunday for the first time in 1,600 years,” Priest Selwanes Lotfy of the Virgin Mary and Priest Ibram Monastery in Degla, just south of Minya, told the al-Masry al-Youm daily. He said supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi destroyed the monastery, which includes three churches, one of which is an archaeological site. “One of the extremists wrote on the monastery’s wall, ‘donate [this] to the martyrs’ mosque,’” Lotfy added.
Writing for National Review Online, Andrew Doran looks at how Christians have become “convenient scapegoats” and targets of violence for Islamists in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. A consultant for UNESCO at the U.S. Department of State, Doran says that “had the Muslim Brothers not been stopped, they would have continued to radicalize and Islamicize Egypt, further isolating and persecuting their enemies — secularists, liberals, and religious minorities, especially Christians.” More:
The peaceful rising of the Egyptian people against the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi constitutes the first popular overthrow of an Islamist regime in the Middle East. Beyond revolution, it was a restoration of Egypt’s heritage of secular moderation. Had the Muslim Brothers not been stopped, they would have continued to radicalize and Islamicize Egypt, further isolating and persecuting their enemies — secularists, liberals, and religious minorities, especially Christians. Egypt is the largest nation-state in the Arab world, with strong traditions of secular governance and a Christian minority that constitutes approximately 10 percent of the population. That this was the site of the first revolution against an Islamist regime is of inestimable significance, not merely for Egypt but for the Arab world, whose moderates look to Egypt as the standard bearer. If moderation fails in Egypt, it bodes ill for moderates elsewhere.
As Joseph Kassab, a Chaldean Christian and human-rights advocate, has observed, Christians are vital to the Middle East because they are a bridge to the outside world. Without Christians and other minorities, the entire Middle East would soon come to resemble the uniform extremism of Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most brutal and oppressive regime in the world — a state sponsor of extremism, anti-Semitism, and arguably terror. According to Amnesty International, crucifixion still occurs in Saudi Arabia. The fact that such regimes do not advance American interests ought to be self-evident. Apparently it is not.
Read “In Solidarity with Egypt’s Christians” by Andrew Doran on NRO.