The Silence of Our Friends, my Amazon Singles ebook about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, is published today. I know I’ve written several posts on this subject recently, so I promise to stop, so long as everyone buys the book. Otherwise I won’t. Ever.
It’s a subject that has become ever more urgent this year with violence against Christians in Syria, where Islamists have been engaged in ‘religious cleansing’, and in Egypt, which saw the worst anti-Christian violence in centuries.
Over the weekend the leading Catholic in Iraq, Patriarch Louis Sako, was in Rome where he lamented the west’s apathy, after a decade in which 1,000 Iraqi Christians have been murdered, over 60 churches bombed, and a pre-war population of one million reduced to 200,000 at most.
He said: ‘We feel forgotten and isolated. We sometimes wonder, if they kill us all, what would be the reaction of Christians in the West? Would they do something then?’
I first became aware of the Iraq situation in 2004, when I worked for a men’s magazine and one evening was appearing on BBC3 to talk about the issue of whether men should use moisturiser and hand cream. The cab driver taking me to the Beeb had a strange-looking cross on his dashboard, and when I asked about it he said it was from Baghdad, where he was from and where his relatives were being subjected to appalling sectarian violence. There was almost no mention in the media about there even being Christians in Iraq.
As long as I’ve been writing for The Catholic Herald we’ve been covering the almost incessant violence committed against Christian minorities in the wider Middle East. Although the nationals have reported it, the issue has never really impinged on the national consciousness, and was ignored by the television media, as well most politicians and opinion opinion-formers – a recent, 3-hour BBC documentary about the Iraq War did not even mention minorities.
Now it has started to gain traction, and Prince Charles has become the latest high-profile person to raise the issue, at a meeting with Middle Eastern Christians in London yesterday. He said:
‘For 20 years I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding. The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so.
‘This is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution including to the Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time.’
That’s a point I try to make in the ebook: eastern Christians have been a vital bridge between the worlds of Islam and Christianity. They translated many of the classics from Greek to Arabic, and more recently disseminated western ideas in the Middle East, both good and bad (many Ba’athists were Christian, who had easier access to fantastic western ideas such as socialism and extreme nationalism – you’re welcome, Arab world!). But Charles Malik, who framed the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an attempt to apply western ideas about the freedom of the individual to the whole world, was a Lebanese Christian.
If Christians are driven out, who will bridge these two civilisations? The world will become a more dangerous and polarised place, and much more difficult for moderate Muslims both in the Middle East and in Europe. As the Patriarch said last weekend, the only way to stop this is to press Middle Eastern countries, many of them supposed allies, to provide security and to change aspects of their social systems that discriminate against religious minorities, including blasphemy laws.
For those who make no effort to press for religious freedom and security in the Middle East, because they are scared of appearing Islamophobic, how do you think history will judge that excuse?
As a Syrian shopkeeper in the Islamist-occupied village of Ma’loula said to the BBC in September – tell the Europeans and Americans that we sent you St Paul to take you out of the darkness.
What will we do for them? At the current rate it will soon be the last Christmas in the land of St Paul.
The Silence of Our Friends, by Ed West, is published as an ebook by Amazon Singles