15 April 2015

Persecution of Christians in the Middle East

My last link round-up included this item about ISIS destroying Christian churches and art in Iraq, and it's not the first time ISIS has done such things.  Even more horrifying was the February incident in which 21 Egyptian Christians were abducted by ISIS supporters in Libya and beheaded.  ISIS has terrorized, persecuted, and murdered Christians in the territory under its rule, and even before ISIS, much of Iraq's large Christian minority had fled the country to get away from the religious violence there, even though most of that violence was Sunni-vs-Shiite.  The Christian Right in the US is spreading a narrative of Christians under systematic attack in the Middle East, and as far as ISIS is concerned, they have a point.

(I should note, though, that as long as cranks like Tom Cotton tell gays in the US not to complain because gays in the Middle East have it worse, the same point could be made about fundies who claim they're being persecuted in the US because of anti-discrimination laws.  Being unable to refuse a gay customer hardly compares with being beheaded.)

This narrative, however, distorts reality in two important ways.  First, ISIS is not singling out Christians for persecution so much as it is targeting everyone who doesn't fit its hard-line, puritan form of Islam.  The Yezidis, a non-Muslim religious minority widely (though mistakenly) considered Satan-worshipers, have actually suffered the most; ISIS has killed many of them by horrific methods such as burying alive, and turned Yezidi women into sex slaves.  Shiites, adherents of the "wrong" kind of Islam, have been targeted by ISIS from the start.  Women have been killed for the crime of having an education. Gays are simply murdered whenever discovered.  Even the destruction of churches in Iraq and Syria fits into a broader pattern of obliterating everything non-Islamic from the region's cultural memory, including its numerous sites dating from pagan times.

Second, and more importantly, the narrative implies that Muslims as a whole are complicit in these persecutions, which is not the case.  ISIS is widely loathed in the Middle East and is the target of a sustained campaign by Iraq, Iran, the Kurds, Jordan, and other regional forces to eradicate it.  After the beheading of the Egyptian Christians in Libya, Egypt launched a bombing campaign against ISIS targets in Egypt; the state's determination to avenge its murdered citizens was not mitigated by the fact that those citizens were not Muslim.  Normal people feel disgust at ISIS's actions.

Of course even before ISIS arose, Islamist extremists sometimes targeted religious minorities including Christians -- but others took strong stands against such attacks, even if their actions were scandalously under-reported in the West.

Of course, actual Islamic doctrine provides plenty of support for what ISIS does, just as the actual words of the Bible make Fred Phelps look like a flaming liberal.  But remember that humans are complex creatures and in most cases a person is not defined by the evil of the religion he adheres to.  Just as most Christians don't actually support Biblical mandates for killing of gays, slavery, stoning to death for trivial offenses, etc. (and many are only vaguely aware that those things are even in the Bible), most Muslims are horrified to see what hard-line Islamic dogmas look like when ISIS puts them into real-world action, however much they might claim to believe those dogmas in the abstract.

What we actually see in the Middle East is a small, militant, ultra-hard-line minority of religious fanatics unable to tolerate anything different from themselves -- other religions, gays, independent women, members of their own religion who believe somewhat differently than they do, evidence of the greatness of pre-Abrahamic civilization, anything.

Sounds sort of familiar, come to think of it.


Anonymous NickM said...

I have been wanting to post something on this but here is a weird story. A few years ago my wife and I went on holiday to Istanbul.

We found it very relaxed and tolerant. Glad we went when we did because Mr Erdogan seems to be doing his level to destroy that.

Anyway, when the Muslims took the Hagia Sophia they plastered over it's murals. Some have been recovered. One was of Christ. I had a new camera (Sony A55) and whilst I am an "f/stop philosopher" and like to do it manual like I hadn't had time to get used to it enough to turn off the face recognition.

It recognized the face of Jesus. God was truly in the machine. I was kinda impressed but also vaguely spooked and I'm a kinda rational guy (agnostic, physics graduate etc). But it was spooky.

I loved Turkey. It was what the Islamic World ought to be. If it falls I shall be sad.

PS The Hagia Sophia is pointedly designated as a museum. Or was. One wonders what Erdogan has planned.

15 April, 2015 07:19  
Blogger Woody said...

Good post, Infidel.
It is true that there is persecution of Christians in many places including Iraq. But lot's of things are true.
This world, old and current, contains religious hate and violence of which Christianity is only a part, both as victim and as attacker.
I like when we can explain the truth of something, not denying or minimizing it for a second, but simply noting the larger issue that it is undoubtedly a part of.

All the best,

16 April, 2015 01:48  
Anonymous igd said...

Actually, Sharia is rather explicit that Muslims are NOT allowed to simply kill Christians out of hand. Christians are "people of the book" together with Jews, Mandeans(as "Sabians") and Zoroastrians. All such people are able to enter into binding contracts with Muslims and have definite rights under an Islamic system. This is a big reason ISIS is so widely despised is that they claim the mantle of Islam but act in ways that violate Sharia. Its as though they claimed to be jihadis but drank wine and ate pork. They are as much if not more influenced by post-Arab Nationalist thinkers like Mohammed Qutb.

16 April, 2015 03:54  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: The situation in Turkey is partly the EU's fault. In the past, when Islamist extremism got too much influence over the government, the military corrected the situation. Since Turkey launched its doomed effort to join the EU, one of the conditions it has had to meet is keeping the military out of politics -- which means it's harder to keep religion out of politics.

I hope the Islamists, by the horrible example they provide, will encourage more secularism. Iranians seem to have become more secular under the dreary theocracy that has ruled them for the last 35 years, and ISIS has shown the Arabs how horrific a hard-line Islamist regime can be.

Woody: Thanks! I wouldn't actually say that Christianity (or Islam) itself is ever a victim of persecution. Individual Christians or Muslims are. But they're being persecuted for what they aren't, not for what they are -- for not being part of the dominant cult. Fundamentalist Christianity and Islamist extremism persecute anything different from themselves. What the people they persecute do believe, or are, is usually of little interest to them.

16 April, 2015 04:18  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Igd: And in most cases Christians aren't simply "being killed out of hand". SharĂ®'ah provides for those "people of the book" groups to be left alive as long as they accept a brutalized and second-class status ("dhimmĂ®") under Muslim supremacy. They can certainly be killed for "blasphemy", disrespect, or other ill-defined things that make it, basically, a life of cringing and walking on eggshells, and a strict Islamist group like ISIS has no difficulty finding things to take offense at and mete out death for.

I'm happy to let moderate Muslims go on believing that hard-line Islamists like ISIS are "not truly Islamic" if that makes it easier to reject them, but as a matter of fact, it won't wash. It's no different than liberal Christians claiming that fundamentalists who really follow Leviticus 20:13 and the other evil commandments of the Bible are somehow not "real" Christians.

16 April, 2015 05:36  

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