Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The continuing persecution of Iraq’s Christians

While one church here croaks of acquiring five converting bishops, and rubs its hands with glee at the prospect of winning ‘a wave’ of entire parishes; and another obsesses over issues of gender and sexuality, as though the possession of a penis were the soteriological disputation of the age, it is worth putting such trivia into perspective.

Three more bombs have exploded in Bagdad, specifically targeting the churches and homes of Christians. First reports say that at least four have been killed and 26 wounded.

This atrocity comes just the week after the slaughter in the Church of Our Lady of Salvation.

Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for that bloodbath and warned of further attacks on Christians.

They said they had carried out the church attack to force the release of converts to Islam allegedly being detained by the Coptic Church in Egypt. Days afterwards it declared Christians everywhere ‘legitimate targets’.

It rather gives the Ordinariate turf war and gender obsessions a referential apocalyptic reality.

There have been Christians in Mesopotamia for almost 2000 years: it is the land of biblical Nineveh where the Chaldeans still speak Aramaic, the tongue of Jesus. Their presence in the region predates Islam by some 700 years. The region is home to the descendents of the ancient empires of Assyria and Babylonia, and their gospel heritage can be traced right back to the 1st Century AD. Assyrians are Semitic cousins of the Jews: ‘Parthians’ were present on the day of Pentecost and became the first nation to adopt Christianity as their state religion in AD 179, more than a century before Armenia. They claim to have been the first to build churches and to translate the New Testament from Greek into their vernacular Aramaic. Learned Assyrian Christians kept Greek science and technology alive while Europe lurched through the Dark Ages. For over a thousand years since the Muslim conquest of their homeland, Assyrians have lived in relative peace in the region. They have been second-class citizens of various caliphates, and endured several interludes of active persecution.

Most Iraqi Christians are Chaldeans, Eastern-rite Catholics who are autonomous from Rome but who recognise the Pope's authority. But there are also Syrian Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics and Armenian Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox communities, as well as Anglicans and Evangelicals.

Saddam was too preoccupied with persecuting the Kurds and Shi’as to bother much with the Christians, some of whom, like Tariq Aziz, rose to the highest offices of state under his regime. By the time of the 1991 Gulf War, they numbered about one million. By the time of 2003 invasion of Iraq, they had fallen to about 800,000. Now there are about 500,000 remaining. And they live each day as if it were their last, having seen their churches bombed, their congregations sprayed with bullets, and their priests brutally beheaded and dismembered. Christian boys are being crucified and girls are being raped.

And now they face a stark choice, which is a world away from having to worry about ordinariates and women in the episcopate.

A senior Iraqi clergyman said at the weekend that Iraq's Christians should leave the country or face being killed at the hands of Al-Qaeda. "If they stay they will be finished, one by one," Archbishop Athanasios Dawood told the BBC.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, however, has cautioned other countries not to encourage Christians to abandon their homeland.

His Grace received an email last week asking him to support a petition in favour of granting Iraq’s 500,000 Christians asylum in the UK. This communicant wrote: “This sounds like a good idea to me, although obviously of the eastern orthodox variety it might reinvigorate Christ's mission in England. It might also be interesting to see the reaction of the ‘diversity’ lobby if it were put forward. You are a man of influence, would you support a petition in favour?”

His Grace responded that he had no influence at all, but promised to consider the matter.

And as he was doing so, he received another email from another loyal communicant, drawing his attention to the website of Canon Andrew White, the 'Vicar of Baghdad', who tells us that his trusted lay assistant Faiz Basheer was ordained last Sunday, thereby becoming the first Iraqi to be ordained in the Anglican Communion.

This communicant wrote: “Whilst the exiled leader of the Syrian Coptic Church calls for Iraqi Christians to leave the country, this community of over 1000 Anglicans is determined to stay put… As we enter the season celebrating the Kingdom of God it is good to hear of brave Anglicans doing what many others fear to do in a difficult world.”

His Grace knows what it is to capitulate, relinquish and flee: the flesh is weak. But he also knows what stay put, contend and suffer for the faith.

Martyrdom is a symphony of agony. But to die each day for Christ is the vocation to which we are called.

If His Grace were in Baghdad, he would stay, come what may.

For there is nothing to do here but squawk over women in the episcopate,
and watch the bishops come and go,
talking of Michelangelo.


Anonymous Stuart said...

In the seven years since the Iraq War was launched, 2,000 Christians have been murdered and 600,000 have fled Iraq, according to Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. 44% of Iraqi refugees are Christians, and many of the 600,000 Christians who remain are internally displaced persons who have had to flee their homes.

At least France is doing something about it.

34 Iraqi Christians hurt in last week’s Al-Qaeda attack on a Baghdad church arrived in France late Monday.

10 November 2010 at 09:52  
Blogger john in cheshire said...

Can you ever envision a situation where muslims fight muslims in defence of Christians? I can't.

10 November 2010 at 10:22  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr John in Cheshire,

Such an assertion is either the product of your prejudice or ignorance.

In Iraq (and, indeed, some other Islamic countries), there are many Muslims (in law enforcement agencies) who are fighing against their co-religionist extremists in their midst in defence of Christians and other minorities.

If you do a little research, you will find accounts of Muslims paying their heartfelt respects at the sites of recent bloodbaths, exasperated at the suffering of their Christian neighbours.

Please try to 'envision' the reality.

10 November 2010 at 10:34  
Blogger David Baker said...

Great comment - thank you for flagging this up.

10 November 2010 at 11:21  
Anonymous Indigo said...

Cranmer If His Grace were in Baghdad, he would stay, come what may.

Sorry, no you absolutely would not. I have been in close contact with a middle-class (Muslim) Iraqi family for the past six years and know something from them of the reality of living with, as it were, a 7/7 atrocity every day.

If you had children, you would do everything possible to leave Baghdad, leave Iraq. It was not widely reported but when one of the Ministries was blown up last year, all the children in the creche died (the creche was located near the front of the building); rescuers had to pick children's limbs out of the gutters.

The family I am in touch with is now in the US and finding it very tough. But when they go out, they can do so with every expectation of being able to return alive.

Please be a bit careful about Canon Andrew White, too.

10 November 2010 at 11:29  
Anonymous Phoebe said...

His Grace knows what it is to capitulate, relinquish and flee: the flesh is weak. But he also knows what stay put, contend and suffer for the faith.

Stop, please stop speaking such utter trite.

Suffering from a bout of depression, cannot be compared to constant threat of death and massacre.

If His Grace were in Baghdad, he would stay, come what may

I am sure that we could do a whip round' for your air ticket. Then you could lead the way, showing all the Christians how brave you are, instead of announcing your condescending,self righteous accolates from the comfort of your reclining chair.

10 November 2010 at 11:44  
Anonymous Highlander said...

'as though the possession of a penis were the soteriological disputation of the age, it is worth putting such trivia into perspective.'

A good blog, and very nice to see you back from your recent trials. The persecutions faced by believers daily is a very serious matter, and a sense of perspective is vital, but the crude manner, above, in which you ridicule the issue of the respective roles of men and women in the church has finally brought me to my senses, and I shall not feel at home calling by this site any more.


10 November 2010 at 11:50  
Blogger Anabaptist said...

From Rod Liddle's Spectator blog (writing about human rights abuse):
'Of course China is not the only country in the world to which we apply duplicitous standards when it comes to human rights. Saudi Arabia springs to mind, for example. And then there is Pakistan. Yesterday in Lahore a 45 year old Christian mother of five was sentenced to death for the supposed crime of “blasphemy”. It is alleged that Asia Bibi said rude things about the prophet Mohammed, something she fervently denies. Christians are routinely vilified, persecuted and beaten up in the country and while the major Pakistani political parties sometimes offer measured condemnations of such behaviour the perpetrators are almost never brought to justice. We are wary, however, of saying anything which might further inflame this corrupt and toxic Islamic hellhole and it is doubtful that Mrs Bibi will gain the sort of press coverage which is afforded to equally grotesque judicial savagery in neighbouring Iran.'

10 November 2010 at 11:59  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect that when His Grace says that he knows how to stay put he is speaking as one for whom "Things got just a little bit too hot on 21st March 1556" rather than one speaking from a 21st century armchair. Those of us who type our comments from our armchairs are in no position to do anything but do all we can to ensure that any Iraqi christians who flee are recognised as deserving of asylum but we can also appreciate and laud the bravery of those who feel it is better to stay and who are prepared to do so. Getting out is difficult however and some may be staying because they have no means of escape.....

10 November 2010 at 12:09  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

@Indigo..."Please be a bit careful about Canon Andrew White, too."

What on earth is that meant to mean? One of the few Anglicans I feel unworthy to lace up the brogues of.

Cranmer, "If His Grace were in Baghdad, he would stay, come what may."

It is something that must cross all our minds from time to time, especially as we read passages such as Matthew 24. I'd like to think I'd have the courage to stand, but suspect I'd probably heed the advice of verse 16. In all reality, there's no point trying to second guess ourselves. As with the make-up of heaven, I suspect we'll find some very big surprises in terms of those who will persevere and those that will flee.

Thank you for this timely reminder of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.

Can I commend your communicants to some other worthy organisations.
Voice of the Martyrs
Open Doors
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Barnabus Fund
As this Sunday is remembrance Sunday it seems an appropriate time to consider diverting our tithes & offerings away from the usual in-house squawkers and quislings.

10 November 2010 at 12:29  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

Highlander said ... "The persecutions faced by believers daily is a very serious matter, and a sense of perspective is vital, but the crude manner, above, in which you ridicule the issue of the respective roles of men and women in the church has finally brought me to my senses, and I shall not feel at home calling by this site any more."

Proves your point admirably Cranmer, don't you think. Mt24:10 "And then shall many be offended [=scandalised], and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another." Your expression was uncharacteristically crude, but (should he chose to darken your doorstep again!) I'd commend highlander to read John 6:53-56, 61,66 and consider what his response would have been.

10 November 2010 at 12:41  
Blogger steve said...

Your Grace,

Most of the kids at uni' seem to think the Middle East has been Muslim from time in memorial. Some of them, mainly from church schools, know there were Jews in Palestine at the time of the Romans. But they all assume that outside Palestine in the Middle East the religion of the native peoples was Islam. For fun occasionally I would compare the time lines of Protestant colonisation of Northern Ireland with Muslim occupation of the Christian Middle East; it really upsets the more political active kiddies when I compare the Crusaders to the IRA. Such is the want on the Left.

10 November 2010 at 13:32  
Anonymous Indigo said...

@Rebel Saint

What on earth is that meant to mean? One of the few Anglicans I feel unworthy to lace up the brogues of.

He has some strange associates.

He is in Bagdad because in 2005 the CofE said that he was too ill - with MS - to work in the UK.

10 November 2010 at 13:37  
Anonymous Nick said...

Promises of paradise are integral to the jihadist conceptual framework, but I don’t hear many people leveraging fear of hellfire as a deterrent against these revolting crimes. I wonder if it’s a more pertinent factor than we realise? Maybe we need to learn to speak the jihadists’ language. If I was a Muslim considering murdering non-combatants or blowing myself up, I’d need a pretty strong conviction that I wouldn’t end up eternally damned; any cracks in my theology would make me waver. A little uncertainty would go a long way.

Obviously we want to denounce these massacres. But this is also an opportunity for high-profile Christians to undermine al-Qaeda’s theological authority by questioning the validity of their basic claims. They could shout loudly about al Qaeda’s ignorant assertion that Christians are polytheists (all branches of Christianity have always been monotheistic; the New Testament doesn't allow any other position). They should take the opportunity to explain - to a secular audience that doesn’t understand the Christian-Muslim impasse, and to an Islamic audience who’ve only heard the Qur’an’s perspective - the Christian view that there’s only one God, but he’s a complex unity (which is why he doesn’t need outside creatures in order to be relational). And that the Christian God doesn’t, pace the Islamic belief, have a partner (he didn’t take Mary as a consort), and that Jesus wasn’t God’s ‘biological’ child (God himself eternally contains the primordial father-son relationship). Etc.

True, Muslims have legitimate questions about these claims, but if sparking a debate slows the wheels of the jihadists’ ‘let's kill Christians because they’re polytheists!’ propaganda machine, all the better.

Oops! Endless comment alert. Sorry.

10 November 2010 at 13:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My heart truly breaks for the Christians who are being persecuted and who live in such fear.

However, YG, I have seen this comment about the church splitting over women and homosexuals several times now and I would like to comment about that. Yes, there are divisions over these issues but I think you are truly minimizing the issues in the CoE and the Episcopal church. The issues of homosexuals and women are the tip of the iceburg, the part that can be seen on the surface. The real reasons for the actual schisms are far deeper and has to do with the changes in the actual teachings of the church.

Yes, some people have left over the 2 issues you mention however the mass exodus and new schism did not result over these issues. There was some flap when Gene Robinson was ordained a bishop but that was a long time ago. I didn't and many didn't leave the church when that happened, I didn't leave the church over a women priest or bishop. I left the church 3 years ago when I heard our priest stand up and say she did not believe in our statements of faith like the Nicene Creed and we did not have to either. I left when she said that the fact that the creed was changed to "We" believe instead of "I" believe absolved her from that belief and we could say the creed collectively and individually we did not have to believe such things. I left when she preached that there was no Passion. The only passion to speak of was Jesus's passion for social justice, but there was no crucifixion and resurrection. I left when bible versus were twisted and manipulated to mean what she wanted them to mean to fit her political agenda. I left when she said she didn't believe in God but admitted there was "something" way out there in space or beyond space that had some kind of power. I wondered why this women was even a priest and not just a social worker or political activist helping the poor. I loathe the fact that church membership fell while she was priest and that parish exists from support from the diocese and is not self supporting and yet she will receive a retirement pension from our church. What I expereinced in my church was being played out through Episcopal churches througout the US. I realized these were not the lessons I wanted my children taught and I was leaving church angry each week and my faith was waning instead of being renewed and we began to attend a non denominational church. At the time I left there were many churches trying to pull out of their dioceses and trying to align themselves under the jurisdiction of other provinces in Africa who still upheld our statements of faith and beliefs.

The issues of homosexuality and women in the priesthood did cause divisions, but they were not the main reasons for the schism we are going through today. Please do not minimize the reason of the abandonment of our faith and reduce it down to the above mentioned issues. I doubted my faith for a long time after being in that church, I was saddened to hear what was being taught and I deeply grieved the loss of my church and to be able to worship the way I had been raised. Homosexulaity and women had nothing to do with all this in my experience.

10 November 2010 at 14:23  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ Archbishop Cranmer (10:34)—It’s heartening to know that Iraqi Muslims show compassion for their Christian neighbours. A Christian teacher in Tower Hamlets, Nicholas Kafouris, could have done with a little compassion himself:

❛He told a tribunal that he had to leave his £30,000-a-year post because he would not tolerate the ‘racist’ and ‘anti-Semitic’ behaviour of Year 4 pupils. The predominantly Muslim youngsters openly praised Islamic extremists in class and described the September 11 terrorists as ‘heroes and martyrs’.

One pupil said: ‘Don’t touch me, you’re a Christian’ when he brushed against him.
Others said: ‘We want to be Islamic bombers when we grow up’, and ‘The Christians and Jews are our enemies—you too because you're a Christian’.❜

10 November 2010 at 14:40  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Maybe we should also be concerned for Christians and other non-muslimes a little closer to home, in the Islamic enclave of Tower Hamlets perhaps...

10 November 2010 at 14:42  
Blogger rick allen said...

From today's New York Times:

"Residents of the Kamsara neighborhood, where a car bomb blew up outside a Christian family’s house, said one of the dead included a Muslim man who had run outside to offer help and was killed in a secondary blast."

It is also easily forgotten that the casualties from the cathdral massacre included Iraqi security forces, presumably Muslims, who stormed the church when the invaders started killing hostages.

Let's please not imagine that this is a war of Muslims against Christians. If anything, it's a war of radical, murderous Muslims against those Muslims who just want to live in peace and against their Christian neighbors, who have lived side by side for centuries. If it ever becomes a war of religion against a religion--and there are plenty of misguided people in the West who would like to make it so--the Christian presence in the middle east will be doomed.

10 November 2010 at 15:31  
Blogger Jared Gaites said...

Good post. I have to admit though that I would not stay, I would leg it at the first opportunity.

I was given a DVD in work yesterday by a colleague, it is called Darfur. I watched it last night, and I cannot believe that I was having very similar thoughts to His Grace - I was taken aback today having come home from work and read this post.

The title of the movie is self explanatory really, Darfur, but the graphic nature of the torture and violence is truly horrific. I don't how true to life the horrors that I watched last night are, but all I can say is that I am lacking in confidence with regards to human nature. This was Muslim on Muslim murder and torture - where the arabs were 'cleansing' "the black monkeys" from Darfur.

It was shocking and scary. I can imagine saying brave things about staying and fighting the corner, but the truth is that after seeing this, I am not so brave after all. There are places on earth that are quite disgusting and we are oh so fortunate here.

I don't know what the answer is. A good starting place though could be to grow up and put our penises to one side maybe, and get together and try to make a real difference.

God Help us.

10 November 2010 at 15:51  
Anonymous not a machine said...

Thankyou for the history information your grace , how wonderful to imagine those people who may have met/heard some of those that were there in the early church and gave them there faith.

It is perhaps what Bishop Ali had in mind when speaking of persecuted christians , and I wish I had a better answer other than to offer our prayers and that Iraq is losing its true heritage .

I wish I could be more patient with Islam , but it seems to carry on without question of its own actions or even theology. It breaks the Ten commandments without even a murmer and yet holds moses up high .

10 November 2010 at 16:32  
Anonymous Atlas Shrugged said...

I am not in anyway seeking to dispute the facts of this particular matter, just the way they have been presented to us.

Don't you think this is all more then a little strange?

We have combined western armed forces that 60 odd years ago pushed The Nazi's out of Europe, and the Japanese Empire out of the Pacific.

We have combined western armed forces that only a short time ago apparently stopped the Combined forces of the soviet block from invading western Europe.

We have combined western forces that are now so technically advanced that they would give invaders from outer-space a run for their money.

We have a combined limitlessly financed secret services that spans every country in the world, without exception, using equipment that would make James Bond green with envy.

Yet, we apparently don't know how to stop, arrest or even effectively challenge a few thousand religiously motivated psychopaths armed with a few cases of high explosives and dodgy AK47's.

There has long since been elements around the world that have had good or otherwise cause to murder westerners,Christians, Jews, or indeed anyone they did like for any particular reason, and have done so.

It has always been remarkably easy to motivate one set of human beings to murder another. Religion, money, political ideology, sex, love, fear, greed, envy, blackmail, mind control, lies, or patriotism, the list is seemingly endless.

However as a general rule the bully only picks on victims who can't fight back. They do not take on undefinable fights they cannot possibly win, against an enemy that could very easily kill them all in not much more then a heart beat.

Unless that is, they are being covertly manipulated by forces that they do not understand, or ones that actually represent their own worst possible enemy.

Strange, is it not that today it was announced that it was the Saudi secret services that tipped off the Americans about the latest potential terrorist attacks.

Saudi-Arabia being the country where Bin-Larden was born, his family still live and thrive, and his terrorist group were apparently trained and financed.

Saudi-Arabian, a country run by a secret police that Himler himself would be proud of, and entirely owned by one of The QofE's best, richest, most all powerful and loyal mates/relatives.


The Islamic world, for want of a more specific phase, is being SET-UP, largely by its own establishment for one hell of a big fall. I cannot prove this assertion, however the circumstantial evidence would seem ever more overwhelming.

It would also seem obvious that the western world is also being set-up for almost as large a fall. Or certainly its common citizens are.

The good news is that this is in no way a new way of doing things. In fact this method of running the show has been around since classical times, if not a whole lot longer then that.

11 November 2010 at 00:21  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a world we live in any excuse to murder innocence people.
Well done to France for helping these people.

11 November 2010 at 01:01  
Anonymous The Ancient said...

In the room,
The martyrs come and go,
In spite of Cranmer's ferrago

Really, Cranmer, for shame.

If you are any sort of Christian -- and I accept that you are -- you must see how wrong it is to urge martyrdom on the Desperate from the comfort of the Cheap Seats.

(Would you have urged Polycarp to stick to the fire as you sucked on a lemonade?)

11 November 2010 at 04:17  
Blogger AncientBriton said...

>>For there is nothing to do here but squawk over women in the episcopate,
and watch the bishops come and go<<
Two wrongs don't make a right.

11 November 2010 at 09:57  
Anonymous Indigo said...

@ Atlas Shrugged

Yet, we apparently don't know how to stop, arrest or even effectively challenge a few thousand religiously motivated psychopaths armed with a few cases of high explosives and dodgy AK47's.

I used to wonder why none of the organisers of the car- and suicide-bombers in Baghdad were ever caught or prosecuted. Then the Wikileaks Iraq War Logs were published, and everything was explained. The US military knew who was responsible but chose to let them go on with it. Even though, at the time, the US claimed that it did not "do body counts", we now know that they did count.

The US attitude seemed to be that as it was "brown people" and "ragheads" killing each other they could forget about their duties as the occupying power (cf Geneva Conventions). I really hope that all these chickens come home to roost upon the US one day in my life-time.

11 November 2010 at 11:22  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...


"He [Andrew White] has some strange associates."

I hear they said the same about Jesus.

11 November 2010 at 11:56  
Anonymous Oswin said...

John in Cheshire @ 10.22

I believe there is one NEAR example, during a siege of Edessa, where muslims fought to save the resident Christians, who were protecting the 'Mandylion' from Romanus Lacapenus, and the Byzantine armies in 984 (?)... before the burial face-cloth (?) of Jesus, was taken to Constantinople.

However, it was not, as you say, a case of ''muslim fighting muslim in defense of Christians''...

11 November 2010 at 18:34  
Anonymous len said...

The enemies of the God of the Bible have in the past, and will now , and in the future, attack and try to destroy the followers of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

14 November 2010 at 09:28  

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