Nah. I don’t think so. This story picks up the most obvious examples right now. The Christians dying, imprisoned, beheaded, tortured and forced into exile, largely due to ISIS. But when those of us back in the States look at this, as often as not, we’ll link it to our policies in the Middle East, the Iraq invasion, our departure from Iraq, something. In other words, we focus on their plight to give extra oomph to the political point we’re trying to drive home. Really. Next time you see a story about the suffering of Christians in the Middle East, ask if it is only in the part part of the Middle East directly impacted by our policies, and then see if it somehow manages to make the focus of the story about our policies.
In some cases, mostly across more conservative media, we’ll hear stories about Christians persecuted, oppressed, or in some way marginalized or punished in the Muslim world due to their Christian Faith. That’s often to challenge the phrase ‘Religion of Peace’. That’s a point a fellow at my wife’s church made a few months ago.
We were talking about the Middle East issues. Since he is from Syria, I was interested to hear his take. Needless to say, he’s no fan of Donald Trump’s immigration proposals. But then he also thinks it would be foolish not to be cautious. When it came to the Syrian crisis, like so many who are asked, he was not quiet about blaming the rise of ISIS on our invasion of, and subsequent withdrawal from, Iraq. But that was the immediate blame. To hear him talk, it went all the way back to the Ottoman Empire.
While he was regaling me with a history of the last two hundred years of Middle Eastern intrigues, he said something that grabbed me. He said he couldn’t help but notice Americans seem pretty tolerant of the worst elements of Islam. Oh he has Muslim friends from his days in Syria, and in no way did he suggest that all Muslims are terrorists. Then again, I know of few credible individuals who have made the claim, contrary to popular belief. But he did say that just because Christians weren’t always being killed by ISIS doesn’t mean the rest of the history of Christianity in the Islamic world is one giant love story. Quite the contrary.
It’s a bit like blacks in America, he said, before the Civil Rights movement. After all, even before Civil Rights, you had black millionaires, black congressmen, black Harvard Graduates. Blacks could do all sorts of things. But there were still some pesky issues. Throughout the Islamic world, it’s the same thing. And it’s often looked at as nothing other than pesky issues. As I posted on back here, from one end to the other, Christians suffering oppression, intimidation, meddling, discrimination, and outright violence is not something new, and it isn’t confined to one corner of the Islamic world that only has problems because of US policies.
One thing I’ve learned from my wife’s Orthodox church, for instance, is that some Christian communities in Islamic lands celebrate the great feasts of the Christian Calendar on alternate days. So the big Easter gathering is often on Palm Sunday. Why Palm Sunday and not Easter? Because in some areas of the Islamic world, officials make policies that create problems for Christians gathering on their most holy day of the year. So to avoid that, over the generations, they learned to pick an alternate day for the big services.
In Indonesia, local governments put extra burdens on new church plants. In Nigeria, war has raged between Islamic and Christian factions for decades. In Turkey, where the city formerly known as Constantinople still holds a sizable Christian community, the Church is always aware that at any time a new regulation or restriction could be placed on them at a moment’s notice.
And yet, this fellow observed, we call Islam ‘the Religion of Peace.’ At the same time, we trash and brutalize America and its history for the same thing. We’re a racist nation. Discrimination and oppression and segregation! The sins of America! The evil, the bigotry. But insofar as things done to Christian minorities now and throughout the ages within various parts of the Islamic world? Well now, let’s not go overboard Dave. A few bad apples shouldn’t ruin the barrel. Take those as freakish exceptions, or use them to trash America’s foreign policy as always, and then it’s ‘The Religion of Peace!’
I found that interesting. It’s not surprising, and when I have time I’ll unpack the great American guilt that dominates our modern thinking about our own country. But more than that, he said that it’s a slap to those who live in the Islamic world in a way we wouldn’t tolerate in our own. He said it’s a slap in the face every time he hears the annual 9/11 news stories that focus on Islamophobia and the endless millions of persecuted and terrorized Muslims in America. Not that it never happens. In a country with the third largest population on the planet, you’re going to have evil of every sort. And goodness knows, when it does happen it makes the 24/7 news cycle for weeks on end. But then, when we hear the stories of persecution, oppression, discrimination, intimidation, imprisonment, torture, exile and murder across the Islamic world every year, what is the response? Unless we can make some political hay out of it by using their sufferings to score partisan points, not a whole lot. If, indeed, we hear about it at all.
So here’s to us. The enlightened post-moderns. Pray for the Christians dying for the faith in the Middle East. Pray for all of the Christians and religious minorities who have been in different ways ill treated because of their faith across the lands of the Islamic world. And most of all, pray for us, who wear the garments of a mourner for the victims, but never seem able to budge beyond focusing on the victims who only help advance the more important agendas and narratives to which we so desperately cling.