Monthly Archives: March 2015

When It Is Hard to Turn the Other Cheek

I suspect we are going to see more of this. After suicide bombers attacked two churches this month during Sunday worship, leaving 15 worshippers dead and scores injured, Pakistani Christians went on a rampage through the streets of Lahore.

They blocked roads, attacked police and then seized two suspects who were being held in police custody, and beat them both to death.

It is hard to condemn them. When your churches are being bombed and the authorities do nothing, it is difficult to turn the other cheek.

In the words of American scholar Michael Kugelman, who writes regularly for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper:

This is not how victims usually respond to terror attacks in Pakistan. Typically they grieve quietly, even if defiantly….

[But] many Pakistanis embrace the underlying views of sectarian extremists….In essence, sectarian militants benefit from nationwide reach, ample public support for their views and some support from the state.

The Christians that killed those two men did not commit premeditated murder. They were retaliating, and for a simple reason: like so many other religious minorities in Pakistan, they have been terrified, traumatised and terrorised for too long, and they know the state will not protect them.

So on Sunday, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Out of desperation, they became vigilantes.

We saw something even worse over a year ago, when Muslims seized power in the Central African Republic and began persecuting the Christian majority. In response, groups of Christian vigilantes formed militia groups and launched a wave of murderous attacks on Muslims, forcing thousands to flee.

It may be difficult to condemn such actions – especially the spontaneous retaliation in Pakistan – but condemn them we must. We might argue about when it is permissible for Christians to fight back, but we can surely agree that mob violence is never the answer.

Look at Egypt. Despite continuing attacks on their churches, and a general reluctance by the police to help, Coptic Christians there do not often seek revenge.

I feel they might be a special case. The Coptic church dates back to the earliest days of Christianity, and the Copts have endured many centuries of attack and martyrdom. They have become living proof of the truth of Tertullian’s famous statement, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

Christians in other countries do not have that experience. So when suicide bombers attack it is natural to think about reprisals.

And sadly, as violence against Christians escalates, particularly in the Muslim world, I believe that we can almost certainly expect more such retaliation.


Pursuing Peace in Pakistan

Less than two weeks after suicide bombers murdered 18 worshippers at two churches in Lahore, Pakistan (I wrote about it here), the country’s Ecumenical Commission for Human Development has released its initial report on the atrocity.

According to the report:

Recent years, however, have witnessed an environment of growing intolerance, vigilantism and impunity against various groups, endorsed by the state and sanctioned by the society. As a result, these divisions have developed into fault lines, threatening the very existence of the country. And within this atmosphere rife with violent extremism, the religious minorities in the country continue to be on the frontline of persecution. 

It has made a series of recommendations:

The Government of Pakistan should take strict action against the splinter group of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, who owned the responsibility of twin terrorist attacks on Churches and all suspected person who are involved in these deadly blasts. 

The Government of Pakistan should take strict action against the stone-hearted persons who lynched the two suspected militants by conducting fair and effective investigation to ensure the justice. 

The Government of Pakistan should ensure the implementation of Article 36 of Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan regarding the protection and security of religious minorities in the country. 

The Government of Pakistan should ban the misuse of speakers to religious places that is done to incite the religious sentiments of one religion against other religion and sects. The concerned governments should ban the utterance of hatred speech against any other religion and sects. 

The Government of Pakistan should prohibit the increasing trend of mob violence undertaken to violate the rule of law and harm the religious minorities and other weaker groups in the country. 

The Government of Pakistan should ensure the protection and security of religious minorities, their places of worship and associated institutions and also compensate the families of martyrs and injured according to the rules. 

The Government of Pakistan should take an initiative for peace and interfaith harmony between the majority and minority communities in the country.

The Ecumenical Commission for Human Development is an independent Christian agency committed to the development of marginalized communities in Pakistan.

Persecution Fatigue – Can We Mourn Every Murdered Christian?

A couple of weeks ago I reprinted portions of a speech given in the Australian Parliament by a politician who had secretly travelled into a rebel-held region of Myanmar (Burma).

Luke Simpkins, a member of Australia’s ruling Liberal Party (which is actually a conservative party), attended a military parade and Revolution Day ceremony with rebel fighters and presented them with an Australian flag.

In his parliamentary speech he reported on a continuing series of atrocities by the Myanmar military against the rebels, including this:

“Two Kachin girls were raped and killed on 19 January 2015 by troops of the Burmese Army. The girls were named Maran Lu Ra, age 20, and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, age 21. They were Kachin Baptist volunteer missionaries working in northern Burma along the Kachin-Shan state border. The rape occurred in the KBC church compound in northern Shan state. On the night of 19 January, Burmese Army troops came into the church ground where the girls were sleeping, raped them and then beat them to death.”

I later got a reader’s comment on my blog: “I try to keep abreast of what’s happening regarding Christian persecution, but I was not aware of this. Thank you for this report. I will be praying for this situation.”

I suspect many, many Christians are not aware that – despite some recent talk of liberalization in the country – the Myanmar Army has quite brutally and systematically been persecuting the country’s Kachin people, many of whom are Christians.

For example, in a report of the rape and murder of the two young Baptist women, the Christian Daily website noted that over 70 instances of sexual violence by Myanmar Army troops in Kachin and other ethnic regions have been recorded in recent years.

Yet Myanmar ranks just 25th in the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.

It is another sign that the persecution of Christians is escalating around the world. And, with the eyes of most of us focused on horrific events in the Middle East and Nigeria, it is too easy to forget about Number 25.

We sometimes hear references to compassion fatigue – a kind of burnout from having to cope with an ever-increasing influx of grief. I wonder if some Christians are afflicted by persecution fatigue.

It is fortunate that we have a God who knows intimately all His suffering children. He has already wiped the tears from Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, and He holds them safely in His arms.

Buddhist Extremists and My Novels

Military Orders - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013So you haven’t heard of Dorje Shugden, the extremist Buddhist group now in the news for their opposition to the Dalai Lama. Well, that’s not my fault. For I made them the villains of my thriller “Military Orders.”

The title of a lengthy post this week on the Foreign Affairs website sums up the group – “Meet the Buddhists Who Hate the Dalai Lama More Than the Chinese Do.”

That’s what happens when you write novels that are based on current events. These events are apt to overtake your novels.

I have already written about how soccer riots in Egypt mirror events in my thriller “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo” and how the burning of churches in West Africa was foreshadowed by my novel “Festival in the Desert.”

A few excerpts from the Foreign Affairs post sum up its tone:

Dorje Shugden is an obscure trickster spirit, believed to have originated in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in the 17th century. And though the spirit’s followers in the Western world probably number only a few thousand, they’ve been surprisingly successful at generating attention for themselves and their campaign to discredit the Dalai Lama. 

…Besides protesting the Dalai Lama during his trips to the United States and Europe, Shugden followers produce websites filled with anti-Dalai Lama material and write and distribute pamphlets, articles, and books denouncing the Dalai Lama. Consider, for example, “The False Dalai Lama: The Worst Dictator in the Modern World,” published in October 2013.

The book describes its purpose as helping people to “understand the deceptive nature” of the Dalai Lama, who stands accused of “destroying pure Buddhism in this world.” If that weren’t enough, it depicts the Tibetan spiritual leader as a “Muslim” who is firmly in the grip of a “fascination with war and Nazism.”

One might think, given Beijing’s well-known hostility toward the Tibetan spiritual leader, that the book is a work of calumny sponsored by the ruling Chinese Communist Party. But its publishers are, in fact, enthusiastic Buddhists. Specifically, the International Shugden Community, a California-based organization representing a small religious sect whose members worship Dorje Shugden, and whose website claims its mission is “exposing the dark side of the Dalai Lama.”

My thriller “Military Orders“ has a somewhat fantastical plot about a plan by a Christian church to “hijack” the next selection of a Dalai Lama – after the current incumbent dies – and install in his place a secret Christian. During my research for the book I learned about Dorje Shugden, and they seemed to fit my plot perfectly – opposed to the Dalai Lama, but also no friends of Christians. They made excellent villains.

Expect them to appear in the news again, especially once the current Dalai Lama dies.

And this time you will have heard of them.

More Christians, More Peace

When do Christians fight back? It is a question that has generated enormous controversy over 2,000 years. Jesus himself told us to turn the other cheek. He warned the apostle Simon Peter that a person who lives by the sword will die by the sword.

But even the most ardent Christian pacifist would surely struggle to find reasons why Assyrian Christians should not take up arms against an enemy that is murdering, kidnapping and raping their people on a mass scale.

So increasingly we are hearing reports of Christian groups in the region forming their own defense forces to protect their villages and their people.

One of these is the Nineveh Plains Protection Unit, known as NPU. The Nineveh Plains, in north-western Iraq, have for thousands of years been the home of the Assyrians, the original Iraqis. Most today are Christians. They have endured hundreds of years of persecution, culminating last year in the invasion by the terrorists of ISIS, which forced more than 150,000 residents to flee.

I spoke by Skype with Jeff Gardner, Director of Communications for the American Mesopotamian Organization and for its Restore Nineveh Now project, which is helping NPU. He recently returned from his third visit to the region.

“These are defense units,” he said. “It is important to understand that they are not another kind of militia. They are integrated with the community to provide defense.”

He noted that both Kurdish forces and the Iraqi military had fled when ISIS arrived, leaving Christians defenceless.

“In most cases the Assyrian villages were overrun by fewer than 100 members of ISIS. It was not some large-scale invading force. So it is just necessary to establish a defense force that will hold the line. In some smaller towns 20 to 50 soldiers will suffice. The Assyrians are in desperate need of a sense of security.”

However, he believed that it was important to act speedily.

“ISIS is a criminal syndicate,” he said. “They are trying to precipitate a regional war. We cannot dilly-dally while they gather strength.”

But, then, with Christians now fleeing the Middle East, Jeff added something that has set me thinking.

“Do we really want peace in the Middle East? Not just as a platitude, but real peace? Then we need more Christians. Of course, not all Christians are peaceful or law-abiding. But where there are Christians in the world there is more peace.”

Care Needed When Christian Novelists Write About Other Religions

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a program I am involved with, to help inmates of a Florida prison develop their writing skills. I donate copies of my novels, and the prisoners critique them.

As I noted, the reviews can be brutally honest. And it has set me thinking about how we Christians portray other religions in our novels.

Military Orders - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013My thriller “Military Orders” has a somewhat fantastical plot about a plan by a Christian church to “hijack” the next selection of a Dalai Lama – after the current incumbent dies – and install in his place a secret Christian. Of necessity it includes a lot of information on Tibetan Buddhism, for which I did a considerable amount of research.

I believed – and believe – that it is a resolutely Christian novel, faithful to Scripture and to Christian doctrine.

But one of the inmates, Keith, disagreed –

This book is intended for people who are interested in the Dalai Lama and think that Buddhism is the true religion.

I did not enjoy this book because of the way it portrayed the one and only God and Christians. Like it was God’s plan to protect the Dalai Lama. Are you serious?

And the church was going to bribe a Christian family to give up their child and make believe he was the Dalai Lama. First of all, if a Christian family gives up their child for money, they ain’t really believers. And what did you mean that the child was “christened?”

And here is a three-star Amazon review –

This books comes from a concept that I wouldn’t say is necessarily Christian, but the ending leaves it open to what might happen in a world where a ‘”reborn” Dalai Lama was found as a child. Since I don’t believe in being born again and again, it didn’t hold my interest as much as a book would with more intrigue or twists and turns.

Hot Rock DreamingI’ve looked again at what I wrote, and I truly believe the reviewers have it wrong. I think my novel has a strong Christian message. I wasn’t out to knock Buddhism – with which I once had an involvement – but I believe that the book clearly shows Christianity to be the true religion.

I would note that in a previous mystery, “Hot Rock Dreaming,” also with a strong Christian message, one of the main characters was a woman who practised shamanism, and that was a strong theme of the novel. That book was a finalist in the Australian Christian Book of the Year awards.

So it’s win some, lose some. But certainly Christians need to consider carefully how they depict other religions.

Movie Exposes Horror of War on Christians

As a child growing up in Syria, Sargon Saadi loved making home movies with his brother and cousins. It led eventually to his decision to travel to the US to study filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago – famous for its arts and media programs – and then to move to the heart of the movie world, Los Angeles, where he has worked as a cinematographer on many films.

But something happened while he was living in the US. His beloved Syria – the jewel of the Middle East, as he describes it – descended into civil war. Worse, parts of the country were then overrun by the terrorists known as Islamic State. Christians and other minorities became a particular target.

Sargon is himself an Assyrian Christian. He knew he had to do something to help his people. He decided to make a movie.

“Assyrians are the descendants of the great Mesopotamian civilization of 7,000 years,” he told me. “They still speak the Aramaic language that Jesus Christ once spoke. They are the last indigenous people of the region.

“As an Assyrian myself, ever since I was a child I wondered what I would have done if I were alive in 1915 when the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against us. That genocide, which the Assyrians now call ‘Seyfo,’ is hardly recognized or even talked about in schools or in the media.

“Now, 100 years later, the Assyrian Christians are facing yet another genocide and this time in Iraq by the terrorist organization Islamic State. I could not stay idle, and that’s why I made the film. I wanted to let the world know.”

Last September he and two producer friends flew to Iraq and spent eight days documenting the crisis. The resulting movie, “The Last Plight,” though just 10 minutes long, is a powerful portrayal of the victims – Christians and other minorities – and their suffering.

Released only at the end of last year, it is already causing a stir. It has been translated into six languages and shown on four television channels. It was screened at the European Parliament and won an award from the Vimeo video-sharing platform. It is expected to be shown this year at film festivals in several countries.

Meanwhile Sargon is finishing another movie, “Qamishli: Peace At War,” a documentary about the survival of the Assyrian Christian community in Syria during the civil war. It focuses on his hometown Qamishli, and will have its premiere in May at the Mardin Film Festival in Turkey.

I asked him what Christians in the West could do to help his cause. He recommended two websites. A Demand For Action provides information on the crisis. Assyrian Aid Society takes donations and uses them to help the most needy.

“It all starts with us being informed about world atrocities,” said Sargon. “With knowledge we can destroy ignorance, and with love we can conquer hate.”

“The Last Plight” can be viewed online.