An article in The Times newspaper, alleging atrocities by Christian militia in Syria, has sparked some “I told you so” posts on social media, from people claiming that Christianity is inherently just as violent as Islam.
Titled “Christians Give a Display of Savagery among Saints and Candles,” the article is by Anthony Loyd, a veteran war correspondent who has previously reported from conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Africa and Iraq.
Loyd wrote that he encountered two dozen Christian refugees in a church in the Syrian town of Darbasiyah, near the Turkish border. They were apparently sheltering from the fierce sun outside.
At first they were “warm and welcoming,” he reported, but then one of the men – a former bank employee now fighting with a Christian militia group – started berating him for alleged British support for Islamic State. This, said Loyd, is the lie that President Bashar Assad has been persistently telling his people.
But what happened next came as a shock, as the man exclaimed: “We cut off the terrorists’ heads as they tried to enter the medina in Hasakah.” He pulled out his mobile phone and showed photographs of a military commander holding two severed heads, while resting his foot on a third.
“Cutting heads is not a good thing,” the man insisted to Loyd. “But if what was done to us was done to you by the Daesh [Islamic State], you would cut heads too. We are taking our revenge for what has been done to us.”
Loyd, a good reporter, did seek further confirmation. A Christian woman inside the church said the heads had more likely been severed from their bodies after a bomb explosion.
Later, another Christian told him it was probable that the dead men were actually killed by the Syrian army, and the mutilation was then carried out by tribal militia.
Whatever the truth of the matter, it has not stopped some commentators from using social media to berate Christians.
Here is one comment that I found: “So now everyone is cutting off heads??…How could you not see this coming? Irrespective of recent happenings historically basically all religions or demographics have gone through their phase of beheading people right?”
Another person wrote: “Well false messiahs will always gather/shepherd new blood, especially the young lambs towards the flames…??”
Four months ago in Pakistan suicide bombers attacked two churches during Sunday worship, leaving 15 dead and scores injured. Subsequently some Christians went on a rampage, blocking roads, attacking police and then seizing two suspects who were being held in police custody, and beating them both to death.
I wrote at the time: “I suspect we are going to see more of this.” Then I added: “When your churches are being bombed and the authorities do nothing, it is difficult to turn the other cheek…. And sadly, as violence against Christians escalates, particularly in the Muslim world, I believe that we can almost certainly expect more such retaliation.”
Those Pakistani rioters may not really have been Christians. Certainly they were not at all behaving in a Christian manner. And we will probably never know the truth about who committed the atrocities in Syria.
But unfortunately, as the war on Christians continues, and in particular as Islamic State revels in the most grotesque depravity, it is difficult to expect that some Christians will never retaliate in kind.
I can only sadly repeat what I wrote four months ago: “I suspect we are going to see more of this.”