Category Archives: Syria

Syrian Christians Blamed for ISIS-Like Atrocities

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.”

Fighting for Religious Freedom, Fighting to Awaken the Church

The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative is a new organization fighting for religious freedom. According to its website:

The rise of ISIS, the declining freedom of speech and communication globally, and the sheer number of religious prisoners around the world pose a critical threat to all of humanity. 21st Century Wilberforce wants to awaken the church to these atrocities and stir Christians and other religious groups to action. 

Recently I interviewed Elyse Bauer Anderson, Senior Advisor and Director of Special Projects with the organization.

Conditions seem to be worsening for Christians in Iraq and – particularly – Syria. Is this your impression too, or are there some glimmers of hope?

The situation facing Christians in Iraq and Syria is bleak. Increasingly the global community is starting to recognize that what is taking place is in fact genocide and that it threatens to extinguish ancient faith communities from the lands they’ve inhabited since antiquity.

In war-torn Syria the Assyrian Christian community suffered a devastating blow with the recent large-scale kidnappings. In Iraq, the Christian community is increasingly hopeless in the face of prolonged displacement – they are nomads in their own country. We were told that 12 Christian families leave a day. Few can envision a future for themselves or for their families.

But in the midst of the suffering there are glimmers of hope. When we were in northern Iraq we met a young Iraqi priest who implored our delegation, “Help me to stay.” There are courageous men and women who are persevering in the midst of incredible suffering and hardship and in many cases ministering to and among their people. Their faith is unwavering. They have not allowed their circumstances to dictate what they believe. It is an inspiration.

Your organization is quite new. Were you formed specifically to help Mideast Christians, or are you active in other regions? 

Given the crisis facing Christians and other ancient faith communities living in the shadow of the Islamic State, we chose Iraq for our inaugural trip. That said, our focus will be global in nature. Persecution of people of faith is epidemic around the world. From China, to Iran, from Sudan to Pakistan, Christians and other religious minorities are experiencing all manner of hostility, discrimination and abuse.

Your website says you are a “do tank,” not a think tank. What have you been doing so far? What do you hope to do?

We are still in the embryonic stage as an organization, but as we mature we intend to engage in a number of different spheres including advocacy, both at home and abroad, and education, to include training and equipping religious leaders in countries where religious freedom violations routinely occur.  A third area of focus will involve prioritizing access to circumvention technology in closed or restricted societies like China and Iran. Some of these initiatives are already beginning to take shape. 21Wilberforce just participated in a training conference for nearly 1,200 Chinese house church pastors and lay leaders in Taiwan. In the face of massive crackdowns in China against people of faith, the church is vibrant and growing there. In fact, the church in the West could arguably stand to learn much from our persecuted brothers and sisters in China, Iraq and around the world – 21Wilberforce hopes to help forge that connection in tangible ways.

Could Western governments be doing more to help besieged Assyrians?

Absolutely. The humanitarian needs are great and more could be done to assist both the internally displaced populations and the refugees throughout the region, to include healthcare and education. But these are mere Band-Aids. Until the Islamic State is ultimately defeated and destroyed there will be no future for Christians in these lands. The Kurdish peshmerga forces are imperfect but they are on the front lines of the battle and they have been willing to take on ISIS from the beginning, notably in areas they consider Kurdish lands. To date, Washington has insisted on sending military aid through Baghdad. As a result, the peshmerga are fighting with outdated and outmoded weaponry. This is a diplomatic calculation more than it is a strategic military decision – and one that could be easily overturned.

Is military force an answer? Could we in the West be doing something to help Christians build their own defense forces?

Congress has been debating the Authorization of Use of Military Force against the Islamic State. This is a much-needed and long overdue discussion. Military force must be on the table. In the interim, the administration already has the authority to aid what is known as the Nineveh Protective Unit, which is effectively a defensive national guard unit. The Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities were abandoned and left defenseless in the face of the Islamic State’s murderous onslaught last summer. These units are an important first step in these vulnerable communities being able to defend themselves moving forward.

What else can Western Christians, and others, do to help suffering Assyrians?

Of course we in the West can pray for our brothers and sister in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. This is but one way of standing in solidarity with the suffering church. But there is more. We can learn their stories, and we can be their advocates. We can raise these issues with our elected officials, both in Congress and the White House. As legislation and policy comes to the fore which impacts these imperiled communities we can make our voices known so that it is clear that there is in fact a domestic constituency on matters of international religious freedom.

Among the first requests should be to urge the president to fill the vacant post of Special Envoy for Religious Minorities in the Middle East. President Obama signed the bipartisan legislation that created this post into law last August, thereby making it the law of the land. While an envoy alone does not hold the key to this complex crisis, having a senior person at the State Department focused exclusively on advocating for these communities and developing policy options aimed at guaranteeing their survival, and ultimately flourishing, is a critical first step.

Elyse, thank you very much.

Lee Stranahan – Telling the World about the Plight of Syria’s Christians

Lee StranahanI hadn’t heard of Lee Stranahan before. But now that I have, I am full of admiration – and excitement – over what he is doing.

Lee is, in how own words, “a writer, teacher, filmmaker, photographer, tech geek. My wife Lauren and I have lot of kids that we unschool. I worked on the left and wrote for The Huffington Post until I met Andrew Breitbart and my life changed.”

What is he doing? Well, he left recently for Lebanon, in order to write about the plight of Syrian Christian refugees. This is without doubt one of the big stories in the world today. In my opinion it is a story that every Christian should be following.

Yet it is not just our politicians and media who are generally not paying much attention to this story – it is Western Christians as well.

So what Lee is doing is, in my view, not just exciting but also tremendously important. Here is what he says:

“As I’ve done before with stories like Occupy Wall Street or the Steubenville rape case story, the way to really cover a story is to be there. That’s the only way to really get at the truth.

“And the truth of what’s happening in Syria seems to be frightening; the Obama administration is backing the people who are attacking Christians. Already, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been forced to flee Syria. With your help, we’re telling their stories.”

You can read his early reports at his website. And he needs funds for this project. I have donated, and I hope many others will too. Go here.

Take Weapons and Again Weapons

In my Brother Half Angel series of international thrillers I write about a fictional militia that has been formed to defend the persecuted church. Over five books (so far) I write about this militia traveling to various countries to help persecuted Christians.

Was I ahead of my time? In a post at National Review Online, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the US think tank Center for Immigration Studies, suggests that the time for talking about the crisis facing Christians in Syria is over.

Something more is needed, and the title of his post tells us what that is: “You Want to Help Syria’s Christians? Send Guns.”

He writes:

The most useful role American Christians can play is as the Syrian Christians’ outside backup, like the Saudis are for the Sunni jihadis and the Iranians are for the Alawites.

My [Armenian] ancestors learned the hard way the futility of “raising the issue” of Muslim persecution of Christians to the international community, and the Sermon of the Iron Ladle distills the lesson. It was delivered by Mgrdich Khrimian, a prominent Armenian prelate, a genuine holy man with the common touch but also a national leader. 

…Khrimian’s advice to his fellow Christians living under the shadow of Islam is as pertinent now as it was in 1878: “When you return to the Fatherland, to your relatives and friends, take weapons, take weapons and again weapons.”