Islamic State more dangerous than Nazism
Published 15/08/2014 | 02:30
CHRISTIANS are being murdered, tortured, raped, beaten, burnt alive in their homes and churches, killed in bomb attacks, imprisoned and driven from their homes on a daily basis.
They are being subjected to the greatest persecution in the history of their faith, but the world continues to treat this epic attack on human rights as a story of small importance.
A booklet was sent to me the other day by an organisation called Church in Chains. A map of the world in the booklet shows that Christians are being persecuted, with varying degrees of brutality, in roughly half of Africa and most of Asia.
It is not just Christians who are being persecuted, of course. So are other religious minorities. North Korea, which is officially atheistic, will crack down on Buddhists and Christians with equal ferocity.
However, it is generally accepted that Christianity is now the most persecuted religion on the planet, but the chronic under-reporting of what is happening means almost no one knows.
Christians in places such as Pakistan, northern Nigeria, Syria and - of course - Iraq are twice over victims of being associated with the West.
In those countries, they are seen as agents of the West and therefore as deeply suspect. And we in the West also associate them with Western Christianity, and therefore refuse to see them as oppressed minorities because Christianity ruled the West for so long.
Of course, Christians have lived in the Middle East since before there ever was a 'West'.
The result of our failure to look objectively at the disastrous situation faced by Christians in much of the world is that when the Islamic State (IS) began its rampage through northern and western Iraq in June, the world paid almost no attention - even when IS forced the entire Christian population of the areas under its control to flee for their lives.
The situation in Iraq has only begun to receive some of the attention it deserves since a non-Christian religious minority, the Yazidis, were forced from their homes by IS earlier this month.
News crews have filmed the plight of the Yazidis, tens of thousands of whom are stranded on a mountain surrounded by IS fighters. Much less attention has been paid to the 100,000 Christians who at the same time fled Qaraqosh, the biggest Christian city in Iraq, and the surrounding areas on the plain of Nineveh.
Nineveh. Ponder that name. It occurs in the Old Testament. It was the Assyrian capital in ancient times. The Christians of Iraq are the descendants of the Assyrians who were there long before the Arab conquests.
Mosul, which neighbours the ruins of the city of Nineveh, is as important to the Christians of that region as Rome is to Christians in this part of the world. Their forced exodus is a cultural as well as a humanitarian catastrophe.
The Islamic State, without doubt, is the most dangerous utopian ideology to appear since Nazism and Communism.
Nazism dreamed of racial purity and killed millions of people to achieve the 'perfect' society.
Communism dreamed of the classless society and in its turn killed millions.
The Islamic State dreams of a world in which there will only be Muslims - and those Muslims will live by the strictest possible version of Islam. It is prepared to do anything to achieve its ends, including carrying out crucifixions, beheadings and mass ethnic cleansing.
The near total disaster that is Iraq today is the result of a whole series of events beginning with the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, through to the later American invasion of Iraq under President George W Bush and the current civil war in Syria, where IS originated.
I believed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was justifiable because I believed a democratic Iraq could serve as a template for the rest of the Middle East.
But the American occupation of Iraq was spectacularly incompetent. Nevertheless, something seemed to be rising from the ashes when the American army, led by General David Petraeus, defeated the insurgency.
US President Barack Obama then undid that work by withdrawing every last American soldier from Iraq in 2011. Had he left 20,000 or 30,000 there, the Yazidis and the Christians would still be in their homes.
Now we have very limited air strikes that will contain IS at best.
Much more needs to be done. The Yazidis and the Christians need to be restored to their homes - and that can only be done by defeating the Islamic State. That will need a much bigger military operation, which may involve American soldiers taking part in front-line fighting again.
If we can't agree among ourselves that IS must be defeated then we can agree on nothing. Hamas, although it is listed by the EU as a terrorist organisation, has lots of sympathisers in the West because it is seen as a champion of the Palestinian people.
But it is impossible to see any justification for sympathising with IS. If it is allowed to grow - apart from the horrors being inflicted on those now under its rule - it will become a base for terrorist attacks in this part of the world.
What can we do here? For a start, the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities, in Iraq and elsewhere, needs to get far more media attention.
Our politicians need to take the issue far more seriously. The announcement that we are willing to take in some refugees from Iraq is a step in the right direction.
Finally, the churches themselves haven't been vocal enough. If Christians won't stand up for their persecuted fellow believers, then who will?