Torture, rape, murder and mass killing – it is not a page from the Roman Empire or the Ottoman Turks; but life for Christians under the current Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Shockingly, crucifying Christians, forcing them to pay a head tax to keep their lives, destroying religious structures, are daily practices in Iraq and Syria. This is the first time that terrorists have acquired a physical space where they can practice their perverted versions of Islam. Indeed, finally George W. Bush and his associates can say there is truly a terrorist state in Iraq.
The crisis in Iraq and Syria is unfolding on two levels: the persecution of Christians and other religious denominations and the redrawing of the borders of the Middle East. It is remarkable how the media in the United States and Canada pay scant attention to the plight of Christians trapped in the land of ISIS. Even Obama’s righteous indignation is reserved for Vladimir Putin rather than aimed at the crazies who have taken over large tracks of Syria and Iraq and who are committing mass murder.
Maybe if the situation were reversed the American media, particularly CNN, would be waxing eloquently about the injustices committed by Christians against Muslims. Newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet go out of their way to catalogue the crimes perpetrated by the West against Muslims and excuse the unwillingness of many Muslims to acculturate when immigrating to North America and Europe. But they fail to mention that most Muslims – through no fault of their own – come from countries that are intolerant of non-Islamic religions.
How many churches or synagogues are in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Yemen and other Muslim countries? Saudi Arabia is a Wahhabi-dominated state that persecutes its Shia minority and forces Westerners to adopt the customs and norms of Saudi society. Imagine any Western country imposing a dress code on a Muslim. France, out of exasperation, forbids the Muslim headdress for women but countries such as Canada, motivated by the allure of political correctness, bow to the will of the unreasonable and idiotic.
For example, at York University in Toronto a male Muslim student refused to write an exam in a room with women. Muslim women wearing the burka have become common in American and Canadian cities – this is their right, but why do they not make the slightest effort to adapt to North American society? Earlier immigrants kept their traditions and dressed apart from mainstream society, but their children adopted the culture of the new country. They honored the traditions of their parents but at the same time wanted to respect the society that gave them a home.
One factor that keeps many Muslims segregated from mainstream culture is Islam has no theological mechanism to guide Muslims living in a non-Muslim country. There is a committee of Muslim scholars working on how to address the problem but their work is slow and they have to proceed with caution not to bring the wrath of fanatics on them.
In the meantime, the persecution of Christians, particularly Orthodox, in the Middle East is proceeding unabated. In regions under ISIS control it is horrific but also in the so-called moderate countries such as Turkey and Egypt, Christians face administrative persecution – the best example is the encumbrances placed upon the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople.
The Orthodox Church in Turkey cannot train priests, build churches, or even repair them except under the most stringent conditions. The situation for the Orthodox is getting worse as the Recep Tayyip Erdogan regime is become progressively more Islamic and autocratic.
In effect, the modern Middle East is rapidly changing and the Obama Administration is incapable of guiding events or, for that matter, fully comprehending that the world is undergoing a major shift. The fixation with Russia, Ukraine and Putin has been at the cost of losing control in the Middle East.
The borders of the region established by the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement and solidified by the Treaty of Versailles are collapsing. Tragically, instead of an orderly change, Muslim fanatics and madmen are dictating the pace of events. The United States has only Israel as a staunch ally in the Middle East, while Greece is the other solid friend close to the region. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, ostensibly America’s allies, have been funding ISIS as has Turkey without regard for the consequences of the stability of the Middle East. For them the stakes are Sunni versus Shia control of the Muslim world and everything has little relevance. Indeed, the real conflict in the region is a religious struggle, with all the viciousness and horror that such wars invoke on those considered the “other.” In the case of ISIS, Turkey and even Egypt, the “other” is Christian, who will pay a dear price for their faith and for being part of the West.
André Gerolymatos is Director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.