Until the recent massacre of Christians in Sri Lanka, it’s likely that most people in North America and Europe considered the idea of the persecution of Christians as little more than conservative hyperbole, a cry of wolf to defend those with reactionary views regarding equal marriage or abortion. In fact those false claims from western Christians and their friends have done enormous harm, because the truth is that Christians are certainly persecuted in large parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, to a shocking and hideous degree. I’ve been writing and broadcasting about this issue for more than two decades and the problem has, if anything, become even worse.
A recent report commissioned by the U.K. government concluded: “The inconvenient truth is that the overwhelming majority (80%) of persecuted religious believers are Christians,” and that “forms of persecution ranging from routine discrimination in education, employment and social life up to genocidal attacks against Christian communities have led to a significant exodus of Christian believers.” Commenting on the report, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt stated, “What we have forgotten in this atmosphere of political correctness is actually the Christians that are being persecuted are some of the poorest people on the planet. In the Middle East, the population of Christians used to be about 20 per cent; now it’s five per cent.”
Father Nadim Nassar is a Syrian born to a Christian family in Latakia. He studied in Lebanon, and now lives in London where he is director of the Awareness Foundation, an ecumenical charity working in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Hong Kong to encourage diversity, acceptance, and peace. He is also an Anglican priest, the Church of England’s only Syrian clergyman. His latest book is The Culture of God (Hodder and Stoughton) and he is in Toronto to receive an honorary doctorate from the prestigious Trinity School of Divinity at the University of Toronto.
Were you surprised by what happened in Sri Lanka?
No, not at all, and the ignorance in the West of what is going on has annoyed me for decades. It seems that the more media we have the more ignorant we have become. America declares that ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq. Total nonsense. ISIS is well, alive and kicking, in the form of an ideology. And if you think ideology can be defeated by a bullet you are mistaken. The ISIS ideology has been exported and nowhere is safe. I don’t want to sound polemical but this is the truth. It’s not just Islam of course. Religious extremism is a virus that may have begun in the near east with Islam but has now spread internationally to mosque, temple, church, everywhere. The Christian right in the United States, Hindu nationalism in India, and so on.
Yet in your country of Syria, and in Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan, Christians historically enjoyed a certain equality and even respect.
Yes, but there is a reason for that. No Christian would dream, for example, to be the President of Iraq or Syria. We were harmless, we weren’t seen as a threat. There were some exceptions. For example, we had a Christian Prime Minister once in Syria, one of the founders of the UN, but this was never taught to us at school. It was written out of our history. Christians also played a major role in pan-Arabism, or Arab nationalism, as long ago as the early 20th-century, but part of this was because the Arab identity was always seen as less dangerous than the Muslim identity – Arabism might include us, political Islam never would. We have always been between a rock and a hard place, but it was never as difficult and dangerous as it is now.
How did the Iraq war and western intervention in Syria influence the situation for Christians?
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SOURCE: Maclean’s, Michael Coren