The Tragedy of Christian Persecution

By Michael Novak

If you are going to read only one book on the most massive violations of religious liberty -- happening today, even as you read this -- or you feel it's your duty to read only one thing in solidarity with this immense suffering, Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy by George J. Marlin is the one to keep at hand.

The chairman of Aid to the Church in Need covers eight nations of the Middle East, from Turkey to the Sudan, in some painful detail. Behind this detail, lie many hundred thousands of Christian families faced with instant death (or sexual enslavement) or two other choices (1) renounce their hard-won historical faith and submit to the authority of Allah, or (2) enter into dhimmitude, that half-life of paying fines for just being allowed to live and of keeping one's faith completely private, invisible and silent.

But before Marlin gets into all that, he writes two long chapters, one of the birth and rise of Christianity in the Middle East, the other the birth of Islam and the rise of Islamic terrorism 600 years later. Islamic terrorism has been endemic from the beginning, although in some centuries in intermittent remission.

Both sections of the book are essential background reading for our time and also very useful to keep at hand for reference. It is important to keep in mind the many varieties of Islam, and their internal conflicts from country to country in these widely variegated cultures.

Some of the most illuminating material awaits at the end, which brings together voices on Christianity and Islam by informed and experienced Christians, some of them Arabs, who have lived through this period for many decades. For instance, Fr. Wafik Nasry expresses the anguish of seeing so many Christian, Muslim and secular people today "refuse to face reality."

"They pretend," he goes on, "that the radical members Al-Qaeda and ISIS and many other Muslim militant political groups have nothing to do with the true Islam." He adds: "But these pretenders are not facing and/or dealing with reality, but with a figment of their own imaginations. They are dealing with a lie of their own making and live in the realm of wishful thinking. They either pretend not to know or do not really know." Both Muslims and Christians, he insists, "need calmly to face the reality of violence in Islam."

Fr. Nasry gently asks, but is the source of violence in Islam the same as the source of violence in Christianity?

For a Christian, the word "terror" has a negative connotation. Jesus constantly preaches peacefulness, meekness, and the injunction not to reply to a blow with a blow of one's own, but rather the resolution "to turn the other cheek." These injunctions are practiced by a cloud of witnesses, among them martyrs who accept death peacefully down through the ages.

For a Muslim, "terrorism" is something mandated directly by God in the Kuran, practiced by Muhammad himself, and persistently both practiced and openly incited by imams down through Islamic history since the seventh century.

Then, summarizing the findings of the Muslim director of Yafa Center for Study and Research, Nasry lists five aims of terror in Islam. In cruelly brief form they are: (1) to punish infidels for unbelief (2) to frighten infidels into keeping their treaties with believers (3) to be a definitive tool of divine might. Q8:12 "I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite them above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them." (4) to cut as a two-edged sword: striking fear into infidels, and protecting believers from their evils and (5) to put an end to oppression, tumult, and division. Fr. Nasry applauds those who try to bring Islam "up-to-date, but regrets that they have so far been very broadly rejected.

I strongly urge that you put Marlin's book on your list for New Year's resolutions: buy it, read it, and keep it nearby for reference.

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