Thursday, 19 January 2012

Christians targetted in Syria

The Christian community in Syria has been hit by a series of kidnappings and brutal murders; 100 Christians have now been killed since the anti-government unrest began.

A reliable source in the country, who cannot be identified for their own safety, told Barnabas Fund that children were being especially targeted by the kidnappers, who, if they do not receive the ransom demanded, kill the victim.

And the source provided detailed information – some of which cannot be made public for security reasons – about incidents that have taken place since Christmas. Two Christian men, one aged 28, the other a 37-year-old father with a pregnant wife, were kidnapped by the rebels in separate incidents and later found dead; the first was found hanged with numerous injuries, the second was cut into pieces and thrown in a river. Four more have been abducted, and their captors are threatening to kill them too.

On 15 January two Christians were killed as they waited for bread at a bakery. Another Christian, aged 40 with two young children, was shot dead by three armed attackers while he was driving a vehicle.

These latest reports are reminiscent of the anti-Christian attacks that have become commonplace in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion, and heighten concerns about the future for Christians in Syria as the anti-government protests there continue.

Syria pivotal in regional power battle

Several expert commentators are calling into question the narrative being spread by Western media about the nature of the unrest in Syria. They argue that it is not merely an internal conflict between the government and the rebels but has become an international battle for the balance of power in the Middle East.

Aisling Byrne, writing for Asia Times Online on 5 January, argues:
What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime 'more compatible' with US interests in the region… Not for the first time are we seeing a close alliance between US/British neo-cons with Islamists (including, reports show, some with links to al-Qaeda) working together to bring about regime change in an 'enemy' state.
The battle for the regional balance of power pits an alliance of the US, Israel and the Sunni Muslim states of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Gulf against the Shi’a regime in Iran and Hizbollah, the terrorist organisation that it sponsors. Syria is integral to Iran’s position, and, says Saudi King Abdullah, “Other than the collapse of the Islamic Republic itself, nothing would weaken Iran more than losing Syria”. Much of the conflict is being driven by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are now repeating in Syria what they have done in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to establish a Sunni Wahhabi Salafist entity, thus intensifying the pressure on Iran.

A Western-backed military campaign in alliance with the Syrian rebels against the Assad regime is looking increasingly likely, and this could be devastating for the Church in Syria. Christians in Syria have enjoyed a considerable measure of freedom and protection under President Assad; if he falls, there could be a repeat of the tragic near-extermination of the Church in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

On 6 January, 2012, the Council of Evangelical Churches in Baghdad was dissolved, signalling another nail in the coffin for Christianity in Iraq. The once sizeable Christian minority there has been reduced to no more than a few hundred thousand today.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said:
The Christian community in Syria is already suffering as a result of the unrest there and this will surely only intensify in the event of Western-backed military intervention. Christians in the West should not stand by and allow their governments to destroy Syria – and the Syrian Church – in pursuit of their own political interests in the region. I urge Christians not to accept blindly all the mainstream media reports about this conflict but to read for themselves the carefully considered arguments of dissenting voices (links below). And we must pray that the Lord will protect His people in Syria from a repeat of what happened to the Church in Iraq following the illegal US-led war. When Barnabas Fund carried stories about the horrific anti-Christian violence in Iraq post-2003, there were many sceptics who did not believe us. Today, this is accepted reality.
Source: Barnabus Fund

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Keeping Nigeria in our prayers

Over the last few years Fr George from Nigeria has been a regular visitor to my local church. He usually covers for the parish priest, Fr Kevan, while he has a break in the summer. Fr George is a dedicated and learned man. He studied in Rome and has an impressive theological knowledge. His affable nature, dedication and piety have made him popular among parishioners.

Back in Nigeria, Fr George is the head of a seminary. Since he is still a young man this is quite an achievement. I’m pleased to say he has become a good family friend over the years. He has visited my house a few times and we have had interesting discussions. It’s always a pleasure to talk to someone who is intelligent, offers good advice and shows Christ-like compassion. I like to keep in contact with him via email.

Fr George is based in northern Nigeria, which is generally poorer the south. While the north is predominantly Muslim the south is mainly Christian. Over the Christmas period a number of churches were attacked by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram (“Western education is sin”). The group, which has suspected links to al Qaeda, is fighting to create an Islamic state ruled by Sharia; it exploits the differences within the country as well as the failings of the government.

Fortunately Fr George and his family members were not harmed in the church attacks. The situation, however, remains tense. Added to the sectarian tensions are economic woes. Nigeria should be a prosperous country because of it’s oil reserves, but corruption is so rampant that wealth stays in the hands of a small elite. In his latest email to me, Fr George said:
“On 1st January 2012, we woke up to the rude shock of the Federal government withdrawal of subsidy on petrol by 130% and immediately the cost of goods and services rose by that same percentage at the least. There is right now, proposed indefinite nationwide strike from next Monday. The strike will further paralyse the economy. The problem is the government is not ready to tackle corruption... Every goods in the market has doubled in price. There is serious outrage. If nothing is done immediately, I am afraid the military might come back to governance in the pretext of protecting the internal territorial integrity of the nation. Life is terribly bad for Nigerians.”
We will remember Fr George and Nigeria in our prayers. We hope and pray that things improve in Nigeria, peace returns and there is a reduction in corruption.