The Christians' ordeal with Muslim extremists
The Syrian war, like all wars, brings out the worst in humans. What Arab Christians are confronting is part of the chaos affecting the entire region
Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled their city of Mosul to Sunni Kurdish areas up north after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threatened to kill them if they don't convert to Islam or pay tax. Extremists of the al-Qaeda-inspired group began implementing their threats by burning a church in the city. A new chapter of hatred and terrorism has just begun.
See also: ISIS burns 1,800-year-old church in Mosul
To understand this situation and deal with it, there are two points, one religious and another political. I haven’t advised that the issue be resolved because the perpetrators are chaotic, terrorist and illegal groups pursued across the world. On the religious level, we expect all religious references and institutions to condemn and confront this increasing radicalism which currently threatens the region's social fabric and religious co-existence. ISIS and similar Sunni or Shiite extremist groups first attack followers of their own sect. They then attack people of different sects and then people of different religions. The ISIS destroyed Sunni Sufis' shrines as well as Shiite shrines in Iraq. It also accused Sunnis who didn't announce their pledge of allegiance to it of apostasy and killed them. Before that, they kidnapped nuns from Syria's Maaloula and did not release them until receiving a hefty ransom. They wreak havoc in Sunni areas a lot more than they do in other areas because they consider them their major targets for establishing power.
The Syrian war, like all wars, brings out the worst in humans. What Arab Christians are confronting is part of the chaos affecting the entire regionAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The political angle of this crisis is represented with the infiltrating and directing of these extremist groups. There's increasing evidence that these groups are being used to reshuffle alliances. Iraq is only the second part of this narrative and it's too early to say how or where these suspicious groups will expand to and whether they are expanding towards Baghdad or Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Regarding Syria, ISIS and al-Nusra Front were formed about a year and a half ago by men who fled al-Qaeda prisons in Iraq and Syria. These men were linked to extremist groups - Baathist and al-Qaeda affiliated - and managed by the Syrian regime during the American occupation of Iraq.
Harming the Arab world
These groups have only succeeded at harming the Syrian revolution and they have currently succeeded at sabotaging the three Iraqi provinces' uprising against Nuri al-Maliki's practices. But it doesn't matter now how these groups were born. What matters is to intellectually besiege them and to fight them on ground. Pursuing ISIS does not mean changing the formula of confrontations, if this is the reason why the group was found because in Iraq correcting the situation is a popular demand and in Syria efforts to remove Assad are irreversible. The security vacuum, chaos, war and the lack of a central authority, like in Syria, or a weakening central authority, like in Iraq, will prolong the age of extremist groups and other groups who are slaughtering civilians in Iraq and Syria - groups like the League of the Righteous and the Badr Brigades which are the Shiite version of ISIS.
If, in the upcoming few days, the Iraqis form a new acceptable government and name a prime minister and a president – who lives up to the barely required needs - then we can say that Iraq will recover and that Iraqi powers will unite to fight extremists. But the Syrian problem will remain, as repairing the regime is almost impossible and the war will go on until the end. The Syrian war, like all wars, brings out the worst in humans. What Arab Christians are confronting is part of the chaos affecting the entire region. Therefore, this chaos does not only target them as it threatens the entire region's people and religions. It also threatens civil peace which took us long to achieve in an Arab world made up of dozens of religions, sects and races.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 20, 2014.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.