N for Nasrani

During a trip to Jordan in 2008, I visited the site where it is believed that Jesus Christ was baptized. As I headed to the banks of the Jordan River, a group of women solemnly made their way back from the pilgrimage. They were clearly Christian, given the particular headscarf they wore and prayers they whispered. They prayed in silence but with a passion and fervor that was hard not to notice. Some ladies were barely looking in front of them, just to make sure they didn’t hit any incoming tourists on the dusty path that led to the sites. The rest moved with their eyes to the ground, seemingly resigned to a destiny of loneliness and despair. I saw tears coming from the eyes of more than one of them and couldn’t stop from asking where they had come from, bringing with them so much pain, anxiety and hopelessness. “We are from Iraq,” one of the ladies said, “we come from Iraq to pray, for our country and our people.”

Today, only six year later, there are still Christians in Iraq but their pain has become deeper, their anxiety exacerbated and their hopelessness without limits. Today, part of a community that formed an intrinsic part of the country, seamlessly woven into its social fabric have been labelled, almost with a badge a shame, “a scarlet letter,” as outsiders and unwanted, as targets and strangers, as “Christians,” with the letter N for Nasrani (Arabic for Christian).

The Iraqi Christians of Mosul, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, have been given three options by the so-called Islamic State (IS) authorities (predecessors of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq): convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or “face the sword” (non-Sunni Muslims have also been labelled, the houses of which are sometimes being marked with an “R” for rawafid or “rejectors”). Many have chosen to flee, forced to do so with nothing other than the clothes they wear, leaving everything and very few behind.

This is a multi-layered tragedy but it isn’t new. It is sad because it happens in the shadows of the indiscriminate Israeli offensive against Gaza, where all hearts and minds are focused. It is sad because even though the whole world watches, similar to when churches and monasteries were being destroyed and nuns and the faithful taken hostage in Syria and more churches destroyed in Egypt, there was nobody to stand in the way of these barbarian so-called warriors, and so they did as they pleased. It is sad because this continues to happen and becomes clear that the world may pay lip service to freedom of belief and the protection of minorities, but lip service is all that they will give in return to protect them. It is sad because those who support and fund organizations such as IS are effectively being unhindered and willing to push along to achieve their objectives, over the dead bodies of many already dead and more yet to come…

This is not about creed but about freedom and more importantly about principle, it is not about minorities but about altering the course of history itself, it is not about human rights but about conscious… that is, if anybody still believes there is any such thing in the world today.

I know the Islamic State doesn’t represent Islam, but if there is a faith that does not recognize anybody else than itself and kills everybody but its own, I do not want to believe anymore.

I also know that this is a cause that people of all creeds and beliefs should and do support, but if anyone of them (Christian, Muslim or whatever it may be) pray in their own ways, everyday, for these and other horrors and injustice not to happen in our world and this is the result we are getting, then I, also, do not want to believe in such creeds any longer.

And if this is the Arab World, where children – from Syria, to Iraq and Gaza – are slaughtered everyday, where blind fundamentalism reigns the streets and people are nothing but cheap pawns played off as puppets, whereby some struggle for their dignity and others have already given in to such modern-day slavery…. I do not want to belong to this region anymore.

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