We often hear that, if it weren’t for the Jews in Israel, all of the Middle East’s lions would lay down peaceably with all of the Middle East’s lambs. However, the terrible fate of a Christian community in Syria is a fresh reminder of just how untrue this is. Here’s the story.
The place is called Raqqa. It is the local capital of the northern-most province of Syria. A city of 250,000 people, located on the shore of the Euphrates River, its main industry is that of weaving cotton brought in from the surrounding farm fields. Now, for many years, Raqqa was known as one of the most liberal cities in the Middle East, especially when it came to cultural openness and religious freedom – but then came the Syrian civil war with rebel soldiers fighting government troops and Raqqa became the first, and so far, only major city to come under the complete control of the rebels. Ever since, this most liberal of Middle East cities has become one of the most conservative ones.
Cultural openness has been shut down with anything western now being outlawed (beauty parlours, movie theatres, fashion outlets, girl’s schools, video stores, sporting events, etc.) And religious freedom is being curtailed with no group more impacted by the change than that of the Christian community. The ruling Islamists have given them three simple choices: pay for protection, convert to Islam, or face the sword.
The Christians have chosen the first with a descending cost: $1,328 per year for each upper-class individual, $664 per year for each middle-class person, and $332 per year for each lower-class believer. In return their churches will not be destroyed, their wealth will not be confiscated, and their families will not be harmed. But that’s not all: they cannot build any new churches or renovate existing ones, they cannot display any of their faith symbols in public, they cannot perform any religious ceremonies outside their buildings, they cannot ring church bells, they cannot read their Bibles or pray to their God within eyesight or earshot of a Moslem, they cannot sell pork or drink wine, they cannot carry any weapons, and most of all, they cannot ever share their Christian faith with any Moslems.
Now if you think the ruling Islamists don’t mean business when it comes to the Christians, this past week they executed a young man, placed his body on a cross, and put it on display for three days in the middle of Raqqa’s busiest city square. You don’t need a theological degree to get the message being sent.
And the above is not an isolated incident. From Egypt to Iraq, to the Palestinian territories – Christians are learning that just because you have Arab blood in your veins, doesn’t mean it couldn’t soon be flowing in the streets. This has resulted in untold thousands leaving their ancestral homes and ancient churches to flee to refugee camps set up by bordering nations.
The bottom line? Yes, the believer is to turn the other cheek, but that doesn’t mean the world is to turn a blind eye. The fact is – the problem in the Middle East is not the Jew and Judaism, but the Arab and Islam. And if you don’t believe it, just ask the Christians in Raqqa.