Why is the media silent about the genocide of Christians in the Middle-East?
Religious liberty analyst, Elizabeth Kendal, exposes that this silence is due to political and media elites hoping for a post Christian future. For more about Elizabeth read this: http://www.elizabethkendal.com/elizabeth-kendal/
ELIZABETH KENDAL ON VOICE FOR VALUES
TUESDAY 26TH JULY 2016
Lyle Shelton: Well welcome to Voice for Values radio. It’s Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby. It’s great to have your company today. On the show today is a special guest, Elizabeth Kendal who is a religious liberty analyst. She’s a great friend of ACL’s and has spoken at our conference. She’s just released a new book and it’s about the Christian crisis in the Middle East. There’s a genocide going on there, which I think many of us are aware of. It’s not in the news anywhere near as much as it should be but she’s just penned a new book. It’s called ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian crisis in the Middle East’ and to talk about this, joining me on the line now is Elizabeth Kendal. Elizabeth welcome to Voice for Values.
Elizabeth Kendal: Thanks for having me, Lyle.
Lyle Shelton: Elizabeth, a lot of people don’t realise that there is a genocide going on in the Middle East at the moment. The United States government has even recognised it as such. Why aren’t we hearing more about this?
Elizabeth Kendal: Well you know our political and academic and media elites, they would regard themselves as progressives, you know, like they’re looking forward to the post-Christian age and they don’t have a lot of sympathy for the plight of persecuted Christians. So, it doesn’t get much attention in our media. Our media is also impacted by propaganda and interests that are just running wild but I think people really need to look elsewhere, and to say well to find some of the truths about what’s going on with Christians in Mesopotamia and the wider Middle East.
Lyle Shelton: Elizabeth, that’s a big call. You’re saying that many of our media and political elites are turning a blind eye to this because they’re looking forward to a post-Christian age to the point where they would be indifferent to a genocide?
Elizabeth Kendal: Well I think many are quite indifferent to it. It’s certainly the feeling I get when I talk to people. You know, this is not a small thing that’s happening. We’ve seen the population of Iraq go, the Christian Assyrian population in Iraq go from 1.4 million down to 200,000.
Lyle Shelton: Wow.
Elizabeth Kendal: And that’s just absolutely enormous.
Lyle Shelton: In what period of time is that, Elizabeth?
Elizabeth Kendal: Well the last census was taken in 1987 and that recorded 1.4 million Assyrians in Iraq.
Lyle Shelton: And they were all Christian people, these Assyrians, were they?
Elizabeth Kendal: Yes. The Assyrians are Christians. They’re the indigenous people of Mesopotamia. You know, we know of them right back to Old Testament times and they came to worship the one true God at the preaching of Jonah and were the first people to create a denomination, the Assyrian Church of the East and now they are down to about 200,000 and almost all of them are displaced and destitute. Now this is absolutely huge and yet it gets almost no mention in the media and the only reason I can think is because people don’t think it’s worth much of a mention.
Lyle Shelton: What proportion of those people, and I’ve used the word genocide and that’s been adopted by the US government and others, but what proportion of those people would’ve been killed as opposed to would have been displaced?
Elizabeth Kendal: Quite a lot. Now a lot have been displaced. We have lots and lots of Assyrian refugees in Lebanon, a lot in Jordan, probably less in Jordan. Hundreds and thousands fled into Syria and then of course they were forced to turn around and come back again when the war, conflict erupted in Syria and were forced back across the border into Nineveh, into northern Iraq.
Lyle Shelton: Which is now overrun by ISIS at the moment.
Elizabeth Kendal: Yeah that’s right. Many have fled to Europe but many, many have been killed.
Lyle Shelton: Are there accurate figures on the numbers that have been killed?
Elizabeth Kendal: There would be. You need to talk to probably the Assyrian Universal Alliance. They would be able to give you some very, some more accurate figures than what I have got. I can just tell you that the numbers have gone from I think they estimated there were over 800,000 at the beginning of the conflict, so 2003 and that has now been depleted to 200,000 and virtually all of southern Iraq, so Basra province and all the middle through Baghdad has been pretty well ethnically cleansed of Christians and of course Nineveh, the homeland of the Assyrians has been ethnically cleansed by ISIS so there just have often fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs, most of these Christians and they’re in Iraq and Kurdistan wondering what the future holds for them.
Lyle Shelton: So as a result of this crisis, you’re someone who’s studied this and tracked this for a very, very long time. You’ve penned this book ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East’. What is the central message that you’re trying to communicate through this new book?
Elizabeth Kendal: Well I’m trying to get people to understand what is happening. One thing that I’ve really noticed through all my years in religious liberty work is that when people don’t understand what’s going on, they just don’t get it, like it doesn’t make any sense, why would people be killing Christians, when they don’t get it they tend not to engage and they tend to turn away or just say it’s too hard and not engage the topic at all. So I wanted to lay out what are the foundations, the foundation as it stands in Islam and as it stands in the geo-politics of the region as well as establishing the framework for the conflict today which is all the geo-politics of the whole area over the last hundred years has come together to create this situation and the Christians now are facing genocide underneath the cover of this geo-political conflict and I think, I really believe that if people can understand what’s happening then they will not only engage more but they will realise how serious it is. This is not a hiccup that’s just going to be over y next weekend or even by next year and things are not going back to normal. This is a new reality for the church in the Middle East.
Lyle Shelton: So this geo-political conflict that you talk about, this is the Sunni-Shia thing. This is the proxy-war between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia being played out in Mesopotamia, in Iraq and Syria with Christians caught in the middle.
Elizabeth Kendal: Yes. This is the way I’d explain it for someone who’s trying to get a grasp on it. If you think of the Middle East, it’s a bit like a pinwheel. You’ve got three imperial powers. You’ve got the Persians or Iran, and the Arabs in Saudi Arabia and the Ottoman Turks up in Turkey and in the middle is the Fertile Crescent or Mesopotamia, Syria and Iraq. Now for the last around hundred years, the West has dominated that Mesopotamian area. First Britain and France after World War 1 and the later on America came to really dominate that region.
Lyle Shelton: Just hold that thought for a moment. We’re coming up to a break. I’m talking to Elizabeth Kendal, religious liberty analyst and expert on the Christian crisis in the Middle East. We’re talking about her new book ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday’. Stick around. We’ll be back right after this.
Well I’m back with Elizabeth Kendal. We’re talking about the crisis in the Middle East and the political conflict that’s going on in what used to be known as Mesopotamia, Syria, Iraq and how Christians are caught in the middle of that and Elizabeth, before the break you were telling us how these activities, political sort of tectonic plate-shifting over the last hundred years are all coalescing now with Christians caught in the middle of this.
Elizabeth Kendal: Yes that’s right. So you’ve got the three imperial powers: Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, that have all dominated the area, region in the past but you’ve also got the two main Islamic powers, so the Sunni’s and the Shia’s and the fault line runs right up through Mesopotamia up through up through Karbala and Baghdad just as it did over a millennium ago and you’ve also got two political axis. So you’ve got the north south Turkey Arab Sunni axis, a Sunni block, Sunni axis, and you’ve got the east west Iran-led Shia crescent as it’s often known but it’s really, it’s not primarily just Shia. It’s better known as the Axis of Resistance. It’s Iran-led and Shia dominated and what used to be, if you think about the Middle East, it used to have a great big solid Sunni block going north to south. Today it has a great big Shia axis running east to west and the stakes are really high.
Lyle Shelton: So what are they fighting each other over, Elizabeth? What is this conflict between Sunni’s and Shia’s all about?
Elizabeth Kendal: Well the conflict from Mesopotamia is the who will control that heartland now that the western powers have vacated it. So they are after the oil-rich Fertile Crescent which is a melting pot of indigenous people and minorities. It’s often, it’s been referred to as the Fertile Crescent of Minorities by one analyst I read and the stakes are really high because for the Sunnis and the Shias, whoever is going to control this area is going to be demonstrating leadership in the Muslim world. At the moment, Iran and the Shias are ascendant and this impacts the whole concept of who is the leader of the Muslim world.
Lyle Shelton: So this is between Saudi Arabia and Iran jostling for leadership in the Muslim world. This is essentially what it’s about. Is that right?
Elizabeth Kendal: Well that’s part of it but it’s also about oil and gas because whoever controls, whichever axis reigns supreme, the Sunni axis or the Shia axis, that’s the way the oil and gas pipelines are going to flow and the oil and gas from the Persian Gulf is either going to go up through the Sunni axis or it’s going to go across east to west along the Shia axis and that is why Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar want regime change in Damascus. That’s what the Syrian conflict is all about.
Lyle Shelton: So that Saudi’s want to see the Assad regime deposed so that they can essentially have that control. The Iranians, what’s their game plan there?
Elizabeth Kendal: Well they’re also taking gas from the Persian Gulf and they want their gas pipeline to go from the Persian Gulf up through Iran, through Iraq and through Syria. Now Syria has been part of the Iranian axis since the 1980s and of course Iraq came into that axis after the 2003 invasion and they then democratically elected in 2005 a pro-Iran government so it’s the Shia axis now controls the oil and gas that’s going to go from the Persian Gulf to Europe.
Lyle Shelton: So Elizabeth where does ISIS fit into all this then?
Elizabeth Kendal: Well ISIS, you know, people are terrified of these Islamic groups but you know they are just proxy’s. They could not survive without state backing and what happened was with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar seeking regime change in Damascus, what they did was Turkey in particular, facilitated a massive flow across the Turkish border, which came to be known as the Jihadi Highway. They facilitated massive flows of foreign jihadi’s to Syria.
Lyle Shelton: Yes. Now this is this Turkish prime minister who’s just had a coup very, very recently.
Elizabeth Kendal: That’s right.
Lyle Shelton: He was letting all these jihadi’s flow across his border to go and become jihadists for ISIS. He’s not a good fellow, is he?
Elizabeth Kendal: No. No one has cultivated the Islamic problem in Syria as much as he has. I often say it’s Saudi Arabia, it’s the Wahabi clerics of Saudi Arabia are the mother of ISIS than Erdogan is their father. He’s the one that gave them tanks and sent them across the border and buys their smuggled oil and …
Lyle Shelton: So this coup that happened recently then was an uprising against his Islamism that he was cultivating. Would that be one way of interpreting it? Perhaps the coup leaders were perhaps on the side of good in this big struggle in the Middle East.
Elizabeth Kendal: This is a really murky one. It gave the impression early on that it was a secularist coup in the tradition of the Kemalist coups from last century but that’s not the case. There’s very solid evidence that the coup was done by a Gulenist faction within the military. So it wasn’t even a military coup. It was a faction within the military and this was part of the reason why it didn’t succeed. They didn’t even have all the military on board and the Gulenists are liberal Islamists so they believe in an Islamic government. They were very much behind Erdogan coming to power in the first place but Erdogan is a conservative Islamist so he is very pro the Muslim Brotherhood, very close to Mohammad Morsi in Egypt when he was in, very close to Hamas. So the Gulenists and Erdogan are now at war with each other.
Lyle Shelton: Very, very complicated, Elizabeth. Just as our time is coming to an end, this is a fascinating discussion and there’s a lot more I’m sure we could go into but where does this leave our Christian brothers and sisters and what should we be doing to try and help them in the midst of all this?
Elizabeth Kendal: Well just as the Armenian genocide took place under the cover of World War 1, so too this genocide today is taking place under the cover of a geo-political conflict and the Christians of the Middle East today need all the help that they can get. They need the body of Christ across all denominational lines. This is not the day for division. This is the day for unity in the body and for generosity and for becoming really actively engaged. The title of the book ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday’ makes the framework for the whole book so it’s actually a genocidal threat that means that after we, the Muslims have killed the Jews, the Saturday people, will kill the Christians, the Sunday people.
Lyle Shelton: Chilling.
Elizabeth Kendal: And that’s what’s happening but you know if you run that threat through a theology of the cross which is what I do in the last chapter then we come to see that you know we don’t have a God who sits on His throne to solve the problems of mankind. We have a God who comes and He defeated sin and death by surrendering or virtually, to sin and death and defeating it from within and then after Saturday came Sunday. We have a God who works in the midst of these crises to turn them to His own purposes in fulfilment of promise. So today is the day that the Church must be engaged in supporting the Christians of the Middle East because God is at work amongst them and He is doing amazing things in the Middle East despite all appearances.
Lyle Shelton: Amen. Well said, Elizabeth. The book is ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East’. Folks, make sure you get a copy of this. You can get a copy by going to Elizabeth’s website, elizabethkendal.com. It’s available at Koorong. It’s also available on Book Depository, elizabethkendal.com or go to your local Koorong bookstore or Book Depository. Make sure you get a copy. Elizabeth, thanks for joining us today on Voice for Values.
Elizabeth Kendal: Thanks for the opportunity, Lyle.