Remember when #WeAreN went viral in 2014? We changed our profile pictures to ن and our hearts went out to Iraqi Christians and we gave to emergency appeals.
What we probably didn’t register was that ISIS was also using an ‘R’ to label Shiite houses. ISIS was also targeting Turkmen, Yazidi and Shabak communities. Our care and concern seemingly did not extend to them. The only emergency appeals I heard about were those directing funds to Christians.
Will it be the same story again with the Sri Lanka bombings?
Already we are calling it persecution of Christians. ISIS has now claimed responsibility, and as in Iraq it is clear that Christians have been targeted. Yet only 3 of the 8 blasts were at churches – other blasts were at high-end hotels – so it is equally clear that local context is being overlooked. This cannot be a specifically anti-Christian ‘religious violence’.
Mario Arulthas at Al Jazeera provides one snapshot of the Sri Lankan context. He notes, “To see [the bombings] in the vein of an escalation of existing violence against the Christian community in Sri Lanka would be a mistake. These attacks are likely a hitherto unseen dimension to tensions, a new front of violence in Sri Lanka.”
Prashanth Colombage, a Sri Lankan pastor in Australia, identifies the political dimension and comments, “This is much more than just targeting Christians… It’s about power and who wants it and who you can leverage against another group.”
There is an overlap here with Tanzania. While there have been occasional attacks on Tanzanian pastors and churches over the years, the Christian persecution narrative has not created greater understanding of the situation. Unfortunately, persecution watchdog organisations tend to generate more heat than light about this, even when they have local contacts.
The Sri Lanka bombings speak to the ubiquity of Christianity worldwide, as well as the negative identification that many draw between Christianity and the West (ISIS are hardly the only ones to do so). I wonder what we could do to clear that up — to disentangle ourselves from the Washington world system.
Pointing to persecution may increase our solidarity with Christians elsewhere in the world, but if the pattern of recent years is anything to go by, it is a one-dimensional solidarity which stunts our ability to recognise difference and complexity. It heightens our focus on our own tribe to the exclusion of others. It goes hand in hand with our concern for religious freedom in Australia, which frequently seems to be code for Christian freedom.
Our growing awareness of our global Christian family is a great thing, but our love cannot stop there. It is time to take a stand for the freedom of communities other than our own. It is that kind of solidarity – a Good Samaritan mindset that reaches across boundaries – which reduces alienation and radicalisation.
A world in which Christians stand up for Muslims – just as Iraqi Muslims said #WeAreN – is a world in which ISIS is less likely to get traction.
Is that a world that we long for?
Categories: Written by Arthur
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.