Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director
Middle Eastern Christians who have lived in Sweden for decades are being threatened by Islamic State (IS). The Arabic letter “noon” (equivalent to N) has been painted on the walls of two shops owned by Assyrian Christians in Gothenburg. The bakery and next door pizzeria were also painted with the IS logo and messages in Swedish saying “The Caliphate is here” and “Convert or die”.
The same “noon” letter – standing for Nisrani (the Arabic for “Nazarene” i.e. Christian) – was painted by IS militants on homes in Mosul in July 2014 to mark them for attack or for seizing. The city’s Christian inhabitants were threatened with death unless they converted to Islam.
The Christian baker’s family had fled from Turkey to Sweden back in the 1970s. He spoke not only of his sudden chill of fear in reaction to the graffiti messages, but also of how he was reminded of the stories he had been told as a child. A community leader of the Assyrian Christians in Gothenburg said likewise, “The persecution of the past feels near.”
Both men were undoubtedly thinking of the Armenian and Assyrian Genocide, which peaked a hundred years ago in 1915. In this genocide – still unacknowledged by Turkey – an estimated 3.5 million Christians of the Ottoman Empire died over a period of some three decades. Some converted to Islam to save their lives. The genocide was triggered when Christians, living as a second-class minority under Ottoman Islamic rule, sought better conditions for themselves. Using the same logic, IS now says that the Christians of Syria and Iraq have forfeited their right to protection by the Muslim majority because they sought equality with Muslims. Only if non-Muslims accept the inferior, subjugated status of dhimmi are they allowed to live and keep their faith. This is the teaching of early Islam, which radical Muslims embrace and practise.
So if Middle Eastern Christians are at risk from IS in parts of Sweden, how much more are they at risk in Iraq and Syria. They need our help now. Stable, safe countries must offer them sanctuary by providing visas – and by making sure they are truly safe when living within their borders. Please help Barnabas Fund’s Operation Safe Havens.