Back in my student days, one of my fellow student introduced me to the USA based “Time” magazine. Spurred on by various incentives, I have subscribed to it ever since, although I have to confess that more often than not I don’t get to read much of each new edition that comes through my door each week. My rationale for continuing is that while there may be a slightly liberal bias, I find the reporting on the whole fair and succinct and deals with matters of international importance that don’t get covered by the regular British media.
Having just completed reading one of its latest featured stories: “Iraq’s Eternal War – the sudden military victories of a Sunni militant group threaten to touch off a maelstrom in the Middle East”, I was left not just having been suitably enlightened but shell shocked also. In the interest of brevity, I will not relate all that I gleaned from this article, which was significant, but focus on relating this new learning with various things going on around me, in my own local situation, yet having significant global implications.
I needed to read the article three times to take in the salient points – one being trying to understand the difference between Sunni and Shi’itee Muslims, not just theologically but also relating to the history and geography of the Middle East, e.g. which countries are dominated by which branch of Islam, how this came about and what are the implications. While my local Muslim friends may be correct when they say don’t read too much into the differences between these two groups, since both groups are Muslims and comprise many sincerely seeking to follow the teachings of the Koran, the reality is there are differences and these do relate to some of the present conflicts, which is as much to do with power as theology.
The article begins: “As the brutal fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) rampaged through northern Iraq in mid-June…” It traces the rise of ISIS with its savagely violent and radical agenda and how it relates to the various conflicting power centres in the Middle East. It has already taken over a significant chunk of Iraq and as a group continues to grow in power and influence. It begs such questions: what next and how should western powers respond? Having invested significant store in terms of money, lives and resources toppling the Saddam regime, it looks as if the region might end up with something maybe a lot worse, all begging the question of the wisdom of past US/UK actions?
So let me declare my interest, which are several. Twice in the past week different Christian groups have pointed to the oppression of some of the Christians living in the region, whose past presence has been significant, indeed dominant in pre-Islam days, and still is, and this is partly as a consequence of the rise of groups like ISIS. If I take my faith seriously, I cannot ignore these things although, other than entreating Almighty God through prayer, I’m not quite sure what I can do. As a citizen of this country, with limited confidence in the powers that be to sufficiently understand what is going on and even less to make the appropriate responses, I feel I need to add my weight in suggesting / making what could and should be done.
Mindful also that Islam is on a steep rise in the UK, both numerically and in terms of influence, evidenced in the past few weeks by stories of state schools being taken over by supporters of Islam in order to propagate an “Islamist” agenda, I can’t help but want to relate these things to what is happening on the International stage. I know a number of local Muslims and regard some of them as friends. I recognize they are peace loving people, community minded and good citizens, a far cry from the radical extremist stereotype that many fear. While I do not doubt that may also be generally true, what cannot be ignored is that it is these less desirable elements that tend to hold sway in many Muslim lands and this alone should make us concerned and watchful.
Then there is the subjects that won’t go away of Israel and instability in the Middle East, particularly, and despite what took place in the recent “Arab Spring”. The radical extreme of Islam appears to be in the ascendancy, and this should raise concerns over Israel’s security and how Israel and the rest of the world is to respond. In the past week, one of my anti-Zionist Facebook friends challenged me as to how I should respond to the oppression of Palestinian narrative argued in videos like this. I agree this is a complex issue, more connected to questions of social justice than who the land belongs to, but also it cannot be divorced from the issues raised in the Time magazine article, as much as we might wish it were.
One of my heroes of the faith, Billy Graham, once urged Christians not only to study the Bible but also to read the newspaper, as the world events that are taking place in these last days are often related to what the Bible says will happen. I am also reminded of and inspired by “the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12v32a). For “the children of Issachar”, read me and you if you are up for the challenge and, as for “Israel”, read the church or this nation. We are called to watch and pray and also, and may God help us in this, to respond to these incredible events quickly unfolding before our very eyes, in an appropriate manner.