Navigating the new Middle East

In my earlier blogs relating to this subject, besides reflecting on some of the situations we are now seeing in the Middle East, e.g. around Israel and Iraq, and almost all the countries in the region, and the growing influence of ISIS, I also considered the subject of Christian Persecution, pointing out that while there are many Middle East countries where Christians are persecuted, this was also a worldwide phenomena and, while often perpetrated by Islamists, it was not exclusively so (consider what is happening in North Korea and China, for example), and while of all the religious groups Christians bear the brunt of persecution, others have suffered too.

I feel compelled to return to the subject of the Middle East because of the significance of what is occurring and regret many do not see it this way. Developments are taking place thick and fast. I write this blog mindful that in the six months since I wrote my persecution blog, attacks on Christians have increased, I would say significantly, and these look set to increase further. While Christians in the west might take comfort they are not subject to the worse examples of these attacks, which often results in death, there are signs of persecution here too, albeit more subtle, and this might escalate. As for the Middle East, there are new things being seen, that are worth commenting on, every day. While the connection with persecution may be tenuous, I have no doubt that the lack of stability and the rise in radical Islam we are seeing are among the causal factors.

Two things particularly influenced me to write again on these subjects. The first was a recent edition of Time magazine, which had on its cover the intriguing title: “Navigating the new Middle East” (more of which later). The second was an online video, which also had an intriguing title: “Is Christian Persecution Reaching Biblical Proportions? Franklin Graham speaks out”. Franklin Graham is the son of the famous American evangelist, Billy Graham and, while he shares his father’s passion to preach the gospel, he seems more prepared than his father to enter into controversial areas, such as criticizing Islam, being seemingly pro-Israel and critical of the Obama administration for being too anti-Israel and too pro-Islam.

The thrust of the video was the strong case it presented that persecution against Christians was on the increase and in areas one might not expect. How many in the West would have foreseen the attack on a Kenyan university led by Islamists and focusing on Christians, in which 150 persons were killed? And this is one of many such incidents in various African countries in recent months. Personally, I am finding the postings of a US based organization, International Christian Concern, to be helpful in informing me on what is happening (and it does so on a daily basis) and if nothing else calling on God in prayer, for the Bible teaches that if my brothers, wherever they happen to be, suffer so must I, so I cannot remain passive on what is happening. It also elevates the ongoing “are we in the last days” discussion? The Bible teaches we are but does not say when Christ is returning to the earth to set things right. It also suggests that, and history bears witness to this, that persecution can lead to a purification of the church, beset as it is by many deceptions and a spirit of lukewarmness. Another concern is this has hardly been picked up by the media and has too often been played down by our political leaders, both ignoring the persecutions and other forms of oppression taking place and its lack of moral leadership generally, but specifically when it comes to what is happening in the Middle East, which also spurs me to write as I do.

One example is something that was raised as I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 Today program around the time I was to post this article. Yet again, we learn of another tragedy at sea involving desperate asylum seekers fleeing in woefully inadequate and overcrowded boats, from Libya to Italy, and in this case many perishing at sea. In earlier posts, I have questioned the morality of our government when it comes to accepting or at least assisting fleeing asylum seekers, and not doing enough to help in search and rescue operations on the basis this might encourage people to undertake these perilous journeys. I have also reflected on the changing face of Libya as a result of the “Arab Spring” and other recent happenings as well as the refugee crisis as a result of the actions of militant Islamists and the conflicts inside Syria, although many of those fleeing are from sub-Saharan African, adding yet a further dimension. I wonder in the debate about overseas aid whether some of the money not being used or given where the need is less pressing or to dubious recipients, this can be spent of finding practical solutions or at least helping the victims. I would be interested in what politicians have to say on these and other “Middle East” matters ahead of the elections, which to date is very little.

Regarding the Time article, it was informative, as it usually is, yet raised more questions than it answered. There have been happenings in the Middle East I have touched on in earlier blogs, and many I haven’t, and it is still a matter of coming to grips with what is happening. Few will be aware of the recent upheavals in Yemen, for example, but they are real, significant, and happening now, as one excellent report points out. Another not realized aspect is the various power blocks and conflicts, not just between the US and Russia and countries vying for influence, but among the different Middle East countries, for example between Saudi Arabia (traditionally courted by the West despite its religious oppression) and Iran. There are continuing advances made by radical groups, like ISIS, causing so much havoc, especially toward Christians. The Obama led administration is courting Iran in a way not seen since the ayatollahs took over control from the Shah in 1979, much to Israel’s consternation because of the nuclear and anti-Zionist element. It all illustrates the changing Middle East road map.

I have much to read up and digest (it really is a matter of the more I know, the more I realize that I don’t know), but it is important to persist and I would encourage others who care about God’s world to do so too, not least to be prepared when it comes to the Israel / Palestinian debate, the advances made by Islam, understanding Bible prophecy and responding accordingly, how to assess the different factions that constitute the Middle East road map, how to engage with our political leaders and how we pray for and support those who suffer. There is no simple solution. It is unlikely given the complexities and gaps in knowledge that we can gain a complete picture of what is happening, but at least we can fulfill the biblical mandate upon Christian believers to watch and pray, and to make our political leaders accountable for their actions, which sadly from where I stand is inept and, questionably, politically motivated.

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