Syrian priest told harrowing tales of life under brutal IS regime

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 November, 2015, 5:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 November, 2015, 5:58pm

On November 24, I attended St John’s Cathedral to attend a lecture, “Despair and Hope: Christians in Syria and the Middle East”, by the Reverend Nadim Nassar, a Syrian priest living in London but with close and regular contact with Christians in Syria. He was a very powerful speaker who had so much to tell us.

He talked of the horrors of the new “caliphate”, describing things so appalling and of such barbarity that there were many close to tears – beheadings, people being buried alive, young girls some as young as eight being raped, looting and destruction of ancient sites, plus robbery and confiscation of property and money from those unable to flee. Then there are the mass killings of Christians, Yazidis, Shiites and Jews.

He said savagery had not been inflicted on the region since the Mongol invasions of the mid-13th century.

I have noted that 1258 marked the end of the “Islamic golden age”, when Baghdad was sacked and the Abbasid Caliphate came to an end. Gone was the cry from the religious intellectuals, “that the ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr”.

The Muslim world was a cauldron of culture and knowledge and the centre for science, philosophy, medicine and education. In the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, Muslims, Jews and Christians sought to translate works of world knowledge.

The Mongols are back in the form of Islamic State (IS). Their earlier forebears seem eventually to have become Muslims and went away to form empires elsewhere.

The key question in all of our minds at the meeting was what can the world do to rid us of this terrible threat. Mr Nassar was against the idea of bombing them into submission and said it did more harm than good affecting the innocent and the guilty. My mind went back to Coventry and London during the Blitz (German bombing campaign), when, despite the deaths and terrible damage, the resolve to defeat Hitler was not weakened. It got people more angry. My three great-aunts lived in east London throughout the bombing and their stories to me showed there was no defeatism in the people.

Mr Nassar said the only answer was a political one.

My mind went back to the IRA and their barbarism and murders. The British government did negotiate with them, and sectarian warfare ended with the Good Friday Agreement.

It seems, as a result, many prisoners were freed and murderers escaped punishment. Could there be such an agreement with IS? But how do you negotiate with people who are only obeying Allah which the reverend told us is the same word used by Christians in the Middle East for God?

David Tolliday-Wright, Discovery Bay