“We do not tend to see Christians as victims”
Journalist Pilar Rahola publishes a book in which she collects her five-year work on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. “It was necessary to tell the world that there are people who die, not because of a random bullet, but because they are Christians”.
Protestante Digital · BARCELONA · 13 APRIL 2018 · 18:54 CET
Journalist and politician Pilar Rahola (Barcelona, 1958) has just published the book S.O.S. Christians.
Spanish news website Protestant Digital has spoken with her about the attacks against Iraqi Christian communities, which she considers a “genocide”; and the situation of Christianity in the West, where, she believes, Christians are despised.
According to Rahola, who defines herself as “a daughter of the Enlightenment” and alien to any belief, “everything that is politically correct and related to progressiveness, is quite Christianphobic”.
She is in favor of and demands the participation of Christians in public life. “What if it turns out that faith is also a way to see the world?”, she wonders.
Question. Why a book on persecuted Christians?
Answer. Now that we are on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, we must remember his idea that every act of injustice is an injustice against the world and not against blacks, homosexuals or women.
As a result of my interest in the rights of women, I began to be concerned (and therefore to research) the jihadist phenomenon and radical Islam. As a feminist who defends the women's rights in my country, I become aware of the situation of women in Islam. And from that point on, I began to discover more about radical Islam, jihadism, and the issue of sharia, which were not so well known here twenty years ago.
Especially during the last fifteen years of study and concern for the phenomenon of Islam, I have found a collateral phenomenon that is growing more and more: the systematic destruction of ancient Christian communities, which have 2,000 years of history and have survived Mongol or Turkish invasions, but have begun to disappear in the 21st century.
I think that is deeply connected to the growth of radical Islam. As the totalitarian Islam grows, the Christian presence decreases.
Then, I began to have a lot of information, which I found while I was studying. I started to feel great empathy for what it means to be a Syrian Christian girl, or a Syro-Malabar in India, or a Coptic in Egypt. Or being a Filipino Catholic in Saudi Arabia, which is not easy either.
I started to keep the information I had in a folder called "Christian", to see where it was going. And five years ago, I decided thate the issue was so important and deserved a speaker, which it did not had until then, that I had to stop the work I was doing to make a book about it.
Just as the concern for radical Islamism came to me from the issue of women, the concern for the persecuted Christians also came through the same path. It is true that, once I had delved into it, I discovered that the phenomenon goes much further.
This is how the book was born, from that empathy for causes that are not yours, but you end up making yours. They are causes of the whole humanity.
The fundamental right of belief is being violated in the most brutal way. And I am one of those who believe, like Martin Niemöller, that totalitarians hate us all.
Q. How do you make a book like that?
A. I've been searching, talking and reading for five years. I do not know if it is a research project but, at least, it is a great documentation work.
The sources are diverse. An important part of the content comes from conversations. The other part has been the readings, but it has also been relevant to go to the ground.
Most of the readings come from the Anglo-Saxon world because it is there, and fundamentally among the Protestants, where there is a big concern about the subject.
Catholicism cares less about all this and it does not have organisations that monitor and do somethig about it, they are just starting. It is true that Benedict XVI and Francis have raised their voices and have shown concern, but there is not a network of organisations that work on the ground, helping them to denounce the issue or saving lives.
This is a fundamentally Protestant phenomenon. For example, the International Commission on Religious Freedom of the United States (USCIRF) publishes brilliant reports about the status of freedom of belief in the world every year.
In fact, I pay tribute to Andrea Riccardi, who published a book about martyrs in the 20th century.
It seemed to me that, somehow, I was also humbly denouncing that there is a kind of death that does not exist. And when you have been killed and then you are not rememered, you have been killed twice.
It was, therefore, necessary to tell the world that there are people who die, not because they were in the worst place at the worst moment, not because of a random bullet, but because they were Christians.
When this happens in communities of millions of people, when we are talking about 200 million people who see their freedom of belief totally or partially altered, and who are also in danger of social death, of not being able to exercise religion, or of physical death, how come we are not denouncing it?
Q. Of the cases analysed, are there any that worry you more?
A. The apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, told me that Christianity is changing and gave me the example of the Holy Land.
When I asked him about the future of the Christians in Palestine, he told me that there is not future, they will disappear. He told me that where Christianity was born, in Bethlehem, there will be no Christians, just stones and memories.
Saudi Arabia is also a very hard country, where you cannot even be buried if you are a Christian. It is the only country in the world where there are not churches, although there are one million Catholic Filipinos living there.
Christians are leaving all those places where they are being stalked. The bimillenary life of the Chaldeans and Assyrians in Iraq has disappeared completely: they have gone to Sweden, Jordan or South America, reinventing themselves.
We do not lose the Christian faith, but we do lose its cultural richness of 2,000 years.
The worst country is Iraq. The fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people who will not be able to return to their land, or who have died along the way, is a tragedy that should scare us a lot.
As the Islamist phenomenon grows, the tranquility of Christians will decrease. There are also other places which are not Islamic, such as India or North Korea, but are also among the first ones in Christian persecution.
And something that I have not dealt with in the book, but it is necessary, is the phenomenon of the Christian communities in the areas where there are drug traffickers. They represent a first line of resistance.
Q. Are you agnostic?
A. I am not a believer because I am a daughter of the Enlightenment. I believe in doubt, I believe in reason as the supreme concept of analysis of reality and I find the idea of faith totally alienating, although I would be enormously comfortable having it.
I would not mind being a believer. But you cannot cheat, if you are not a believer, you are not.
You cannot self-impose it if you look at reality and have a nihilistic point of view, believing that we will not perpetuate ourselves or that there is not a superior being. I would say that I prefer to keep doubts where I have them instead of having beliefs.
But I have come to two conclusions.The first is that my rationalism does not allow me to be a believer, but my ethics obliges me to respect believers. The second is that reason does not explain everything. What if it turns out that faith can also explain the world?
The great phenomenon of the French Revolution and encyclopaedism, which changes the paradigm of Europe and the world, is that reason explains everything and that faith is an emotional impulse that everyone has at home.
But now we know that reason does not explain everything. In fact, the world is shit and there are not many solutions. What if it turns out that faith is also a way to look at the world? Why don't we put reason and faih together, instead of fighting one against the other? Believers help me to explain the world.
When you meet a person who, because he believes in the message of Jesus and because he is part of a religious community, is risking his life in a situation of extreme poverty, discrimination and fierce laws, and keeps his faith, that has a light and a social energy that you value, even if you are not a believer.
Therefore, I think that we have been wrong since the Enlightenment, expelling the faith and the believers from the explanation of the world.
Q. But you focus on a certain belief.
A. The book is not a book of religious significance because I could not do such a thing. It is a journalistic, documentation book that denounces that a huge population of millions of people are being stalked because they have a concrete belief.
Without any doubt, the most demonized group in the world are the Jews. It is already a historical stigma. It is evident that, right now, being Jewish in many parts of the world is simply impossible. To be fair, we would have to say that Jews are in a worse situation than Christians to keep their religion in some countries.
But demographically speaking, it is not comparable at all. In number of people suffering a stalking at a legal, social and physical level, the Christians are the most persecuted in the world.
A jihadist told a Chaldean chaplain kidnapped in Mosul, that they will put an end to the Sunday as they did with the Sabbath. That means they want to put and end to Christians, it is the goal of both violent jihadism and Islam, through regular laws, blasphemy laws and theocratic dictatorships.
In dictatorships, such as North Korea, Christians suffer a permanent stalking. Where there are intolerant laws, as in Pakistan, it is a legal stalking. Where Christianphobia is growing, as in India or Afghanistan, there is a social stalking. And in jihadist places, there is death.
These are the four levels of persecution that millions of people suffer. It was important to me to tell the world that the West believes that Christians are part of the ruling elites of power, and that they have been executioners and not victims throughtout history. Therefore, we do not tend to see Christians as potential victims. We do not accept that socially, nor we talk about it. What I do with this book is to say that the Christian is a victim today.
We are talking about old and poor communities, without power, many of them living in the peripheries of cities, permanently stalked.
Q. Why do you think the West rejects that reality?
A. The West looks at the Christian martyrs as something alien. On the one hand, in the Western subconscious, the Christian is not a victim because historically he has been an executioner. This is very ingrained.
In right-wing sensibilities, it is a too exotic and ignored world, and they do not identify with it either. The Copts are stranges, and who are the Assyrians?
Lefty people demonise Christians, because they cannot be victims when they are guilty. Therefore, they are ignored and silenced victims for all of them. That's why we have to shed light.
We, Westerners who live in the first world and defend the human rights, should be concerned because in schools in many areas of the Upper Nile, acid is dumped in the Coptic crosses that girls have tattooed.
Or because the Chaldean community of Iraq, which represented about a million and a half people in the last census of Saddam Hussein and who come from St. Thomas in the first century, has been reduced to one seventh of what it was.
These are our problems. We are coparticipants, ignorant, silent and indifferent to the killing of culture, faith and people. We can lose with absolute indifference the cultural heritage that for 2,000 years has been intact.
Q. You speak of a triangle of Christianophobia formed by martyrdom, repression and contempt. The latter, you say, occurs specifically in some discourses within democratic systems.
A. The book does not talk of Christians in the West because that should be another book. You say to a person here that being a Christian is a danger and they cannot imagine it.
It was very important to tell the Western world, in which religious faith is lived in a very calm way, that living your faith can also be very dramatic and we had decided not to see it. Therefore, this book does not deal with the religious belief, in this case Christian, in the West because it was not the issue.
I did not want to mix the drama of the Chaldeans with the problems that a Christian can have here because that could have been very frivolous. Even so, I have included a chapter called “Subtle Christianophobia” where I point out my concerns because the politically correct has become a form of censorship.
The politically correct has been very good to put on the table issues of discrimination and intolerance, to tell society that being racist, homophobic or misogynist is not cool. This is good, but it has been established in such a way in society that it has also begun to be a way of censorship of thought. And I detect that everything politically correct is quite Christianphobic.
Q. So is Christianity persecuted in the West too?
A. No. I wrote this chapter because a friend explained to me that she hides the cross she wears because it does not look good.
That worries me, because I think it would be very positive for society, if those who believe in God show it publicly, since those who have made this process of spiritual introspection are very bright and provide ideas of empathy with the neighbor, of concern for public service.
But if we speak of persecution in the West, we would banalize the seriousness of the word. The persecution is suffered in Iraq or in Somalia. Here, there is contempt.