I Am Christian & Not Charlie

NunThose who have seen my Facebook page will know that I have been using the Arabic letter Nun as my profile picture. I, and others have done this to express solidarity with the suffering of Christians in Northern Iraq and Syria who have been driven from their homes and towns by Islamic State. IS members had painted this letter on the homes of Christians, representative of the word Nasara used for followers of Jesus, as a shaming symbol. In some communities houses so marked have been destroyed or requisitioned.

I recently acquired an I-am-N shirt from Voice of the Martyrs[1]. It has the Nun in red on the front and I-am-N on the back. I plan to wear it on occasions when I want to be clear that I express solidarity with the Middle Eastern Christian community who are presently on the frontline of suffering for Christ.

In these expressions I want to declare unequivocally that I am Christian. I would hope that my story, personality and character would testify to that truth alone, however there comes a time to take a more creative stand. So, many across France came together on the weekend to express their solidarity with the deceased staff of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. As many as three million are believed to have demonstrated against terrorism and violence that had come so suddenly to the streets of Paris the previous week. As with 9/11, London’s 7/7, and the Madrid train bombings of 2004, we, in the west do not expect terrorist violence to enter our own societies. We reserve our expectation for Africa, the Middle East, Russia …

But at the same time as world headlines were covering the violence in Paris, little account was being given to events in Northern Nigeria where Boko Haram overran the town of Baga, razing the homes of 10,000 to the ground, and where a ten-year-old girl self-detonated killing 19 in a marketplace in Maiduguri, the provincial capital. It is so much harder to express solidarity with the suffering of those whose stories are not spread across the world’s media.

All of God’s creation is precious. Every son of Adam and daughter of Eve are created in His image for a purpose. The ravage of sin diverts many from that purpose and it is only redemption through the work of Jesus Christ that sets us back on course. I doubt whether the staff of Charlie Hebdo were Christians. I doubt that their work is glorifying to God. The kind of cynical satire the magazine is known for is offensive to many; the cartoons are often ugly. However, in a world of free expression we value their right to produce the material they disseminate regardless of what we think of the content.

Charlie is innocuous in himself, named thus for Charlie Brown, the Peanuts comic character, who the magazine published in the days when Charles Schultz was still drawing. But I am not Charlie. I am foremost a Christian. I do not stand in defense of an insignificant Paris comic, I stand in solidarity with the Christian community around the world.

I am also not Muhammad and I don’t understand why he or his god cannot stand up for him. I am reminded of the taunting words of the prophet Elijah as he confronted the prophets of Baal as Baal failed to act in response to their prayers: Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.[2] The Christian community of the last few decades has survived and grown through many assaults from the artistic blasphemer. The Last Temptation of Christ, The Life of Brian, Piss Christ and the Da Vinci Code, to name just a few, will have caused offense to many Christians. But through all those artistic assaults I recall no incidence of public violence conducted against the offending community. The Christian community believes the words of God: It is mine to avenge; I will repay[3].

In the wake of the Paris events and under the title: Islam’s Problem with Blasphemy, Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol writes in the New York Times:

Muslim statesmen, clerics and intellectuals have added their voices to condemnations of terror by leaders around the world. But they must undertake another essential task: Address and reinterpret Islam’s traditional take on “blasphemy,” or insult to the sacred. [4]

Many Muslim newspapers condemn the cartoons that caused the original offense and the one published on the front of the latest Charlie Hebdo edition; other commentators urge France to enact laws against the insulting of religions and religious figures. While Idris Al-Driss writes in the Saudi Al-Watan newspaper: I look forward to a French law that protects people’s sanctities and beliefs from attack and ridicule [5], Akyol continues:

– Mockery of Muhammad, actual or perceived, has been at the heart of nearly all of (the) controversies over blasphemy.

– This might seem unremarkable at first, but there is something curious about it, for the Prophet Muhammad is not the only sacred figure in Islam. The Quran praises other prophets — such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus — and even tells Muslims to “make no distinction” between these messengers of God. Yet for some reason, Islamist extremists seem to obsess only about the Prophet Muhammad.

– Even more curiously, mockery of God — what one would expect to see as the most outrageous blasphemy — seems to have escaped their attention as well. Satirical magazines such as Charlie Hebdo have run cartoons ridiculing God (in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim contexts), but they were targeted with violence only when they ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad.[6]

Charlie is just a cartoon character. Let Muhammad stand up for himself. As for me, I’ll stand in peaceful prayer and action for the Christians suffering at the hands of misguided Muslims.

[1] https://secure.persecution.com/p-5892-i-am-n-long-sleeve-t-shirt-s.aspx – accessed January 14, 2015

[2] 1 Kings 18:27

[3] Romans 12:19

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/opinion/islams-problem-with-blasphemy.html?_r=0 – accessed January 14, 2015

[5] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30812155 – accessed January 14, 2015

[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/opinion/islams-problem-with-blasphemy.html?_r=0

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