In the past month we received several communications relating to the alleged execution of Bishop Francois Murad and two of his assistants in Syria.
One of these emails was accompanied by a link to a video of the killings along with a request for me to watch the video, to “wake up”, and for New Zealand Christian Network to not engage further in interfaith dialogues.
“Until the mainstream Western media take up this persecution of Christians in the same way as they take up causes like Gitmo and Islamophobia” said the writer “then I will say you are wasting your time in nothing more than feel-good dreaming. Those same Muslims you would dialogue with are playing you for a fool. And any Muslims who are pure of heart who might talk with you are in no position to change anything.”
I have wrestled over whether and how to share this story. The potential to offend people is huge and that is definitely not my intention.
A report published in the British Daily Telegraph (2 July) establishes fairly well that the victims depicted in the video are almost certainly not the people they are claimed to be. There may be some truth in what the writer says (that persecution of Christians needs to be taken more seriously in Western mainstream media), but there is also an element of error that needs to be addressed (that engagement in interfaith dialogue is a waste of time or based on deception). In fact, the writer himself was party to spreading a deception even if he was unaware of it.
I watched the video. Maybe that was a mistake. I did so in the first instance because most of the emails like this that we receive are amateurish hoaxes (check out www.snopes.com) and we have successfully limited the circulation of many of them in the past by pointing this out. Regrettably, apart from the incorrect identification of the victims. and allowing for the possibility of some expert photo-editing, this one was almost certainly real. It must be said that there is no proof at this stage that the victims were even Christians.
By the time I realised this that the video was likely real I felt a duty to see it through to the end out of respect for what these people suffered and also so that my response to the writer of the email would be done with full knowledge of what the video contained.
One week on I still feel upset and traumatised, and I still feel as intense about my response as when I sent it. Part of that response is copied below (edited only to remove names and abbreviate some details).
Hello <name deleted> – Thank you for sending me this.
… let me assure you I have watched the whole 9 minutes of the video. I forced myself to do this as a gesture of respect for the people whose lives were taken. I am deeply shocked and upset by the content of the video. Even though I have used those words before they never came close to describing the feeling I have right now. The killings shown in the video are shocking and upsetting and disgusting. May God have mercy on each and every one of the people involved, especially the victims and their families, and also on every one of the offenders.
Secondly, let me also say that the horrendous violence of these people “in the name of Islam” does not describe any of the Muslims in New Zealand who I interact with, nor their understanding of Islam.
Are Muslims playing us for a fool? I honestly don’t think so. Do you seriously think that any one of them would not be as sincerely shocked and upset as I am now? – not only by the violence of this act, but also by the fact that it was done in the name of Islam? Do you think any one of them would be secretly gloating that this was done? Do you think that any one of them thinks there is any way this could be remotely justified in a proper understanding of their faith? Do you think that there are not many Muslims being killed in similar acts on a regular basis? (author’s added note – in fact, with the Telegraph reporting that the victims were almost certainly not the people claimed, there is no reason to think the victims in this case were Muslims themselves) Do you think there is not a single one of them who if they could do anything to stop this violence would not do so? Do you think that their statements to the media or to the sort of people who did this would have any effect? Does the fact that they are in no position to change anything mean that it’s OK to describe the actions of extremists as representative of their religion as a whole?Glyn Carpenter
As you can tell from this quite emotional response, the video has shocked me deeply. But it has done nothing to change my view of the Muslims I meet with regularly in interfaith dialogues (… nor the value of those dialogues).
New Zealand Christian Network
This related article appeared on the Breakpoint site a couple of days later. We are posting it because of the interesting comments it makes about the complex political and religious dynamic in Syria. Readers may also be interested to think about the writer’s call at the end of the piece (for American leaders to not engage in the Syrian conflict).