Religion, Security

In Defence of Christians

On July 26th, jihadists stormed into a church in Normandy and slit the throat of Father Jacques Hamel, an 86-year-old priest who had been giving mass inside. This came at the end of a month in which dozens had been slaughtered in attacks on France and Germany but still shocked Europeans, who began to post #JeSuisPretre — “I am a priest” — on Twitter. This was an awful attack, but it was predictable.

Jihadists hate our freedoms, says common wisdom. They do, of course, but they also hate our traditions. Militant Islamists harbour an age-old resentment towards Christianity, and express it through violence and oppression. Across the Middle East and Asia, Christians have died in their hundreds. In Iraq, the Christian population has plummeted after such attacks as the 2013 Christmas bombing, where 38 men, women and children were killed. In Pakistan, this year, 70 people died when jihadists attacked Christians on Easter. In Lebanon, just last month, a Christian village was hit by multiple suicide bombings that killed five people. Along with Ahmadis, Christians in Muslim majority nations are the most persecuted minorities in the world.

The killing of Fr Hamel is just the beginning of the violence jihadists hope to inflict on Christians of our continent, reflecting the long-held Islamist ambition to conquer “Rome”, which represents, for them, Christian Europe, their most prominent political and philosophical opponent for millenia. Hand-wringing liberals might locate the source of this resentment in the Crusades, or possibly the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but for the true believing jihadist it is as much about the embarrassing defeats of Islamic invaders of Europe at the Battle of Toulouse, or the Battle of Vienna, and righting the wrong that was the failure of their conquests.

This is not mere speculation. In April, Italian authorities arrested six men and women suspected of planning, under ISIS orders, attacks on the Vatican. In his essay What ISIS Really Wants, Graham Wood quoted ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani as saying, “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women”. This warning was announced elsewhere by the Hamas cleric Yunis Al-Astal, who said that the “capital of the Catholics” would be “an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas”. Given the virulence of this hatred towards Christianity, and the extent of the suffering that it has wrought, the Catholic and Protestant churches have been strangely passive. The week before the killing of Fr Hamel, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had a friendly meeting with a Pakistani cleric who notoriously glorified the assassination of a liberal politician by Islamists in his own country. How sad it is to extend a hand of friendship to one who would not flinch from severing your own.

Pope Francis, meanwhile, reacted to Fr Hamel’s death with the cliche that “every religion wants peace“. This is the sort of bromide that placates those who require it least; an exercise in wishful thinking dressed up as empathic wisdom. Advocates of jihad would disagree with the statement, and if Pope Francis wants Catholics to be safe from them he should take their apocalyptic interpretations seriously.

Such an ineffectual response from Christian authorities makes it all the more important that even we nonbelievers stand with our religious friends and allies against aggression. This is not merely as Christians are our compatriots — and, of course, fellow members of the human race — but because we are cultural Christians: steeped in the civilisation that produced the Notre Dame, Salisbury Cathedral, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, Bach’s Passions, Donne’s Holy Sonnets and Eliot’s Four Quartets. An attack on Christians is an attack on our heritage. It is an attack against us. It is an outrage.

We should not, of course, affirm the Manichean fantasies of jihadists who imagine a momentous encounter between the forces of Rome and the armies of the Caliphate. The world is not split so evenly or so aggressively. Against such creed-crazed psychopaths stand Christians, atheists, agnostics, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and, indeed, Muslims who dissent from their warlike interpretations of their faith. Nonetheless, we should oppose these anti-Christian outrages, not merely by expressing our support for the Christians among us but by rejoicing in the glories of Christian civilisation that such fanatical philistines, with their hatred of music, art and all things beautiful, deplore.

When the murderers of Fr Hamel invaded his church they were bringing their cruel and arid ideology into the kind of humble, cultured place we should be inspired to defend. It was a nonbeliever, Philip Larkin, who wrote after visiting a church that:

…someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.


Ben Sixsmith (@bdsixsmith) is an English writer living in Poland. Visit his website here.


  1. Wendall says

    I liked the reference to music, art, culture. This is something we forget about when we bash our own religious traditions — but where would we be culturally without our Christian heritage?

  2. Irene Macintosh says

    I agree. The targeting of a church and priest is brutally symbolic. I don’t understand why so many westerners are so unwilling to acknowledge the part the terrorists religion figures in the terrible things they do. If they say they are inspired by Islam (even if it may be an interpretation they have) then yes, that is their inspiration. If the perpetrator(s) claim Islamic State inspires them, then it does. It also is an unfortunate fact that the numbers of Christians in all M.E. Muslim countries have fallen drastically in recent decades; the culture is not tolerant to other religions now, even if once some countries were reasonably inclined. Western culture is wonderfully tolerant and that is what the Islamist extreme followers loathe.

  3. Scott Draper says

    “oppose these anti-Christian outrages”

    Ah, no. We should oppose violence against the innocent, period. The fact that it’s “anti-Christian” is irrelevant.

    • We should indeed oppose violence against the innocent, whoever they may be, but it would be foolish not to draw distinctions if the perpetrators are drawing them.

      • Scott Draper says

        Really? Why?

        Looks to me that you still identify as a Christian, even if you’re not religious, and think that Christianity deserves special protection. If anything, fellow adherents to superstition are slightly less innocent than secular targets.

        • If anything, fellow adherents to superstition are slightly less innocent than secular targets.

          That is so disgraceful it doesn’t merit a response.

        • Richard L. Kent says

          Mr. Draper, Seems to me you’re a cheerleader for all the blood covered leftist killers of Christians that history has shat upon us these last 100 years. Islam is nothing compared to Marxism and its bastard grandbabies in terms of violence against the will of God since 1917. You will be abandoned by the people, political dust in the wind in a hundred years, and you are terrified of it. Good.

          Christ is risen, and there is nothing that you can do to change it.

  4. Bitfu says

    Has there ever been an Islamic Day of Rage over ISIS? I’ve seen ‘Days of Rage’ over cartoons (of course), over a quote by Pope Benedict on Islam…I’ve seen angry protests over burkas…I’ve seen passionate protests over claims of generalized frustration…

    But I have yet to see a Day of Rage over ISIS.

    All along, we’re told that ISIS is not really Islam. We’re told ISIS warps and distorts Islam, and is not a representation of true Muslims.

    OK, fine. ISIS is filled with a bunch of Islam-pretenders who don’t truly respect this religion

    But if this is true, why do disrespectful non-Muslims that draw silly cartoons anger the Islamic community more than disrespectful non-Muslims who march 21 innocent Coptic Christians out on the beach and behead them?

    I realize those cartoons were disrespectful. But these ISIS guys are committing heinous crimes in the name of Muhammad, and therefore ruining his good name. Talk about disrespect! But this type of disrespect: chopping off heads, burning people alive, trading in sexual slavery..all in the name of Muhammad…doesn’t seem to bother Muslims as much as stupid cartoons and burka-protocol.

  5. Jon says

    For every Christian killed or injured by ISIS, there are hundreds or thousands of Muslims. Local domination is their primary goal, and attacks in the West, insofar as they are co-ordinated or directed by ISIS and not merely random rampages by individuals, are designed merely to frighten western governments into non-interference. I’m sure many ISIS thugs hate Christians; but that’s because they hate everybody who is not an ISIS thug. As an active atheist, I am in at least as much danger from ISIS as an active Christian.

    Drawing aside your own in-group for special victimhood is divisive and entirely unjustified.

    • As an active atheist, I am in at least as much danger from ISIS as an active Christian.

      ISIS-affiliated or ISIS-inspired terrorists have carried out multiple acts of mass murder in Europe and America. Where are their Christian equivalents?

      • Jon says

        You seem to have misunderstood me. I am saying that active atheists and Christians — and Buddhists and Sikhs and every other shade of belief in gods — are all equally at risk from Muslim extremism. But those most at risk — and working, paying and sacrificing the most to deal with it — are Muslims themselves.

        Christians are simply not the Special Snowflakes they think they are.

      • T. Mannis says

        The documentary “The Disappeared” tells the story of Roman Catholic terrorists, among them priests, who operated in Northern Ireland not that long ago. In some cases they tortured informants, then called for a priest to say last rites. Does this tell us something about the inherent brutality of the Roman Catholic faith, or that at specific moments almost every religion has become wed to an ideology in such a potent way as to justify violence. A quick glance at the web will find responses from some Christians in the West justifying capital punishment, the death of civilians in war, even torture. One can find members of the Christian Identity movement who are utter bigots. Does this tell us anything about the inherent violence of the Christian faith, after all Jesus said, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”Luke 22:36. That one sentence can be found in any number of places where a Christian would like to justify a recourse to violence. It erupts in history time and time again. How can we forget?

        • Unlike these terrorists drawing on the concept of “offensive jihad”, which, even if it has generally been interpreted without such lucidly obscene atrocities as those of ISIS, is a theological construct with a long pedigree in Islamic thought, those republican thugs had limited and superficial religious pretensions.

  6. Ardy says

    Totally agree and the silence from the western media and politicians is deafening!

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  8. Many of us understand and acknowledge the history of some Christian aggression against followers of Islam. We will never understand the killing of innocent people nor the public display of decapitation by an extreme group claiming their religious beliefs as a justification. This acknowledgement does not stop it. Muslims coming of age in non-Muslim countries accept the rhetoric of these extremists and proceed to join them. I appreciate your concern and clarification. Whether we are believers in religion or not our response can never be as cruel as theirs. My question is what do we do, all of us, to stop it?

  9. A critic observed that by “dissent from” fair – minded critics could assume that I meant “the official or dominant position” rather than, as I meant, “an established body of opinion”. I should have phrased it better to avoid such justified misreading.

  10. Gabor Arato says

    Yes we definitely should.condemn these attacks on Christians by muslim fanatics. And lets hope that in return, when the next person that has to go into hiding for writing literature, and when the next cartoonist will be slaughtered by them, the Catholic church will change its wishy-washy apologist attitude, will stand up for our right to blaspheme and and defend freedom of speech as the cornerstone of European civilisation, instead of regurgitating nonsenses, such as “I would be pissed off too if someone said something bad about my mother” coming from this clown of a pope. I am not too optimistic.

  11. Nicolas Man says

    Dear Ben, you demonstration propose, in a way, the idea we are facing a war of religions between muslims extremists and christians. Few facts seem to oppose to this:

    first, considering the only religious aspects: attacks today are, mainly, unilaterals, and we do not see any kind of response from Christians. In the same time, in Europe, Jews had been targeted as Jews before and more oftenly by djihadists than christians as Christians. And, as you know, the biggest part of the attacks were here against non reliogious targets: bars, concert hall, airports, policemen, journalists, streets promeneurs etc. Without any discrimation of age, origins, colors, religions or nationality. In an open society as we have in France, it result that victims were from differents countries and religions, including many muslims.

    You may oppose that it’s a civilisation war. But, if we watch outside of western area, we can see, as someone wrote below, that djihadists murder much more Muslims people in their own lands than Christians and affiliates in the all world. They kill Muslims people in terror attacks, war actions or by applying their terrible charria laws in the territories they control.
    Djihadists kill sunnite or chiite Muslims, but also prosecute and kill Yesidis, which are not Christians nor Muslims or Jews, they fight Kurds in Syria and Irack, differents clans or tribes in Afganistan or Pakistan because of their ethnical origins.

    In fact, they hate every one who not believe in their own vision and ideology. It is a religious way of thinking, but much more a dictatorship.
    Muslim civilisation have an historical and cultural heritage (in arts, poetry, architecture, music, science etc.) which is not in opposition with Christian heritage. Both had contribute together to human heritage. Both also gave birth, unfortunately, to great barbarians, nazism, stalinism or today muslim obscurantism. These barbarians more found birth in ignorance than in their own civilisations or religions.

    Please Ben, forgive my very poor English. It may make my words confusing…

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