THE expansion of the military element of the coalition against
the Islamic State (IS) forces in Iraq and Syria, with Canada ready
to commit jet fighters to it, has failed to stop jihadist advances
in several areas. At the same time, the complexity of the crisis is
growing. Kurds in Iraq and Syria are angry at Turkey's failure to
enter the conflict to save Kurdish population centres, such as
Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border, from IS attack.
The expansion of air strikes seems certain to cement the grim
pattern of IS revenge on captured foreigners. The murder of the
British volunteer aid worker Alan Henning is not likely to be the
last of its kind in a war that, by the admission of political and
military leaders, is likely to last several years. The killing of
Mr Henning, a taxi driver from Eccles who had dedicated his life to
helping people in need in Syria, has had a profound effect on
people around the world. Prayers for his family have been said in
churches and mosques in many countries.
Speaking on Radio 4's Sunday programme, the Bishop of
Manchester, Dr David Walker, said that "in Christian theology we
have the word 'martyr' for somebody who is witness to the values,
the faith they live by - who lets the good that lies in their heart
come out to such an extent that they are killed for it." Every
death of this kind, he said, "brings us back to the story of the
cross and to understanding that our Christian faith is actually
rooted in somebody who was killed for the good he was doing".
Dr Walker also had a message for IS: "You've lost your power to
shock. That happened maybe two or three executions ago. Now you
sicken us. You and your brutality have no part in the world going
forward." The Archbishop of Canterbury had earlier tweeted: "Alan
Henning's memory will last, he gave his life serving people far
away with nobility & love. Pray for his family's strength and
For the indigenous Christians of Syria and Iraq, many of whom
are now homeless, the foreseeable future looks bleak. Although most
welcome the campaign of air strikes to stop further IS advances,
some - such as the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Irbil, the Most
Revd Bashar Warda - believe that this measure alone will not keep
Christians safe. "It may be strange for a Catholic bishop to say
'Please, we need more force,'" he told the BBC, "but it's really
self-defence. I can see my people are dying. It's terribly painful.
We have to defend ourselves."
Given the likelihood that the duration of the anti-IS campaign
will be measured in years rather than months, Arab states that have
joined the campaign are contemplating measures to prevent jihadist
ideology taking root in their societies. This is particularly the
case in Saudi Arabia, where the conservative Wahhabi Salafist
Islamic tradition is followed. Critics of the kingdom say that IS
is merely a violent arm of the same ideology.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, in a speech on Sunday to mark
this year's Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, spoke of the need for Muslims
to be tolerant of others and to promote dialogue. By so doing, they
would "prevent bloodshed and avoid disunity, ignorance, and
extremism". But this goal would not be achieved, he said, "unless
we create the necessary and appropriate atmosphere. Taking care in
bringing up children and guiding the young is essential for
dialogue. We are all responsible for guiding them, and we hope that
the scholars, preachers, and thinkers of the Islamic world will
present role-models for the young by showing them the appropriate
way to engage in dialogue." The King said that Muslims themselves
needed to be shown "the tolerance and moderation of the Islamic
Saudi Arabia also believes that the defeat of IS in Iraq and
Syria will not be possible before a change of regime in Damascus -
taking the view that the Syrian government at very least ignored
the rise of the jihadists and may even have encouraged them.
The fact that the main goal of Western states is the elimination
of IS rather than bringing down the Bashar al-Assad regime is just
one of the many complexities in the current crisis. Another is the
growing hostility that Kurds feel towards Turkey. While Ankara
opposes the independence ambitions of Turkish and Syrian Kurdish
factions, it has developed close political and economic ties with
Kurds in northern Iraq. But the failure of Turkey to come to their
help when IS forces advanced on their region in June is a source of
Likewise, Turkey's silence as Kobani came under jihadist attack
seemed to confirm in the minds of Kurds as a whole that Ankara's
hostility to Kurdish separatism surpassed its desire to try to
prevent humanitarian disasters. One possible outcome of all this
could be the collapse of the fragile truce between Ankara and
Turkey's main Kurdish separatist group, the PKK.
Kurds from different communities and religious backgrounds are
holding a Solidarity Gathering this Saturday, at 5.30 p.m. at St
Marylebone Parish Church, in London, at a ceremony hosted by the
Rector, Canon Stephen Evans.
IN A further blow to the morale of Christians in the Middle
East, a Syrian Franciscan friar and about 20 other Christians have
been abducted at gunpoint from the small village of Knayeh, close
to Syria's border with Turkey.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Most Revd Fouad Twal, said
that Fr Hanna Jallouf OFM, of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy
Land, who is a parish priest, and the other Christians were taken
away on Sunday night, allegedly by members of the
al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. Nothing has been heard from
their abductors since then.
Several nuns in Knayeh are said to have found shelter among
families in the village.
The Roman Catholic news agency Fides, quoting the Apostolic
Vicar of Aleppo in Syria, the Rt Revd Georges Abou Khazen OFM, said
that among the 20 Christians taken were "young people, both boys
Fr Jallouf, a Syrian, has lived in Knayeh for 12 years, after
serving in the Jordanian capital, Amman. Knayeh, which is in Idlib
province, has been under the control of jihadist Islamists for more
than a year - initially, members of IS, and, since January, of the
Restrictions had been put on the movement of Christians, and
crosses and other symbols removed from public places.
In areas of Syria under Islamist domination, Christians are
frequently accused of supporting and collaborating with the
government of President Bashar al-Assad, and this was believed
to have been the case with Fr Jallouf and his congregation
An Italian Jesuit, Fr Paolo Dall'Oglio, is still missing, after
being kidnapped in Raqqa, in northern Syria, in July last year (News, 2 August