Christians Of the East Are Suffering, Just As Muslims Of The West Are

One day after the Sri Lanka attacks that killed more than 300 people and injured hundreds more, my friend Ahmed, a devout Muslim from Egypt --where attacks on Christians take place pretty much every Easter left me a message.

“Sri Lanka turns out to be yet another group using my faith to justify their sickness,” he wrote. “I don’t know what to say anymore.”

I appreciated the message, but I didn’t expect Ahmed to say anything. Ditto the rest of my Muslim friends who, despite this, flooded my social media accounts and messaging apps with their own palpable expressions of grief and shock.

We’re sad that you’re sad, they told me, as I alternated between posting updates on the blasts in an attempt to heighten awareness of the attack, and posting shallow, fashion and entertainment-related content in an attempt to distract myself from the sorrow of knowing that a significant number of these people were targeted for their faith on the holiest day in the Christian calendar.

Sri Lanka wasn't a one-off. For Eastern Christians, it is the latest in a long line of attacks. (Image: Getty Images)

But their sentiments were there. In the days that have since followed, I’ve become fascinated with the way the attacks have been discussed on social media. Plenty of Muslims and people of colour have tweeted and retweeted breaking news and updates on the casualties.

Others -- many of them Christians themselves -- have highlighted the difference between Western political leaders’ discussions of the Christchurch Massacre, which claimed the lives of 50 Muslims at Al-Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre, and the events in Sri Lanka.

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While leaders like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were clear in their statements that the victims of Christchurch were killed for their faith -- Obama explicitly stating that he grieves with “the Muslim community” -- that clarity was missing from their messages in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan bombings.

Instead, Clinton, Obama and a number of other political leaders, expressed their sympathies in euphemisms, referring to those that died in the churches as “Easter worshippers”. 

Christians are understandably angry, because Sri Lanka wasn’t a one-off. While it was the deadliest attack they have been targeted in for some time, it is also the latest in a long line of attacks and persecutions they have faced as religious minorities in parts of Africa, the Middle-East and Asia, particularly at Easter.

Western leaders and media personalities have failed to acknowledge this, time and time again.

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On social media, the reasons for this are varied. Some say it’s because geographically those places are not close to us. Others say it’s because our white western leaders care not for brown people and their problems. And others say it is part of an ongoing effort to appease Muslims and quash any critique of Islam.

But if many Muslims themselves are acknowledging this, what gives?

Over the last two decades, we have worked very hard to rightly ensure that Islam isn’t conflated with terrorism. It hasn’t been easy, given the air time given to white supremacists and the hate speech that has become a part of our everyday in the name of freedom.

The rise in white supremacist groups and the spread of poisonous ideology has been difficult to contain, and our censorship of the identity of the majority of Sri Lanka’s victims does not help this.

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Here in the west, there’s a lack of compassion for Christian victims because we associate Christianity with whiteness, with imperialism and colonialism, with western-backed wars on Middle-Eastern countries and sex abuse scandals from religious organisations who preach the moral high ground.

Christians are understandably angry, because Sri Lanka wasn’t a one-off.  (Image: A man watches on during a funeral for Coptic Christians killed in a targeted gun attack on a bus in Egypt, in November last year. Getty.)

But the victims of Sri Lanka have had nothing to do with any of this. To ignore who they are strips them of their dignity.

Meanwhile, white supremacists misinterpret Christian doctrine and use it to fan the flames of their Islamophobia. We saw it with Christchurch even when the victims were innocent Muslims, and anti-immigration advocates used bible verse to basically say those victims deserved what they got.

And we’re seeing it play out again right now on social media. In Christian circles, there's just a sense of sorrow and pain. But for white supremacists, whose agenda relies on a flawed understanding of Christianity as part of a heritage linked to white domination and power, Sri Lanka is just what the doctor ordered.

They're going to play this card for as long as they can draw on it.

Our leaders need to take note, because Trump won an election not on policy or professionalism or experience or even credibility. He won an election because he catered to the feelings of people who felt that they had been ignored and devalued by the mainstream.

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The Christians of the east are suffering, just as the Muslims of the west are. Both groups of people -- all people, in fact -- deserve dignity in death just as much as they do so in life. Our political rhetoric has failed them before.

Whether or not we care to admit it, radical Islam and white supremacy go hand in hand -- who the victims are just depends on your geographical location.