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First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People?!

THEIR ULTIMATE GOAL

Recently, in a Fox News Special Report All-Star panel discussion I heard a panelist use the phrase “First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People”. That discussion focused on the persecution Christians are experiencing in a part of Iraq now under the control of the jihadist group knows as ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – a/k/a ISIS). Specifically, ISIL has given Christians (who have been living in that area for 2,000 years, pre-dating Muslims by 600 years) an ultimatum to convert to Islam or get out and/or be fined and/or face death. Since I wasn’t familiar with the Saturday people/Sunday people phrase, I researched it and I was embarrassed to learn that it’s been in use for quite awhile. In fact, it’s found in the title of a best-selling book, by Lela Gilbert, published in 2012. The following excerpt from Ms. Gilbert’s Weekly Standard blog helped me begin to understand this phrase and its background:

Christian house in Mosul

“‘First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People.’ Such graffiti can sometimes be found in Muslim neighborhoods in the Middle East. The ‘Saturday People’ are, of course, Jews, today nearly gone from Muslim lands. Now the ‘Sunday people’—Christians— are in the crosshairs, and they, too, are fleeing at an alarming rate. Both religions are unwelcome in many Muslim-majority lands for reasons of Islamist ideology—the declaration of jihad, or holy war, against infidels.”

SOUNDING THE ALARM

As I reflected on this, in conjunction with what I’d heard in that panel discussion about ISIL’s persecution of Iraqi Christians, my embarrassment was quickly replaced by alarm. It’s an alarm that I believe should be shared by all Christians and in fact, all non-Muslims around the world. In order to gain a better grasp of this, let me begin with a thumbnail sketch of ISIL.

An article entitled Background Briefing: What is ISIL?, appearing in the PBS Newshour’s blog, The Rundown, offers this summary:

“The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a predominantly Sunni jihadist group, [that] seeks to sow civil unrest in Iraq and the Levant (region spanning from southern Turkey to Egypt and including Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan) with the aim of establishing a caliphate — a single, transnational Islamic state based on sharia. The group emerged in the ashes of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein as al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), and the insurgency that followed provided it with fertile ground to wage a guerrilla war against coalition forces and their domestic allies.”

That seems ominous enough all on its own but it was what I heard in the panel discussion, about the status of their current “jihad, or holy war, against infidels”, that really set off my internal alarm. To me, the most meaningful summary of this was provided by Dr. Charles Krauthammer, as one of the Special Report All-Star panelists. In part, he said,

“This is a tragedy happening all across the Middle East. Christians have been under pressure in Lebanon, their population is way down. In Egypt, the Copts have been attacked for years now. This is now the worst instance of this. But, this reveals the essence of jihadism. Isolationists in the U.S. … would say, ‘Well 9/11 was a result of what we did to offend, to oppress … Muslims around the world. At least in part, it was a retaliation.’ Now you look at what ISIS is doing. What was the crime of the Christians against ISIS? None. This is the purest ethnic cleansing. This is the pure essence of the intolerance and the barbarism of this kind of Islamic radicalism. We know … a month before 9/11, the Taliban went into the desert and destroyed 1400 year old magnificent statues of the Buddha. Were the Buddhists oppressing the Muslims in Afghanistan? No. This is the hatred of ‘the other’. This is total exclusivity. This is stuff that Europe hasn’t seen in 400 years. This is the medieval killing of one sect by another sect and it is the essence of Islamic jihadism. You see it here in the purest way. You see it with Hamas. It wants to wipe out the Jews. You see it in Egypt with the Copts. You see it with Boko Haram in the attack on the churches in Nigeria. It’s all over. This is not about what the West has done. This is not about Imperialism. This is not a payback. This is the expression of jihadism and we see it tonight in the most horrible form.”

OUR NEEDED AWAKENING

Although I was aware of the individual situations Krauthammer mentioned – i.e. the persecution of Lebanese Christians, the persecution of Egyptian Coptic Christians, the Buddhist statue destruction, the endless attacks of Israel by Hamas and the persecution of Nigerian Christians – it was the picture that emerged with his fitting these puzzle pieces together that was so alarming to me. Hopefully, there are many others who, like me, are now more alert to this urgent situation. Unfortunately, in that same Special Report segment, another panelist named Ron Fournier made comments indicating another form of failure to face up to this crisis. In my case, the failure was just not paying close enough attention. That’s a big enough problem. However, Fournier’s comments exposed an even greater problem … denial … when he said,

“America can’t do everything to save every Christian. This is a horrible thing that’s happening (but) the United States only has so much power.”

This sort of attitude brought to mind the Martin Niemoller poem that goes like this:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Of course, Niemoller’s poem was aimed at the evil of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Though he was trying to motivate the German people to do the right thing, he didn’t mean to say that all Germans were evil. Likewise, I don’t mean to say that all Muslims are evil but it’s clear that Islamic jihadism is evil, just as it was clear that Nazism was evil. Thus, Niemoller’s warning applies here too. If we don’t all do everything we can to stand up for the Iraqi Christians right now, regardless of the United States only having “so much power”, who can we expect to stand up for us when it’s our turn to be given the Islamic jihadist’s ultimatum?

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