Friday, 30 November 2007

"We are all Christians"

Today is St Andrew's day; brother of Peter, the Rock on which Jesus would build his church (Matthew 16:18). The founder of the Christian church in Byzantium would no doubt have been curious to read the above message displayed on a banner in Istanbul last week.

The Orthodox Church regards Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople Patriarch of Constantinople, to be the direct successor in an unbroken line back to Andrew himself, although their city is, sadly, no longer Christian.

Anyhoo, the demonstrators last week were protesting against the increasing intimidation and violence practised against Christians in Turkey. For decades, Turks have recognised the unquantifiable debt which they owe to Ataturk, who dragged the country out of the Middle Ages and out of its humiliating defeat in WW1. He did so by smashing the power of Islamic leaders and by re-inventing Turkey as a modern, secular, European state. However, we live in dangerous times. There are huge discrepancies in wealth and lifestyle in Turkey. The standard of living for the elite in Istanbul is comparable to western cities.

Cross over the Bosphorus and you pass, figuratively and literally, from Europe into Asia. The peasants of the south and east of the country close to the borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran have not shared in all the progress the country has made. Nor, in common with western cities, have the urban poor of Istanbul. This is fertile ground for resentment and hatred. If the dispossessed and downtrodden of western cities arm themselves, they are despised and prosecuted - rightly, of course. When their Muslim equivalents do likewise, they have cheerleaders by the million, ranging from the peasant fanatics on the other side of some of the world's most dangerous borders right up to the governments of Iran and Syria. It isn't really hard to see why many young men, with little else in their lives, find that attractive.

The sentiments expressed by the protestors in Istanbul were courageous and right. Civilised people of faith are under attack from an unholy trinity of fanatics, secularists and atheists. Where it is appropriate, we have to seek common ground with each other.

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