Over the weekend, a post began to make its way across Facebook. Originally shared by Scott and Kelli, an on-air duo from syndicated radio station K-LOVE, the post alerts people to a horrific act being committed against Christians by the ISIS militant group in Iraq.
At the time I’m writing this, the post has been up less than 24 hours and it has already been shared over 40,000 times. Clearly it has struck a nerve with the online Christian community. But is it actually happening?
The word branding here is especially inflammatory, as could be seen in some of the nearly 1,100 comments to the post. Clearly, reading through the comments shows that many readers think “brandng” implies that Christians themselves are being marked, perhaps even in the most literal way possible — that is, with the searing of the flesh. Here is a sampling of commenters who are horrified by the branding:
Hitler branded the Jews and tried to exterminate them. Committed murder, torture, and all sorts of atrocities. History is repeating itself.
I don’t understand how people don’t associate this with the Jews being branded with the Star of David.
Burn it on me any day. I’d wear that brand proudly no matter the price.
Our religious leaders used to brand an “S” on sinners and burn at the stake, anyone they thought practiced witchcraft. Not so different.
Everyone seems to accept that it is happening. And it’s easy to believe; there are ample verified reports coming out of Iraq that demonstrate that Christians in the country (mostly followers of the Syriac sects, such as Chaldeans) are targets of sectarian violence. But are the being branded with an Arabic ‘N’?
No, they are not. This post (and posts like it) seems to be a misinterpretation or oversimplification of a report that first came out in mid-July. It’s attributed to Patriarch Louis Sako in statements made to the AFP news service. I have tried to track down the raw AFP wire report, but have been unsuccessful; however, this report from the BBC echoes many nearly exact repetitions of the statement in the press at that time.
“Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Irbil,” in the neighbouring autonomous region of Kurdistan, Patriarch Louis Sako told the AFP news agency.
“For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians,” he said.
The patriarch, one of the most senior Christian clerics in Iraq, said militants had been seen tagging Christian houses with the letter N for “Nassarah”, a term used for Christians in the Koran.
Other reports attributed similar information to Bishop Saad Sirop, such as this one from Catholic News Service.
Militants singled out homes belonging to Christians and marked them in red paint with the letter “N,” for “Nazarat,” which means Christian, as well as “Property of ISIS,” — the Islamic State group, said Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Saad Sirop of Baghdad.
In both cases, the reports accuse ISIS supporters of tagging or marking Christian houses. In other words, graffiti. While this is absolutely an act meant to identify Christians and likely target them for violence, it’s not nearly as horrific as the implied searing of the flesh of the faithful with Arabic letters. It’s also worth noting that there’s only one source for this reported activity: something “told” to the news agencies by those who witnessed it. We don’t even know how common or widespread this phenomenon is.
What is going on in Iraq right now is an international tragedy on so many levels. But if we are going to be outraged, let’s be outraged at all the horrible things that are actually happening in the country. There’s no need to manufacture atrocities when there are so many already there to begin with.