THE BLOG

Easter: Once Again a Time to Focus on Ending Religious Intolerance in the Middle East

24/03/2016 16:03 GMT | Updated 25/03/2017 09:12 GMT

The shocking, sickening scene of a young man nailed to a wooden cross, surrounded by his executioners, shouting abuse and laughing whilst crowds of others watch in horrified silence, is an image that is indelibly stamped onto the minds of all Christians.

The picture burns particularly brightly at this time of year of course. Lent is with us and Easter is just a few days away. The hideous suffering of Jesus, the perfect Lamb, sacrificed to pay for the sins of mankind, is at the very heart of our religion. It is the event that changed the eternal destiny of billions of people.

It was also something that happened more than 2000 years ago. The world was a very different place. Crucifixion was the most horrible of the many evil punishments metered out by the Romans. It was designed specifically to make the victim suffer as much as possible before finally succumbing. Sometimes it would take several days to die. The ultimate sacrifice then by God to allow his only son to die in this dreadful way in order for mankind to survive and flourish.

Now, more than two Millennia later, the monsters of the Islamic State - or Daesh - are hell bent on destroying all those who refuse to follow their twisted and absurd version of Islam.

And just like the Romans, they have resurrected Crucifixion to cower and terrify the poor souls forced to live under their rule. The fact that the execution is so symbolic to the Christian religion is for them a bonus, but they are ready to nail anyone they believe are their enemies to the cross.

It's not just enough to carry this out in full view of residents living near to their execution sites either. They film in close, lurid detail every step of the killing process and post it on the World Wide Web for all to see.

They've slaughtered ten at a time in this way, Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, anyone who gets in their way. Only recently, I read reports of a 12-year-old boy having his finger-tips cut off in front of his Christian preacher father in order to force them to change religion. When they refused, both father and son were crucified, their killings filmed on Smart Phones and Tweeted out to a horrified world.

Daesh know exactly the reaction they will get from their enemies; equal measures of horror, fear and plans for vengeance.

With Easter upon us, one million British Christians, and the hundreds of millions around the world, are thinking daily of the horror of deliberate and sustained violence and the need to help and support people in need in any way possible.

Easter should also bring joy, but for the poor beleaguered people living in the Middle East, in Syria and Iraq, there will be nothing but misery and a simple, desperate will to protect their families and simply stay alive.

Teams from my charity, the AMAR Foundation are working 24/7 on ground-breaking medical and educational projects, and are respected by all communities. AMAR employees are Muslim, Christian, Yazidi, Chaldean, Mandaean. We would have it no other way.

In the Summer of 2014 when Daesh attacked, taking large swathes of the north and west of Iraq, huge numbers of refugees poured into other parts of the country. Now there are 3.3 million internally displaced people, and understandably, the country is struggling to cope. The food bill alone for these poor people runs into millions of dollars every day.

AMAR is a comparatively small charity, dwarfed by the likes of Save the Children and Oxfam, but we make every single penny count. Nothing is wasted. We didn't hesitate to join the relief effort, and immediately we began an appeal for emergency funds to start building health centres to deal with some of the hundreds of thousands of sick and injured lost souls, known to the UN by the anonymous, meaningless title of IDPs. Such a classification suggests a decade or more in far-flung camps or squatting in disused car parks. No home, no schools, not even a place in which to worship.

We now have four purpose-built clinics up and running. Latest figures show that our doctors and nurses, chemists and scientists - all local people - are seeing up to 600 people a day, and sometimes even more.

This Easter is also the perfect time to mention another pioneering project AMAR is working on to tackle religious intolerance in Iraq. The scheme targets the root causes of brutality so that faith groups can once again live in harmony.

Through the provision of classes covering topics such as Iraq's constitution, human rights, freedom of expression and the history of Iraq's ethnic and religious groups, we are striving to create a more peaceful and tolerant society - one which embraces all individuals, regardless of their background.

Nasir, a young boy from Basra, had some extremely wise words on the subject when I met him recently in Iraq.

"Fanaticism, violence and intolerance originate in the barriers which exist between us, which is why we need to remove them as soon as possible." I couldn't have put it better myself.

AMAR's Easter Appeal is working to help promote religious harmony in Iraq. Support the charity's work HERE.