This is the letter “nūn,” (pronounced “noon”) it is the Arabic letter for the sound “n.” It is one of the simpler, yet elegant letters of Arabic calligraphy – just a sweeping semi-circle and a single dot. Yet, the nūn has taken on a double standard in Iraq, as well as the Christian and right-wing blogospheres. The nūn is allegedly being used by the Islamic State to mark the homes of Christians living in Mosul. Those who are so marked are faced with the choice of paying jizya (an archaic tax of religion now enforced by the Islamic State), leaving the city or death. The situation is undoubtedly grim.
In response to the persecution that many Christians are facing in Iraq, the right-wing and Christian blogospheres have made an effort to repurpose/appropriate nūn as a marker of solidarity with Iraqi Christians facing persecution. As with most of these campaigns, the primary vehicle for this solidarity is changing your profile picture on facebook to a flaming nūn or sharing the following (or a similar) message:
This is the letter “N” in Arabic. It is being used to brand Christians in Iraq who are being persecuted and murdered by ISIS terrorists. The letter “N” stands for Nazarene. I am posting this, along with thousands of others around the World, in hopes of raising awareness of their plight and lifting them up in prayer. May the Lord move and the World take action. Please join the fight and share this!
While I’m all for solidarity, especially in a situation in which people are persecuted, killed and in at least one case, literallycleaved in half for their beliefs, something about this campaign rubs me the wrong way.
While pastors and pundits alike have been quick to denounce the actions of the Islamic State (and I cannot emphasize enough that their actions are rightly denounced), it seems that their concern ends with the Christians in Mosul. While I don’t dispute that the expulsion and death of thousands of Iraqi Christians under the Islamic State regime is a humanitarian and human crisis of the highest degree, so too are the crises of Iraqi Shi’a, Yazidis and Kurds. So too are the crises of Palestinians, Uighurs and Chechens.
This idea that somehow humanitarian crises are only important when they happen to our “group,” is the same sort of logic that perpetuates the endless drone strikes in Pakistan and the indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantanamo. It is the idea that bad things can happen to other people, but so long as they don’t happen to my people, it is totally ok.
I laud the Christian community for caring about their brothers and sisters in Iraq. As a Catholic myself, I too grieve for those who have been killed because of their faith. But similar creeds shouldn’t be a necessity for empathy.