Former Archbishop of Canterbury claims 2 Bishops are being held captive in Syria

Canterbury: The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams used a literary festival speech to raise the plight of two Christian archbishops kidnapped by Islamic extremists in Syria.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury told an audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival he knew two clerics who were being held hostage in the Middle East. He spoke of them in a wide-ranging talk on ‘Rights, Law and Religion’, in which he insisted the West can’t ignore the ‘poisonous’ effects of religious-inspired tyranny in the region.

Lord Williams had been asked by a woman in his audience if it was not time for the Church of England and the country to speak out about what is happening to Christians in the Middle East. ‘Five hundred Christians including women and children have been buried alive,’ she said. ‘They have been executed and thousands of Christians have been confined.

‘Surely it is time we spoke up on that? It cannot suely be open season on Christians entirely yet?’ Lord Williams replied: ‘I couldn’t agree more. ‘Many have been speaking up and I hope more will. One of the dangers we face at the moment is the rise of a particular kind of religious tyranny in that region whose results both locally and globally are lessons for us all.

‘We cannot turn our backs on that. I have people I know who are currently being held in the Middle East including two Bishops in Syria and I am waiting to find out their fate. ‘It is not academic – I am glad there are people speaking out.’

He did not name the pair, but he was apparently referring to Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church. Gunmen pulled the pair from their car and killed their driver in April last year while they were traveling outside the northern city of Aleppo.

Bishop Tony Yazigi of the Damascus-based Greek Orthodox Church said at the time that the gunmen were believed to be Chechen fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, a radical Islamist faction in the Syrian opposition.

Such radicals have become increasingly influential among rebels, attacking Christians — a sizable minority in Syria who they see as infidels — partly as punishment for their support of President Bashar Assad.

Assad’s government has meanwhile sought to portray itself as a protector of religious minorities, expending much effort in defending Christian holy sites and villages.
The quick rise of the so-called Islamic State, a Sunni insurgent group which has gained control of much of north-east Syria and northern Iraq, has helped the pariah regime to position itself as moderate and multicultural.

Mr Williams, asked to compare IS with the evils committed in the past by the Christian church, admitted there could be such a thing as ‘toxic religion’.

Pointing out that most Muslims see IS as breaking cherished religious laws, he conceded that in Christian history, too, there had been ‘horrendous periods, where human dignity in the fullest sense has been overruled.’ ‘Christians endorsed slavery at one time but then provided the arguments which overturned it,’ he said.

Image Courtesy: Reuters
File image of former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams