Do they know its Christmas in Iraq, Egypt, India, the DRC?

After that mightily big Assange interview on the Today programme this morning they rounded off the programme with one of those “light” items at 8.55 where a couple of semi-regular guests chat about something topical.

Today it was The Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein (he of the pithy political put-down) and Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha talking about how they, as members of religious minorities, celebrate Christmas. Finkelstein, who is Jewish, basically doesn’t; Chadha, who is a Sikh, says she does, even going to church to sing carols with her family.

Fair enough. It takes all sorts. I myself like to flee the overheated family living room  – complete with blaring TV and relatives coming slowly to the boil – lock myself away in my bedroom and listen to death metal* like some latter-day spoilt teenager (aged 46). As I say, it takes all sorts.

Which … is exactly what certain armed and extremely frightening groups in Iraq are NOT prepared to accept. This Christmas many Christians in Iraq are fearful. After October’s dreadful attack on the Assyrian Catholic Church in Baghdad, Christians were already on edge and the approach to the 25th of December is a worrying time for them (see these excellent reports from the BBC and the Guardian’s Martin Chulov).

Last Christmas armed groups bombed Christian churches in the northern city of Mosul on the 15th and 23rd of December and Amnesty has counted some 65 separate attacks on Iraq’s Christian churches between the middle of 2004 and the end of 2009. As if the people of Iraq hadn’t enough to worry about….

My view is that the long, long-delayed formation of a new government in Iraq – expected now within days or even hours – should bring with it a fresh commitment form the Iraqi authorities to protect Christians and all minorities in Iraq. It’s not just Iraq of course. In other places like India and Egypt Christians are also at risk from armed gangs, while the notorious Ugandan group the Lord’s Resistance Army utilise a form of apocalyptic Christianity to justify mass killings in the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere, including on or around Christmas Day.

So my seasonal message is: enjoy your Christmas – in your own way! – but keep an eye on those places where they probably DO know it’s Christmas. But for all the wrong reasons.

* OK, that was said partly for effect. To be accurate, my current (and likely Christmas day) listening – should you care! – is some garage rock from Brother Jimmy The Truth’s podcast in Virginia, USA, a blues collection featuring the excellent Johnny Shines, and, because I miss him being around, a bit of Captain Beefheart. Beat that!

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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