Here in a nutshell is the encounter between Postmodern Man and the Man given to ancient and ineluctable realities of human nature. One wants to talk it all out, the other wants to kill. That’s all there is to it. One thinks we ought to be able to rise above all that, and the other doesn’t want to.
The Christian leaders of the West are so fanatically committed to “dialogue” with Muslim leaders that they ruthlessly ostracize and silence anyone who dares speak about the reasons why Canon Andrew White’s people are being persecuted. White’s own experience with his dinner invitation, however, shows how futile and self-defeating that “dialogue” really is: it hasn’t saved a single Christian from persecution, or changed a single Muslim’s mind about the necessity to persecute Christians. White himself has no illusions: “You can’t negotiate with them. I have never said that about another group of people. These are really so different, so extreme, so radical, so evil.” But if he repeats that in the comfortable and complacent rectories of the West, he is liable to be charged with “Islamophobia.”
“Canon Andrew White: ‘Vicar of Baghdad’ on leading a church in Iraq and being in the crosshairs of Isis,” by Cole Moreton, Independent, November 1, 2015 (thanks to Lookmann):
They were coming for him and his people. Friends were being killed or fleeing for their lives. So Andrew White did what he always does when faced with an enemy. “I invited the leaders of Isis [Islamic State] for dinner. I am a great believer in that. I have asked some of the worst people ever to eat with me.”
This extraordinarily self-confident priest is best known as the vicar of Baghdad, leader of a church in the chaos outside the protected Green Zone. He made his offer last year as the terrorist forces threatened to take the city. Did he get a reply?
“Isis said, ‘You can invite us to dinner, but we’ll chop your head off.’ So I didn’t invite them again!”
And he roars with laughter, despite believing that Islamic State has put a huge price on his head, apparently willing to pay $157m (£100m) to anyone who can kill this harmless-looking eccentric. Canon White was a doctor before he became a priest and could be one still, in his colourful bow-tie and double-breasted blazer with a pocket square spilling silk. But appearances are deceptive.
For the last two decades, he has worked as a mediator in some of the deadliest disputes on Earth, in Israel and Palestine, Iraq and Nigeria. He has sat down to eat with terrorists, extremists, warlords and the sons of Saddam Hussein, with presidents and prime ministers.
White has been shot at and kidnapped, and was once held captive in a room littered with other people’s severed fingers and toes, until he talked his way out of it. He is an Anglican priest but was raised a Pentecostal and has that church’s gift of the gab, even though multiple sclerosis (MS) makes him drawl like a posh barfly. “When I went on Radio 4 talking about Baghdad there were complaints because they thought I was drunk. I wasn’t!”
MS also affects his vision and his balance, but he claims to have come up with his own way of keeping the symptoms down, by injecting his own stem cells. A big man with a boyish enthusiasm, he declares himself afraid of nothing, not even the direct threat to his life.
“They’ve not sent an email telling me it’s off,” says White, 50, chuckling and looking at his travelling companion Terry, a former policeman. How does it feel to have that price on his head? “It feels good.” Terry raises his eyebrows and mutters, “While the head’s attached.”
It’s knockabout stuff, but let’s put this in context. White reopened St George’s church after the invasion of Iraq even though civil war raged and the diplomats and ex-pats who had once made up the congregation no longer dared to go there.
Iraqis came instead, and the congregation reached a peak of 6,500. They built a school, a clinic and food bank. White pledged to stay even as the sound of bombs grew louder. “We had Isis on the doorstep of Baghdad last year. I said to my people, ‘I will not leave you; don’t leave me.’ But many did leave me and they went to Nineveh and Mosul. Isis were there too. There was total mayhem.”
More than 1,200 men, women and children who worshipped with him have been killed in recent years, he says. Four boys he knew were beheaded because they refused to swear allegiance to Islam. The church caretaker was forced to watch as his five-year-old boy was cut in half.
There used to be 1.5 million Christians in Iraq but now there are only 260,000, he says. Some are calling it genocide. Surely he no longer believes that negotiations with Isis could work? White stares at me from behind owlish spectacles. “Can I be honest? You are absolutely right. You can’t negotiate with them. I have never said that about another group of people. These are really so different, so extreme, so radical, so evil.”
So what is to be done? “We must try and continue to keep the door open. We have to show that there is a willingness to engage. There are good Sunni leaders; they are not all evil like Isis.”
But surely there is only one logical conclusion to be drawn? He sighs, and answers slowly. “You are asking me how we can deal radically with Isis. The only answer is to radically destroy them. I don’t think we can do it by dropping bombs. We have got to bring about real change. It is a terrible thing to say as a priest.
“You’re probably thinking, ‘So you’re telling me there should be war?’ Yes!” …