November 1, 2015

BRAVEST MAN ON THE PLANET? Canon Andrew White: ‘Vicar of Baghdad’ on leading a church in Iraq and being in the crosshairs of Isis.

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. . . .

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!”

I am shocked by his answer, because this is a man who has risked his life many times to bring peace.

“It really hurts. I have tried so hard. I will do anything to save life and bring about tranquillity, and here I am forced by death and destruction to say there should be war.”

Kill them all. Let God sort them out.

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