They were ‘the people of the cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian Church’ who had been held in captivity for weeks. They were marched to a beach in their orange jumpsuits, forced to kneel and gaze straight ahead for the camera. They said their final prayers, and then these 21 servants of the Lord were simultaneously beheaded by the black shadows standing behind them. And so the sea turned red as the Islamic State claimed its latest band of Christian martyrs – this time Copts – and Egypt weeps for her sons.
Before their throats were cut, one of the militants raised his knife and pronounced: “Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for.”
It seems in the Islamic State that all Christians are crusaders – even those from Egypt. It is the simplistic historic parallel and moral equivalence favoured by President Obama: as Christianity is tarnished by the blood of the Crusades, so Islam is shamed by barbarism of its Caliphate. Jesus and Mohammed were prophets of peace: it is militant mankind which defames the sanctity of their religions; it is a few misfits among the faithful who rape, torture, behead and burn their prisoners alive. And by such ahistorical distortion and perverse relativism, these murderers are excused. Mohammed came after Jesus: the Christians started it.
Hence the justification for the terrorists’ declared geopolitical objective – helpfully stated in English – to “conquer Rome”. They can’t really march from Syria or drive from Iraq. But in Libya the Caliphate has established an outpost less than 500 miles from the southern tip of Italy. They are coming, if they’re not already there. And we aided them in their conquest. For many of these militants are the very ‘rebels‘ with whom we fought to defeat Muammar Gaddafi. Britain, France and the United States effectively facilitated the al-Qaeda take-over of Libya. It didn’t seem to matter who they were as long as they wanted what we wanted, at least in the short-term. The Supreme Allied Commander of NATO (Europe) confirmed that there were ‘flickers’ of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah among the Jihadis ranged against Gaddafi. But we greeted their black flags with delight: our enemy’s enemy is our friend, and all that.
It was and remains far more complicated than the British Government ever seemed to grasp. Libya, rather like Iraq and Yugoslavia, is an artificially-constructed state, forged out of distinct and separate tribal identities: east Libya has historically been in conflict with what is now the west. Benghazi in the east was part of a Greek region known a Cyrenaica, and Tripoli in the west was a Punic settlement, both separated by Mediterranean trade agreements, language, culture, ethnic temperament and 600 miles of desert. This is how it remained as empires came and went – Greek, Roman, Ottoman and British. It was not until an invasion by Italy in 1911 that the two entities were forcibly united by Mussolini, with a central governance in Tripoli. Ever since, the Cyrenaicians have considered themselves a people oppressed and a land under occupation: they were Gaddafi’s Basque region; his IRA and his PLO all rolled into one. In Benghazi, they were freedom fighters.
The weakening of the strongman in Tripoli was the fulfilment of a century (to the year) of longing for independence. The conflict which we aided has precipitated a bloody civil war, the outcome of which is Libya’s reversion to its constituent regions, with certain ‘freedom fighters’ now determined to cleanse the land of alien crusaders. And so the Caliphate is built – the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, Boko Haram.. they are all one and the same.
Wherever the devil rides, the Christians will die. While the FCO naively hopes for the region’s dictators, tyrants and medieval monarchies to be replaced with liberal democrats, our brothers and sisters are being crucified and beheaded. The lucky ones are shot in the head. May God forgive us our blindness, indifference and crass press releases of official condemnation.