Doves in Crimson Fields by Robert Ewan, Gracewing, £11.99

Subtitled “Iraqi Christian Martyrs”, this book reminds us that the former Mesopotamia has been fought over by rival civilisations for almost 2,000 years and that over this time huge numbers of Christians in the region have suffered and died for following Christ.

Sadly, Iraqi martyrdom is not a modern phenomenon. That said, the aftermath of the Iraq War in 2003 had particularly appalling consequences for Christians. Thousands have been killed and more than a million have fled the country. This is not to deny the slaughter of Muslims on the “wrong side” of those in power, but to learn, as the author writes, from the example of Christian martyrs so that “we can find ourselves strengthened in the trials that we face”.

Ancient tradition tells us that the Magi, when they returned home after bringing their gifts to the infant Jesus, preached the coming of the Messiah in the land of the Persians from whence they had come. After Pentecost, the Christian faith was again taken east to Mesopotamia. Later, the “tent priests” and monks of the 3rd and 4th centuries spread Christianity across the Iraqi desert.

The conversion of the Emperor Constantine following the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD was not an unalloyed blessing for Christians in Mesopotamia. They were seen as “potential traitors” for their adherence to the faith of a western emperor. During the first half of the 7th century, Muslim rule in southern Mesopotamia became firmly established. The empire of Tamerlane brought further persecution for Christians. Thousands were slaughtered, “bringing about the de facto destruction of the Church of the East in Central Asia”.

Given this history, it is ironic to think that under the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s “almost secular state” the followers of all faiths “were able to coexist in relative peace” and that “even under his philosophy of terror and his despicable rule, Christians felt safe”. The faithful would admit to the same sense of protection under President Assad of Syria.

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