Security officials assured the writer that he was safe – when he was clearly still at great risk. And then, within hours, his blood was running down the steps of the Amman court
We Westerners like to believe we care a lot about the Christians of the Middle East. Their exodus is one of the epic tragedies of our times, one of the three great monotheist religions effectively torn from the soil of the Holy Land in which it was born; Egyptian Copts, Syrian Maronites, Iraqi Orthodox Christians, ripped apart, quite literally, in the attacks of the Islamists who treat them as crusaders, collaborators, apostates. We welcome Christian refugees in the West because we feel they are “our” people, perhaps because we also suspect – the notion is ridiculous, of course – that Christianity is now a “Western” rather than an Eastern religion. Hence I often find myself confronted by Armenian bishops or Catholic priests who beg the West to stop encouraging their flock to leave the Middle East – since they will only drown in a “sea of secularism” in Europe and America.
But we have a selective memory. Almost exactly a year ago, the 56-year-old Jordanian Arab Christian journalist Nahed Hattar was assassinated in the very centre of Amman by an Islamist “well known” to the security authorities (as we like to say in Britain) as Hattar prepared to defend himself against Jordanian government charges of “incitement”. Hands up those readers who remember this feisty, eloquent, provocative and brilliant writer’s death?
Certainly, the killer, Riyad Ismail, a computer engineer working for the Jordanian ministry of education, has no more to say. He was swiftly charged, sentenced to death last December, and hanged in March along with 14 other “terrorists” and criminals sentenced for rape and murder. Ismail, bearded and wearing brown prison clothes, had little to say when he appeared before the court. And presumably nothing more to say when he was hanged at the Suaqa prison.
But that’s not what concerns Nahed Hattar’s family. They took very seriously the king’s promise to set up an official enquiry into Hattar’s murder. They were incensed that prior to his killing, the government had accused him of incitement for reposting a cartoon on his Facebook page which showed a Muslim jihadist admonishing God. Almost at once, the Muslim Brotherhood reran a truncated version of the cartoon and deleted Hattar’s explanation that the “God” in the cartoon represented Isis’ version of the Almighty – not the God revered by Islam.
It did no good. The government arrested Hattar – not the Muslim Brotherhood officials responsible for the corruption of his message – for incitement. Security officials then assured the writer that he was safe – when he was clearly still at great risk. And then, within hours, his blood was running down the steps of the Amman court. His family do not accuse the king of breaking his promise. They accuse the government of not carrying it through.
Jordanian writer murdered for insulting ISLAM (a religion of peace).