Shocking but true: this one little letter " ن " means life or death for thousands of Iraqis
Over the weekend, while the world’s gaze was on Gaza and Syria, the situation of Christians in northern Iraq took a sharp turn for the worse. They faced a weekend ultimatum from hardline Sunni militants of the Islamic State (IS) to either convert to Islam, submit to their radical rule and pay a religious levy, or face death by the sword. Thousands were forced to flee their homes. The situation is so dire that a social media campaign has been launched to try to reclaim the very symbol of persecution against these Christians and turn it into a symbol of hope that raises awareness about their fate.
IS has recently been consolidating it's control in northern Iraq, driving Christians out of the city of Mosul. Of those Christians who fled, some were robbed at gunpoint by Islamists on the road whilst leaving the city. Christians in Mosul once formed a community numbered in the tens of thousands and had set up in the region since the earliest of Christianity.
In Mosul, IS militants marked all Christian property with a spray-painted ن (the Arabic letter for “N”). Property was marked to be seized after the ultimatum's deadline passed. “N”, or ن, is the first letter of the Arabic word for Christian, “Nasrani” or Nazarene.
A symbol of persucution becomes a cry for help: Online, frustration over the world’s inaction has led to a social media campaign to raise awareness about the fate of Mosul’s Christians. Users, for the most part Christians or Catholics, are changing their profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter to pictures of the letter ن, the same letter infamously branding them, and are instead turning it into a symbol of support.
On Twitter, hashtags such as #WeAreN, #IamNasrani and #ن serve to share news and pictures, send 140-characters-long prayers, and announce the times and places for support demonstrations in Western countries.
The first reported instance of the reclaimed use of the letter actually took place during a church service in east Baghdad on Sunday, led by Zako. According to reports, about 200 Muslims had joined in solidarity, many holding leaflets stating “I am Iraqi, I am Christian.” Others marked themselves with the letter ن.
If the IS launches an offensive and takes control of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, such a show of solidarity would then probably be impossible. Offensive or not, the troubles of Iraq’s Christians are far from over.