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Sydney: Assyrian bishop stabbed, conservative TikToker outspoken on Islam

The Assyrian Church of Christ the Good Shepherd, west of Sydney, was packed this Monday evening.

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Sydney: Assyrian bishop stabbed, conservative TikToker outspoken on Islam

The Assyrian Church of Christ the Good Shepherd, west of Sydney, was packed this Monday evening. The faithful attended a mass in memory of a deceased person celebrated by a prelate with a particular charisma, the bishop of Iraqi origin Mar Mari Emmanuel. In the middle of the service, a 15-year-old boy rushed towards the altar, a knife in his hand. The radicalized young man had time to hit the cleric in the head and injure at least three other people, before the faithful rushed to tackle him to the ground.

“If he did not interfere with my religion, if he had not insulted my prophet, I would not have come here,” the teenager shouts in a muffled voice and in Arabic, in a video shared on private WhatsApp groups and accessed by The Guardian Australia. “If he was just talking about his own religion, I wouldn’t have come,” he repeats. Comments which allowed the Australian authorities to confirm, the next day, the “terrorist” nature and the “religious motivation” of the attack, which thousands of viewers were able to watch live, helplessly, from the preacher's YouTube channel .

Because Mar Mari Emmanuel, 53, is very active on social networks. The outspokenness and muscular preaching of this religious man, ordained priest in 2009 then named bishop in 2011, have earned him tens of thousands of views on YouTube, up to 25 million views on TikTok, and some 154,000 subscribers on Instagram. From his hospital bed this Thursday, the bishop, whose condition is now stable after undergoing surgery, used his first strength to publish a new video. In this first speech since his attack, he says he “forgives” his attacker. “To the one who committed this act, I say to him: “You are my son”. I love you and will always pray for you. And whoever sent you to do this, I forgive him too,” declares the clergyman with the long white beard.

His online sermons speak as much about prayer and relationship with God as about more societal subjects. The bishop makes clearly conservative remarks there. He in turn condemns homosexual marriage, transgender demands, criticizes the United Nations and Bill Gates, affirms that Donald Trump is America's “only hope”. A position which, he defends, has “nothing to do” with the Republican candidate himself, but “with the Lord Jesus”, since he would recognize him as the “only true God”, would bring the Bible back into the schools and would “put an end to LGBT nonsense.” Comments which only concern the priest himself since in 2014 he separated from the Assyrian church for doctrinal reasons, and created his own.

His outspokenness does not spare Islam, which the bishop criticizes without any euphemism. “We cannot claim something that is not true,” he said last December in an online podcast. “I know the truth hurts, I don’t offend people, I tell the truth. If this offends you... I'm not sorry,” he declared quite nervously. In a recent sermon in March, the bishop also declared that he had “a question mark with the faith of the Islamic world”, while affirming his respect for Muslims, with whom he reiterated that he had “no problem”. Since the start of the war in Gaza, the cleric has also defended the bombed Palestinian population.

In Australia where political correctness dominates, this speech stands out. For three days, the Australian press has been talking about the victim as a personality with "flammable" comments (the Sydney Morning Herald), highlighting his history as an "anti-gay marriage activist", and his links with a Christian movement of Australian far-right Christian Lives Matter, who took to the streets in 2017 to oppose Marriage for All.

In his neighborhood, the bishop is extremely popular. “People love him,” Christian says, “he has helped so many people in our community and in every community. He brought young people to church, he addressed social issues, he is on top of everything,” this faithful Assyrian told the BBC. The western districts of Sydney are home, in addition to a strong Assyrian community, to most of the city's migrants and refugees. According to British public radio, more than half of the area's inhabitants were born outside Australia.

In these neighborhoods, during the Covid period, the bishop's notoriety notably jumped after his suspicious comments on the vaccine, containment measures and the role of "big pharmaceutical companies" or even the WHO, which he described of “fraud”. These comments found particular resonance when the neighborhood was subject to stricter health constraints than in the rest of the city, which the population experienced as an injustice.

In the neighborhood, the attack deeply shook the Assyrian community. From Monday evening, hundreds of people invaded the streets around the church, demanding, according to several media, that the teenager be handed over to them. Clashes broke out all evening. Police said 51 officers were injured in the riots, including one hospitalized, 20 police vehicles damaged and 10 rendered unusable.

The father of the attacker, saying he was “shocked” by the act of his son, whose radicalization he was unaware of, sought refuge in a mosque that night. The leaders of several mosques have, according to the BBC, received threats.

“We left our countries to come to this country, asking for freedom, asking for respect from others, we are shocked,” testifies Joseph, also a priest and former colleague of Mar Mari Emmanuel. Because this branch of the Church of the East, originating from the Nineveh Plain in Iraq, was the target of the Islamic State ten years ago, triggering the flight of almost all of its faithful. In Australia now live nearly 40,000 Assyrians according to the BBC.

Surprising fact: two months earlier, Mar Mari Emmanuel had predicted his attack. The bishop claimed to have received death threats on social networks, including a video in which a man allegedly threatened to kill him. “I thank the person who made this video. I didn’t know that I was going to die in two weeks,” the clergyman quipped. Without being impressed, however, he claimed to be “excited” at the idea of ​​soon joining “his Lord” rather than “staying in this world”.

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