Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds, in the midst of a long discussion of Vatican-Jewish/Israeli relations, has posted a fascinating email from a self-described Coptic Christian named Peter Hanna, bemoaning his community's rabid anti-Semitism. "[A]n unnaturally high number of Christians are complete bigots," he writes; "the things I've heard at my church (of all places) would make your head spin." Hanna attributes the sentiment to the "hardline pro-Palestine stance" of the current Coptic pope, and cites the "well-known saying in Arabic: 'In aharda il Yahoud, bokra il Massihian'--which means 'Today the Jews, tomorrow the Christians'" as proof of the short-sightedness of the Coptic embrace of the Muslim majority's anti-Semitism.

Based on what I know from past conversations with a Coptic Egyptian I knew in graduate school, the Copts in Egypt (and presumably Christian Palestinians, and perhaps even Lebanese Maronites, as well, these days) are currently caught in an increasingly tight bind. All of these groups have traditionally embraced the secular nationalisms of their home countries, as a counterweight to Islamic radicalism (which they have perceived, understandably, as a terrible danger). Christians thus always viewed Nasser and Arafat as allies, and embraced the anti-Israel animus these leaders stoked as an essential ingredient of their nationalist ideologies.

Increasingly, though, secular leaders are deliberately blurring the line between religious and secular nationalism, so as to co-opt the growing strength of Islamic fundamentalism. Thus Arafat raises alleged Israeli threats to the Al Aqsa mosque as his rallying cry, and has his own organization recruit suicide bombers, in emulation of Islamist terrorist groups. Meanwhile, the nominally secular nationalist Egyptian government, while vigorously combatting Muslim Militant groups, has also sought to dampen religious hostility by supporting elements of the Islamic agenda--most conspicuously, demonization of Israel and Jews.

Christians in these places, having wedded themselves to their secular nationalist allies, thus find themselves now with no other option than to accept these allies' accommodationist strategy, on the assumption that they will in any event stand (or fall) together with the secularists. After all, if Arafat's and Mubarak's embrace of anti-Semitism keeps the Islamists at bay until the fad passes, then for Christians, it will have been a small price to pay. And if it fails, then the outcome will in any event be much worse for the region's Christians than any vague guilt they might feel over echoing a few toxic slogans about evil Jews.

Of course, these motives don't necessarily carry over directly into Europe; the fierce anti-Israel posturings of the European Christian churches, including the Vatican, have complex causes, and are hardly dictated by the interests of Middle Eastern Christians. (After all, Lebanese Maronites received absolutely zero sympathy from Europe when they were allied with Israel during the Lebanese Civil War.) Still, it is probably much easier for Christians in Europe to make common cause with the likes of Yasser Arafat when, for example, his thugs occupy the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, as long as the local Christians dare not raise their voices in protest.

On the other hand, the Christian communities in the Middle East are in rapid decline, with emigration skyrocketing in response to the rise in Islamist militancy. The Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, for example, is seeing a huge shift in the composition of his flock, as emigrating Palestinians are replaced by the Christian relatives of Russian immigrants to Israel, who obviously identify more closely with the Jewish majority than with Muslim Palestinians. It is thus not inconceivable that the local Orthodox Church, traditionally staunchly pro-Palestinian, might eventually adjust its politics to better match its demographics. If so, then the wall of anti-Israel solidarity among Christian churches in the region would be broken, with potentially far-reaching effects.

No comments: