Saturday, December 23, 2006

Strategies for failure

I don't think you need to be ideologically or pragmatically opposes to the Iraq War in order to acknowledge that it has, almost certainly, made things worse for the Christians who live in the Middle East. It could hardly be otherwise. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who has just been to Belthlehem, would not be doing his job if he did not speak up for them. So speak up for them he does in The Times

One warning often made and systematically ignored in the hectic days before the Iraq War was that Western military action — at that time and in that way — would put Christians in the whole Middle East at risk. They would be seen as supporters of the crusading West. At the very least, some were asking, shouldn’t we have a strategy about how to handle this?

Well, we didn’t have one. And the results are now painfully adding to what was already a difficult situation for Christian communities across the region. Iraq’s Christian population is dropping by thousands every couple of months and some of their most effective leaders have been forced to emigrate. In Istanbul, the Orthodox population is a tiny remnant, and their Patriarch is told by some of the Turkish press that it’s time he left. In Egypt, where Christian-Muslim relations have been — and still are — intimate and good, attacks on Christians are notably more frequent.
It should be said at the outset that the thrust of his article is to highlight the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and it is right that he should do so. What damages his plea severely is the narrowness of his vision and his adoption of the viewpoint of the 'Islamic victim'.

Firstly, I have been struggling for a while to think of what strategy we could possibly have adopted to 'handle' the situation. I have struggled and have failed to come up with one, apart from exodus, which is precisely the problem. Secondly, while it is undoubtedly true that the war is responsible to a large degree for the flight of Iraqi Christians, it is in no way responsible for the plight of the Turkish churches, which have been under severe pressure at least since the Young Turks. For a single example from many, see here.

At no time does he mention the real cause for Christian decline in the Middle East. In the mid-twentieth century, 80% of the population of Bethlehem was Christian; two thirds of them fled during the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank (1948 - 1967) and the numbers have been dropping ever since. A hundred years ago Christians made up 20% of Middle Easterners; now the figure is 2% and falling.

Actually, it is not just Christians, but all minority faiths in Muslim countries are in decline and have been for some time. It is notable that, while Muslim populations abroad flourish, non-Muslim populations within Islam show only negative growth. The only country in the Middle East in which the number of Christians is growing is Israel. Dr Williams gives no indication of all this. On the contrary, he goes out of his way to refer to harmonious historical relations between Islam and christianity
Muslim nations have a history of coping hospitably with Christians on their doorstep

....the healthier and saner relationship between the faiths that existed in many parts of the Middle East for long tracts of its complicated history.
Obviously, this licking-up to the Loud has a diplomatic function and as leader of a church with a death-wish, he can't afford to make any more enemies, but this beaming of the spotlight of blame only on Bush/Blair and, of course, Israel misses the point by a theological mile and only serves to prove that the Church of England is no longer capable even of that most basic of tasks, and the very task that Dr Williams is engaged upon here: that of looking after its own people.

Note: Dr Williams said yesterday that the Israeli-built wall around Bethlehem symbolised what was “deeply wrong in the human heart”. WTF?

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