‘‘What we are living is anarchy, war, death...."
July 23, 2015 11:03 AM   Subscribe

"Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East? ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight." --a comprehensive piece by Eliza Griswold (SLNYTMP.)
posted by resurrexit (38 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
[A couple of comments deleted. If you aren't interested, just pass this one by. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:19 AM on July 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


I feel like this same article could have been written in 877 by Charles the Bald.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:27 AM on July 23, 2015 [17 favorites]


Pew had a report last year listing some additional data on this. Between the data and the story, it is clear this is not just a scare piece, but that there is a real threat to Christians in the Middle East (it wouldn't be the first time, Jews no longer exist in any numbers in the Arab world outside of Israel). Religious hostilities are increasing everywhere. It is a bad time to be part of a minority religion.

I am not Christian, but I was wondering if part of the lack of international support from other Christians is that the vast majority of Christians in the Arab world (65%) are Orthodox, and only a small amount (7%) are Protestant. Is the doctrinal difference large enough to overcome shared religious bonds?
posted by blahblahblah at 11:32 AM on July 23, 2015 [13 favorites]


"(it wouldn't be the first time, Jews no longer exist in any numbers in the Arab world outside of Israel"

Eh, there's still a relatively large number of Jews in Iran
posted by I-baLL at 11:40 AM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Iran isn't really part of the Arab world, though. Persian != Arab.
posted by Itaxpica at 11:42 AM on July 23, 2015 [30 favorites]


To go in to a bit more detail: Iran may be majority Muslim, but it has a significantly different culture, language, and history than what is commonly called the "Arab world".
posted by Itaxpica at 11:44 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


yes, but the comment I was replying to seemed to have been using the term "Arab world" to mean "the Middle East" since it said "in the Arab world outside of Israel". Still, fair point.
posted by I-baLL at 11:48 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't get the sense that the rest of the world isn't supporting the Christians - the Canadian government is setting aside refugee places explicitly for Syrian and Iraqi Christians. The Roman Catholic ArchDiocese in Toronto has an entire office just for organising private sponsorships of refugees (from anywhere), and they are helping families and community groups alike to sponsor refugees from Syria and Iraq.

But the world is always slow to react to this kind of persecution: Rwanda, the Holocaust. Even when they have (finally) admitted that something must be done, the systems are slow and bureaucratic. I am helping someone sponsor a family of Iraqi Christians - and the process will take months to approve their move to Canada.

As for simple military reaction: many have lost faith that this can help. Military intervention in Iraq set up the chaos for ISIS to grow to start with.

As for the history: a lot of the refugees aren't Orthodox, but Syriac Christian - another denomination, though it may be in communion with the RC and/or Othodoc, but have their own history, rite and sacred language (Syriac). They are the oldest of the Christian churches, their holy language is descended from that spoken in Judea at the time, and their liturgy is probably the oldest form of Christian liturgy surviving. The Syrian churches, which include the Church of the East, spread Christianity into India, and even into China before the Middle Ages.

This is all details - but it reminds me that we're not just talking about mass murder (itself horrific), but a genocidal destruction of a people and culture which is unique. (This was one of the reasons that my friend, whose parents are Holocaust survivors and refugees, felt so strongly about sponsoring a family, despite the difficulty and expense.)

The Yazidis are also facing genocide.
posted by jb at 11:49 AM on July 23, 2015 [30 favorites]


I am not Christian, but I was wondering if part of the lack of international support from other Christians is that the vast majority of Christians in the Arab world (65%) are Orthodox, and only a small amount (7%) are Protestant. Is the doctrinal difference large enough to overcome shared religious bonds?

I don't think it's about doctrine, so much as a lot of Christians in the countries that could tender international support that would actually have any chance of having any kind of affect either don't consider their religious identification enough to overcome their other political stances, or, particularly in the US, they are crazed millenarian fundamentalist cheerleaders for the "clash of civilizations" who basically only really care about persecution Christians in the rest of the world as excuses to try and foment eliminationist rhetoric against Islam and Muslims.

The folks quoted in the article as basically saying that Obama has over-corrected against that to the point of absurdity are in my opinion pretty much correct, but the fundamental issue is still there. ISIS wants a full blown religious war between civilizations and in fact uses the prospect as a recruiting tool, crazy Evangelicals want a full blown religious war between civilizations, and it makes even talking about this very hard.

No one is all-in for a full scale reinvasion of all the areas ISIS has captured, but that's pretty much what it would take to stop most of this. Maybe a proxy war whereby the US funded the hell out of all the Sunnis and other groups displaced and threatened by ISIS, but again, there's very little political will for that, and even if it was ultimately successful, it would lead to a whole lot more bloodshed and misery and displacement.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 11:51 AM on July 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Or rather, I guess I should say that ISIS promotes the idea that a full blown religious "clash of civilizations" war is already happening, uses it as a recruiting tool, and will use any kind of outside aggression as further proof.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 11:53 AM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


yes, but the comment I was replying to seemed to have been using the term "Arab world" to mean "the Middle East" since it said "in the Arab world outside of Israel". Still, fair point.

Just to end this derail, the Arab world thing was intentional, I was excluding Iran. Also, while are certainly some Jews living in Iran, there are not many. The latest census put the number at 8,756.
posted by blahblahblah at 11:56 AM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Military intervention in Iraq set up the chaos for ISIS to grow to start with.

Exactly. It's important to remember that the refugee crisis in Iraq goes back well before the rise of ISIS, as was discussed here on the Blue.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:58 AM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


blahblahblah:
"I am not Christian, but I was wondering if part of the lack of international support from other Christians is that the vast majority of Christians in the Arab world (65%) are Orthodox, and only a small amount (7%) are Protestant."
I think it is more of a question of, "What they we supposed to do?" I mean, there are all sorts of charities set up (just Google "aid for iraqi christians"). I know it gets mentioned regularly in our church and imagine it does in many others. But in the end, Christians can do about as much for other Christians in the Middle East as they can do for anyone else who lives there. It isn't like the Knights Templar are sitting around waiting for orders to defeat ISIS.
posted by charred husk at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


But wouldn't it be cool if they were?
posted by Justinian at 12:03 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not sure the Crusades were really the "cool" part of western civilization history, but carry on.
posted by hippybear at 12:08 PM on July 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


One of the higher profile rescue funds has been set up by Lord George Weidenfield, a Jewish businessman who says he's doing it because he was rescued from the Nazis by Christians.
posted by Devonian at 12:24 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hi, I'm a white American Christian, and I did not even know pressuring the State Dept to give them visas was a thing I could do. I am, I guess, incredibly uninformed! Where can I learn more about this sort of thing?
posted by timdiggerm at 12:27 PM on July 23, 2015 [8 favorites]



I am not Christian, but I was wondering if part of the lack of international support from other Christians is that the vast majority of Christians in the Arab world (65%) are Orthodox, and only a small amount (7%) are Protestant. Is the doctrinal difference large enough to overcome shared religious bonds?


It's more of a cultural difference: first, the invasion of Iraq and the project to "remake the Middle East" was pursued and supported by many evangelicals and other conservatives without any knowledge or concern about how it would affect the local Christians: for many war supporters, all residents of the Middle East were indistinguishable. Local Christians were assumed to be suspicious since they generally didn't support the war, were associated with the local regimes (Iraq foreign minister Tariq Azziz came from a Christian family. The Assad regime being made up of the Alawite minority was also protective of Christian minorities) and did not have the same support for Israel that American Christians have. So they were considered safe to ignore rather than treated as allies whose well being was of any concern.

What ISIS is doing to Christians in Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan was the same as what happened to the in Iraq in the wake of the U.S. invasion in 2003. And their loss was considered at worst collateral damage. For the most part they weren't considered a community worth being concerned about at all.
posted by deanc at 12:27 PM on July 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


Hi, I'm a white American Christian, and I did not even know pressuring the State Dept to give them visas was a thing I could do. I am, I guess, incredibly uninformed! Where can I learn more about this sort of thing?
posted by timdiggerm at 12:27 PM on July 23 [+] [!]


If you're serious, you could join with other members of your congregation to write letters, make phone calls and join public demonstrations to the US State Department for increased visas and resettlement options for Arab Christians.

Department of State, Secretary of State
Secretary John Kerry
202-647-9572

Department of State, Office Of Ombudsman
Ombudsman Shireen Dodson
202-647-9387

Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM)
Assistant Secretary Anne C. Richard
202-647-7360

Your congregation can also support the work of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.
posted by Avenger at 12:38 PM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Probably this will go better if we can skip the "they don't care about brown people" snark and preemptively criticizing other people in the thread. Also please don't use edit to change content, people won't get the edited version in their "x new comments" reloads so it creates confusion. Instead just flag your own comment for deletion and then repost the corrected version. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:43 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


There was, maybe a week or so ago, a few articles about the possibility of carving a Druze state out of Syria (which actually did exist in the past). I believe part of the idea is that such a state would become a client of Israel, providing both a home to the Druze and a peaceful north eastern border. Such a state is much more realistic than a Syriac one, though the need is just as great. However, the West cannot bring itself to openly support Kurdistan in some shape even though it is partly in being.

Anything that might be created would need the backing of the US, and those who--quite rightly--criticize Sykes-Picot would be well to bear that in mind. European leaders spent maybe a hundred years delaying the carve up of the Ottoman Empire because they knew that it would involve impossible choices. Even then they still got it wrong.
posted by Thing at 1:19 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is awful and tragic full stop.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:02 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


A lack of sympathy for Christian refugees, and the lack of support for a de jure Kurdistan, really shouldn't be conflated.

De jure Kurdistan is deeply problematic for two legitimate reasons. First, if we concede that borders ought to be subordinated to ethnic alignment -- that's basically a recipe for war in every corner of the world. Second, more specifically, Turkey is a NATO ally and there is not, as of yet, a sufficient understanding regarding the status of the Kurdish Turks, or the territory of Turkey traditionally dominated by Kurds, in a world with a sovereign Kurdistan. (The same holds true of Kurdish Iranians and the traditional Kurdish territory of Iran, but it's less of a concern for the west, Iran being a hostile power and not an ally.)

For Kurds to get an internationally recognized state requires, at a minimum, a UN Security Council resolution (including the consent of Russia and China), the consent of the recognized governments of Syria and Iraq, assuming they would be ceding territory, a treaty with Turkey and implementing legislation in both Turkey and the new Kurdistan, and at least a tacit agreement with Iran.
posted by MattD at 2:04 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


European leaders spent maybe a hundred years delaying the carve up of the Ottoman Empire because they knew that it would involve impossible choices. Even then they still got it wrong

The pattern seems to be that wars either allow the creation of minority states/enclaves or annihilate those minorities. What remnants of the Syriac and Church of the East Christians that were not destroyed in WWI are being destroyed now. While Syria was a safe haven for fleeing Armenians and resident Orthodox in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, it is likely that those communities are going to fade away as well outside of government controlled regions. Basically it has become clear that these communities exist basically on the sufferance of the surrounding people and will be killed the instant someone gets the idea that they should do so.
posted by deanc at 2:08 PM on July 23, 2015


The article would have been much better had it focused on current or very recent events rather than dip its toe into the deep history. The author makes the claim that after Islam appeared, it gradually grew and absorbed the dominant Christian population in the region over the course of 1,500 years. That's not even a white wash of the history. There's been an ongoing conflict between both followers of Islam and Christianity for the entire time period. The disappearance of the million of adherents to the Syriac Church of the East wasn't the result of the peaceful changing of minds, but one provoked by laws designed to make life humiliating and subservient to those who chose to remain Christian. There's no party in the matter left innocent and it's pointless to try and point fingers at who started what, but the article definitely fails in the realm of the longer history.
posted by Atreides at 2:59 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's been an ongoing conflict between both followers of Islam and Christianity for the entire time period. The disappearance of the million of adherents to the Syriac Church of the East wasn't the result of the peaceful changing of minds, but one provoked by laws designed to make life humiliating and subservient to those who chose to remain Christian.

This is both true and not true. As with evolution, there was more of a "punctuated equilibrium" when it came to the decline of Christianity rather than "gradual evolution." Christianity remained a majority in the Levant up until the 11th century or so. The destruction of both Eastern and Western Syriac Christanity owes a lot more to Timurlane in 1400 and the 20th century Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic than it does to the 7th century Muslim conquest. And this has been ongoing. Every time something like this happens, we get people harkening back to the "peaceful, earlier era" when everything was fine (an "equilibrium"), and then there is an outbreak of war and violence where the Christian and other minority communities get decimated. Then there's a time of peace and stability that everyone will hail as the "ideal time" until there's another outbreak of violence that Christians end up on the losing end of.
posted by deanc at 3:42 PM on July 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


From the article: For more than a decade, extremists have targeted Christians and other minorities, who often serve as stand-ins for the West. This was especially true in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, which caused hundreds of thousands to flee.

This is an enlightening angle. It's analogous to the blind rage many in the US felt toward all Muslims after 9/11, although 9/11 was peanuts compared to the sacking and pillaging the US did in Iraq.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:45 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Suppose Christians leave the Arab world as Jews did. Would this be so bad? Mass exodus would be "giving in," but I'm beginning to think it is the most effective way to prevent genocide. If there were a significant number of Jews in the Islamic State, they would probably be treated like Christians/Yazidis/Shiites, or worse. They left, and because they did, they and their descendants are safe.

In the long run, it is of course better if people learn to live with religious diversity. But this is so far from reality in the area now ruled by the Islamic state that it seems quixotic to plan around it. Tolerance for diversity is a difficult, multi-generational process, not something that can be mandated by treaties and interventions.

A coworker of mine is a Christian refugee from Baghdad. He claims that the other Christians he knows who remain in Iraq do only because they lack the means to leave. Probably countries that want to assist should be admitting them as refugees.
posted by andrewpcone at 5:21 PM on July 23, 2015


This is an enlightening angle.

I'm don't think it's a useful angle, though. Christians were treated like crap well before there was a "West" for them to be exemplars of, and other minority religions were treated worse. Also, it doesn't explain why minority ethnicities were treated like crap.

My take on it would be: there was an Ottoman empire that was Muslim and had been around for hundreds of years, but was aged and sclerotic, self-indulgent and weak, rift with a myriad internal tensions. It was more-or-less bullied into joining the German side in WW1, which led the Allies to sabotage it by promising Husayn bin Ali (Sharif of Mecca) the Caliphate of an Arab-Islamic empire. After the war it soon became clear that they had never had any intention of supporting an independent empire; they had already carved up the Middle East between themselves and they wanted subservient actually-or-economically colonised states.

The lesson Arabs and Islamists took from this was that the last Caliphate was destroyed by treachery and that there would have been an Arab-Islamic empire if not for further treachery. The construction of the hypothetical empire as "Arab" and "Islamic" is intrinsically discriminatory, but the factionalism of the Ottoman empire was further proof that minorities could not be trusted. So ever since then, it's been Pan-Arabism or Islamism, and other ethnicities and religions have been squeezed out.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:48 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Suppose Christians leave the Arab world as Jews did.

And go where? And it's not just Christians; there are other minorities. And the elephant in the room is: many Muslims are as much at risk as Christians; why rescue the Christians and not the Muslims?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:51 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Christians were treated like crap well before there was a "West" for them to be exemplars of,...

??? When was this time?
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:57 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The article would have been much better had it focused on current or very recent events rather than dip its toe into the deep history. The author makes the claim that after Islam appeared, it gradually grew and absorbed the dominant Christian population in the region over the course of 1,500 years.

What you're complaining about is one sentence in a 7,000 word article. The other 6,980 words pretty much all are about current or very recent events.
posted by neroli at 7:00 PM on July 23, 2015


Christians were treated like crap well before there was a "West" for them to be exemplars of,...

??? When was this time?


The whole time, but less towards the end. Christians (and members of other minority faiths) had legal disabilities, they had to pay a special arbitrary "taxes", and their children could be taken as slaves (e.g.). Non-Muslims couldn't sue Muslims; they couldn't even testify against them. The fact that they had any sort of life was due to the authorities' desire to maintain them as a useful part of society, not because they had any intrinsic rights.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:50 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


The whole time, but less towards the end.

What whole time? "The West" was around well before Islam.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:46 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Eh, I guess it depends how you define it. So let's say, before the rise of the colonial powers and the European struggle for empires.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:02 AM on July 24, 2015


I re-watch Star Trek: The Next Generation every few years, because it's my duty as a nerd.

And fairly often in that show, a character will mention Earth history of centuries ago (i.e., our present), when humans senselessly slaughtered each other over tribal conflicts and ideological differences and made-up bullshit, and another character will say "yeah, that was some tragic/absurd bullshit; what the hell was wrong with people back then; thank goodness that humanity is more enlightened now".

And I think "yeah, whew—thank goodness for that, am I ri—"

Oh.

Sigh.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:35 AM on July 24, 2015


How to think about Islamic State
"We must ask if the millions of young people awakening around the world to their inheritance can realise the modern promise of freedom and prosperity. Or, are they doomed to lurch, like many others in the past, between a sense of inadequacy and fantasies of revenge?".
"Russian writers from Pushkin onwards probed the psychology of the ‘superfluous’ man in a semi-westernised society".
A very comprehensive and erudite analysis by Pankaj Mishra.
posted by adamvasco at 8:05 AM on July 26, 2015


The War Nerd: A Glorious Victory, For Once - "The YPG/J are radical feminists, with women fighting on the front lines and even commanding whole fronts; Islamic State takes misogyny to a new level, actually boasting in their glossy magazine Dabiq about the righteousness of selling captured women as sex slaves."
IS is media-savvy as all Hell; it runs on victory videos. A campaign against a helpless minority like the Assyrians would mean lots of good video, plenty of loot, and thousands of new slave girls to sell.

They might even have thought that the Kurds of the YPG/J wouldn’t fight too hard to defend mere non-Kurdish, non-Muslim neighbors. Few communities in that part of the world put themselves at risk to help neighbors of a different ethnic group or religion.

But the Kurds…I’m telling you, the Kurds are something special. I saw it myself. In Suli, my students would say, “I have Christian (Assyrian) friends!” or “I have Shia (Arab, refugee from Southern Iraq) friends!”

When I told people back in America about those remarks, they had a hard time seeing anything very radical or impressive about them. People shrugged, as if it was banal or fake.

It’s hard to get some people to realize that not every place is America. In Iraq, calling someone from a different sect/ethnic group a “friend” is heroic. And not something you see, in other parts of the Middle East.

The Kurds are trying very hard to change, to get out of the sectarian nightmare. So when Islamic State attacked those vulnerable Assyrian villages around the town of Tal Hamer, they fought for the Assyrians.
also btw...
-Syrian Kurds say hit as Turkish army battles Islamic State
-Syrian Kurds accuse Turkey of attacking their forces
posted by kliuless at 12:21 PM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


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