Monday, November 21, 2011

Two perspectives on Christians in the Mideast.

The Sunday Review section of yesterday's New York Times included two op-ed pieces reflecting on the troubled present and uncertain future of Christians in the Middle East. In the first, André Aciman considers the current prospects of Egypt's Copts following a recent upsurge in violence against them and suggests that a Christian exodus would be bad for all Egyptians:
The friendly army that Copts embraced during the Arab spring has turned its guns on those who embraced it. Your pal today, your killer tomorrow.

There are no rules and there is no trust. The poor man on the street, if he is to think for himself — which is a tall order in a country that has no history of free speech — must either wear warped lenses to see through wholesale agitprop or surrender to blind fanaticism.

Copts represent approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population and are the direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians. Yet, sensing danger while everyone else in Egypt and in the West was busy celebrating the fall of Mr. Mubarak during the much-heralded Arab Spring, 93,000 Copts have already fled Egypt since March. In light of the events in Maspero, it is thought that another 150,000 Copts may leave their ancestral homeland by the end of 2011.

When Mr. Mubarak was in power, the Copts were frequently the victims of violent attacks and official discrimination — the New Year’s bombing of a Coptic Church in Alexandria that left 21 dead is the most recent instance. Now, with Mr. Mubarak gone, Copts fear that an elected Muslim majority is likely to prove far less tolerant than a military dictatorship.

. . .

What doesn’t occur to most Egyptians is that the Copts represent a significant business community in Egypt and that their flight may further damage an economy saddled with a ballooning deficit.

But this is nothing new for Egypt. The Egyptians have yet to learn the very hard lesson of the post-1956 departure of its nearly 100,000 Jews, who, at the time, constituted one of the wealthiest Jewish communities in the Mediterranean region.

The Egyptian economy never recovered from this loss. While blaming Zionism and the creation of Israel or turning to Islamic leadership may take many people’s minds off the very real financial debacle confronting Egypt and help assuage feelings of powerlessness, the hard lesson has not been learned yet.

The Arab Spring was a luminous instance of democratic euphoria in a country that had no history of democracy or euphoria. What happened to the Copts this fall cast a dark cloud, which the interim government, whatever its true convictions, would do well to dispel.

Egypt should not lose its Copts. For if that is what autumn brings, then, to paraphrase Shelley, winter may not be far behind.
In the second piece, Anthony Shadid situates current concerns about the future of the Christian communities of the Middle East in a broader cultural and historical context, arguing that the fate of Arab Christians has deeper implications for the Arab world's sense of self:
Fear is . . . a sentiment voiced often these days by Arab Christians, a sad refrain for an ancient community that was so long a force in politics and culture in the Arab world. These days, a community that still numbers in the millions — with the largest populations in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories — finds itself little more than a spectator to events reshaping a place it once helped create, and sometimes a victim of the violence that those events have unleashed. In all the narratives that the Arab revolts represent — dignity, democracy, rights and social justice — many Christians hew to a far bleaker version of events: that their time may be running out.

. . .

Worries about the fate of Christians in the Middle East are often thrust uncomfortably into the conflict between the West and the Muslim world; in the American presidential campaign, Newt Gingrich regularly warns of an “anti-Christian Spring,” as he did in a Republican debate last weekend.

But focusing on that conflict, and the bigotries that beset it, misses the nuances of what Christians represent to the region, and the lessons that their history in other times of tumult might offer the future. In the 19th century, they ushered in a renaissance of Arab culture. Just generations ago, they helped articulate the ideologies that seized the Arab world’s imagination. The fate of Arab Christians today will help define the unresolved struggle within the Arab world about its own identity — how universal, fair, just and equal its societies turn out to be.
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.


Post a Comment

<< Home