Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald discusses the identity and plight of Arab Christians:
The notion that Arab Christians have a difficult time in Israel is belied by any number of telling facts. Christian sites are scrupulously taken care of, and available to all. It has not been the Israelis who took over the Church of the Nativity, used it as a place from which to fire, and vandalized it and defecated within it — but the usual “Palestinians” (it hardly matters to discuss which group “claimed credit” for whatever it was doing). It has not been the Israelis who have been terrorizing Christians in Bethlehem, leading to a steady drop in their numbers. So terrorized are the local Christian Arabs that it had to be the new Franciscan Guardian of the Christian Sites to tell the truth about the matter — for only he could, given his position and authority, escape Muslim Arab punishment. The current mayor of Bethlehem is a classic islamochristian, swearing up and down the land (and to a clearly skeptical BBC interviewer) that there is “no problem” for Christians in Bethlehem, and pooh-poohing that little business about a declining Christian population, and grandly asserting that “of course” (or was it the Arab “for sure”) his own children, now studying in — guess where? — the United States, would be returning to good old, safe-for-Christians, Bethlehem. Right.
The whole business of Arab Christians, outside of those whose numbers have heretofore been sufficient to guarantee a certain security, and hence a certain confidence, and hence a certain ability to tell the truth about Islam, is discussed in two of Bat Ye’or’s books, “Islam and Dhimmitude” and “The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam.” These books should be read and thoroughly and assimilated by all those who wonder where they all went. Where did the Christians of North Africa go, the land where many of the early Fathers of the Church came from? What happened to that Christian civilization that produced Tertullian and then St. Augustine of Hippo? And what happened, over time, to the once-entirely Christian Coptic land of Egypt after the Muslim Arabs invaded? And what happened to the Nestorians of present-day Iraq, and the Christians of Syria, and even those of the Arabian Peninsula? What happened to them?
For anyone who wants a concise statement of what Islam means for Christians, do google the name “Habib Malik.” Habib Malik, the son of the most eminent Lebanese statesman, the late Charles Malik (who understood the menace of Islam completely, and who lived in a different period, when Lebanon, the redoubt and refuge of the region’s Christians, was slowly but inexorably islamizing, as so many places will if nothing is done to prevent it). Habib Malik’s essay on Arab Christians should also be printed out and shared.
The best example of “islamochristianity” is not Naim Ateek, busily pushing his anti-Israel resolutions through this or that bureaucracy of sinister or silly Christians completely oblivious to, often willfully oblivious to, the nature of Islam, its tenets, its history. Nor is it Hanan Ashrawi, such a good friend of the late Peter Jennings. Nor is it Archbishop Cappucci, the icon-stealer and seller, and gun-runner for the PLO. No, the best example of an “islamochristian” just trying to find some way for Christian Arabs to find a place for themselves in a dangerous Muslim neighborhood, is Michel Aflaq of Damascus. It was he, along with a “secular” (for what that word is worth in this context) Sunni Muslim, who came up with Ba’athism, which took much of its rhetoric and organizational ideas from the Fascists and Nazis of Europe. In its essence it offered a way of downplaying Islam, and substituting not quite as an alternative, but as a variant upon the dream of a world-wide united caliphate, the dream of a united Arab world. This pan-Arabism, in which Islam would be de-emphasized, was naturally popular in two places, and only two: Syria and Iraq. And this was for obvious reasons. In both, an already ensconced minority, constantly on the alert against a majority that was different in its brand of Islam, had to find a way to disguise its rule within an ideology that might appeal to others outside the small ruling elite.
In Syria, the Alawites, turned by the opportunities that the French offered them into an officer caste, through their military control came to rule the country. They are a small minority, barely 12% of the population. But they have the planes and the tanks, and when there are threats from the “real” Muslims (who deplore the Alawite worship of Miriam, and other syncretistic features of this most unorthodox version of Islam), those “real” Muslims can be mowed down by the forces controlled by the Alawites. Think of Hama. Yet, Ba’athism allows some “real” (i.e. Sunni) Muslims, and of course Christians too, in small numbers, and also a few Kurds, to join the government, and to seem to be part of a “national” movement which merely disguises Alawite rule.
In Iraq, too, the Sunnis, who now make up less than 20% of the population, found that once the monarchy and the ancien regime was gone, Ba’athism could be used to draw off some Christians and some Shi’a, into what was really a Sunni despotism. This became particularly useful after the 1958 coup which ended the Hashemite monarchy, and saw “strongman” Nuri al-Said hacked to bits, and his mutilated corpse further mutilated as it was dragged around the streets of Baghdad, so that excitable crowds could do just what they have done to American contractors in Fallujah, or American soldiers wherever they can: watch them roasted alive, and come out to jump up and down and enjoy the fun, screaming with hysterical pleasure. Tariq Aziz (a Christian who dutifully islamized his name) proved to be the right spokesman to the world. Shi’a (even Allawi) who were secular found that the Ba’athist Party, whatever else it might be, stood for the proposition, now being so obviously undone, that a Shi’a theocracy would not prevail, as it necessarily would if the Shi’a themselves prevailed.
So that was Ba’athism. Another desperate effort to escape from the anguish of being a Christian Arab (save for the Maronites and the Copts, who have been, many of them, at least until recently, more self-assured). It didn’t work. Not even for Michel Aflaq. On his deathbed, he converted to Islam. In the end, “arabness” and “Islam” are for so many so inextricably bound up that even those Christian Arabs cannot recognize their real enemy, and keep pretending, ululating along with the Muslims who scare them, against the putative Israeli enemy.
But times have changed. The figures on Christians in Bethlehem and elsewhere are clear. The desperation of Arab Christians to be allowed to settle in Israeli-held Jerusalem, or in Arab villages elsewhere, or to leave for Canada, Australia, America where possible (and it should not be possible if those “Christians” bear with them essentially the views of Islam, for then they become, objectively, bearers of the Muslim menace even if they seem, outwardly, and no doubt think of themselves inwardly, as “Christians”), is also clear.
Meanwhile, in this country, a clever campaign is afoot to convince Lebanese-Americans that they are to regard themselves as “Arab-Americans.” This is a transparent attempt to enroll in a Muslim campaign, through an appeal to a putative shared — entirely meretricious — identity. It is an attempt to convince the descendants of those who fled the Middle East precisely because they were Christians, especially the Maronites, that they should make common cause with Muslims. Yet the Maronites were not merely not Muslim, but in fact mere Arabic-users and not Arabs at all. They had lived in the area as Maronites before the Arab Muslim conquerors came in, and if they remained Maronites yet learned Arabic (many must have succumbed to Islam because the status of dhimmi was for so many unendurable), this did not — except in the definition of an “Arab” that the Arabs themselves insist must count — ever became Arabs. And why should they?
Many Christians from Lebanon, once they get out, quickly throw off in the secure West their dhimmitude, their fear, and speak their minds about Islam. Others don’t quite manage to, or do about Islam but continue to take a dim view of Israel. It is hard, of course, if you have been imbibing anti-Israel nonsense all of your life, to quite so quickly throw it off, but it can be, and often is, done. But one should not expect all those who continue to call themselves “Palestinian,” as if this “nationality” invented after 1967 was in fact a permanent state, with easily recognizable unique characteristics (“Palestinian” language, “Palestinian” religion, “Palestinian” folktales, stories, and dances — oh, sorry, there’s been a real bull market in creating that instant past, an instant past so transparent in the motives for its instant creation, that mocking it would be too easy).
Certainly those Christians who arrived in this country from Lebanon and Syria from 1890 to 1950 (in the early days, their Ottoman-Empire passports might read “Turco” or “Turk” or “Syrian”), had none of that anti-Israel or indeed the slightest anti-Western feeling. They knew what Islam was all about. For one example of this, read “Syrian Yankee” by Salomon Rizk, which appeared about 1954.
One could go on. One could quote Bishop Moubarac of Beirut in 1947 on why the Christians of Lebanon, and the Jews of the nascent state of Israel, were in this together. But why bother — you can find his words in Bat Ye’or’s “Islam and Dhimmitude.” For now, simply start by googling in order to discover what Habib Malik has written on Christianity and Islam, then visit the websites of Brigitte Gabriel and Nonie Darwish, and take it — va, va, va, voom — from there.