Recently two prominent Eastern Catholic bishops have made statements that are not only curious and counter-factual, but apparently contradictory of their earlier statements, or at least not obviously emanating from the same point of view as those earlier remarks. Both cases are indicative of a larger phenomenon regarding the difficulties that Christians in Islamic countries and non-Muslims in Muslim countries in general face.
In 2006, Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, Eparch of Newton for the Melkite Greek Catholics in the United States, said: “the doctrines of Islam dictate war against unbelievers.” He pointed out that “the concept of nonviolence is absent from Muslim doctrine and practice.” And he said that “peace in Islam is based on the surrender of all people to Islam and to God’s power based on Islamic law. They have to defend this peace of God even by force.”
And yet at the recently concluded Vatican Synod on Christians in the Middle East, he contradicted the teachings of the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council and echoed Islamic supremacist propaganda by saying that divine promises made to Israel according to Jewish and Christian Scripture “were nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people.” He made no mention of the Muslim imperative to bring about “the surrender of all people to Islam” as being a possible contributing cause in the plight of Christians in the Middle East; instead, he blamed Israel only.
In 2007, Emmanuel III Delly, the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said this about the Christians in Iraq: “Christians are killed, chased out of their homes before the very eyes of those who are supposed to be responsible for their safety.” In 2008, he said: “The situation in some parts of Iraq, is disastrous and tragic. Life is a Calvary: there is no peace or security… Everyone is afraid of kidnapping.”
But on October 15 he said this at the Vatican’s Synod on Christians in the Middle East: “The population of this country, crossed by two famous rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, is 24 million, all Muslims, with whom we live peacefully and freely….Christians are good with their fellow Muslims and in Iraq there is mutual respect among them.”
(Quotes from Patriarch Emmanuel thanks to Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican.)
Why these shifts?
There are several possible reasons. One is the Arab nationalist imperative, which was largely an attempt by Christian Arabs to ease the pain of dhimmitude by creating a secular framework upon which Christians could enjoy equal, or almost equal, status with Muslims. Practically this meant the utter co-opting of Christian communities in Arab countries: they became politically, culturally, and socially indistinguishable from the larger Muslim population. This was because for Muslims Islam was always the heart of the Arab identity in any case — as was succinctly summed up by pioneering Arab nationalist Michel Aflaq: “Arab nationalism is Islam.” That is another reason why the statements by Archbishop Cyril in Baalbek years ago and at the Synod more recently are essentially identical to statements that so many Muslim leaders have made about Jews, Jerusalem and Israel. This is the way all too many Middle Eastern Christians have learned to view the world.
In the case of Archbishop Cyril, he is strongly in the running to become the next Archbishop of Beirut, and could be trying to reassure Muslim leaders in Lebanon that his stint in the United States has not tainted him with Zionism, and he is still as anti-Israel as he was as Archbishop of Baalbek, before he came to America. It is a pity that a Christian leader would have to behave this way, and I am not saying he is not doing it out of conviction also, but in any case it is a reflection of the situation on the ground in Islamic countries: Christians who don’t echo the Islamic political line face hard going.
Also, according to Islamic law, the “protection” contract between the Muslim community and the dhimmis is violated, leaving the dhimmi subject to execution, if he “mentions something impermissible about Allah, the Prophet, or Islam,” (‘Umdat al-Salik 011.10(5).) Neither Patriarch Emmanuel nor Archbishop Cyril (if he moves back to Lebanon) live in states that enforce the fullness of Sharia, but it remains a cultural hangover in the Islamic world, such that Christians generally know that if they speak out against the mistreatment to which they are subjected, they will only make matters worse. Historically, dhimmi communities were also kept apart and at odds with one another — hence the animosity toward Jews. They were communities of fear, living under an ever-ready threat of death if they got out of line. And so mostly, they didn’t.
Accordingly, we cannot judge either Patriarch Emmanuel nor Archbishop Cyril harshly. What is remarkable about Patriarch Emmanuel’s statements was not that he painted such a falsely positive picture at the Synod, but that he ever spoke out about the persecution of Christians in Iraq at all. Their odd statements of late were almost certainly made in an attempt to protect their communities. The situation of Christians in the Middle East is bad enough, and they may fear they will make it even worse by speaking more honestly about Islamic supremacism and jihad. But Western audiences should note the full reality of the situation, and call all the more loudly for the human rights community to speak out, and for the world to take action, to end the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries — so that these embattled leaders need exhibit Stockholm Syndrome-like symptoms, or dissemble to protect their people, no longer.