I linked to Pamela Geller’s righteously indignant post on this last Sunday but have been meaning to revisit it when time permitted, as it is indicative of several unfortunate tendencies. Gregory III Lahham, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and All the East, has said — if this report is accurate — that Islamic jihad attacks against Middle Eastern Christians are actually a Zionist plot to discredit Islam. And in doing so, he has illustrated the predicament of Christians in the Middle East in ways that he perhaps did not intend.
“Sidon archdiocese reopens following refurbishment,” by Mohammed Zaatari in the Daily Star, December 6:
SIDON: Sidon’s Greek Catholic Archdiocese was inaugurated over the weekend along with a center for Islamic and Christian studies, with speakers at the ceremony calling for dialogue of religions and emphasizing coexistence.
A number of religious figures, politicians and businessmen took part in opening the archdiocese which saw a number of refurbishments.
Gregory III Lahham, the patriarch of the Church of Antioch and the entire Levant for Melkite Greek Catholics, participated in the ceremony that took place under his patronage….
Lahham said that attacks against Levantine Christians reflected a “Zionist conspiracy against Islam.”
“I believe it is necessary to deeply examine fundamentalism … and terrorism that are masked by religion, along with violence and disturbances against Christians here and there and on an increasing level. All this behavior has nothing to do with Islam,” Lahham said.
“But it is actually a conspiracy planned by Zionism and some Christians with Zionist orientations and it aims at undermining and giving a bad image of Islam,” he added.
The Daily Star story immediately follows these statements with a reminder of the recent jihad massacre in Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, implying that Gregory III intends to suggest that even that massacre was a Zionist plot. And that leads to the question: did the Patriarch himself even believe what he said, or were his remarks more along the lines of the American prisoners in North Korea who dutifully read the statements they were given about how wonderfully they were being treated, while signaling with eye blinks and hand gestures that they were speaking under duress from scripts prepared for them by their captors?
Could the Patriarch even have been making his explanation of the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians so absurd as to signal to the world that in Muslim countries today, non-Muslims may say anything they want to about Jews, no matter how outlandish, but cannot utter one remotely critical word about Muslims and Islam, even about how Muslims are victimizing them in the name of Islam — for if they do, that victimization will get even worse?
This is all speculation; I do not claim to have any insight into the Patriarch’s motives in saying this. Maybe he really does believe that Zionists are behind the jihad against Christians, but since that is like saying that someone is a learned, thoughtful man who believes that lizard people are secretly colonizing the planet, I am compelled to search for alternative explanations. So when he says that jihad terror against Christians “has nothing to do with Islam,” but is rather “a conspiracy planned by Zionism and some Christians with Zionist orientations,” he must know what is written in the Qur’an and Hadith about Christians and the Islamic imperative to wage war against and subjugate them. After all, in a 2006 interview he said, “When I hear a verse of the Koran, it’s not something foreign to me. It’s an expression of the civilization to which I belong.” He also opined that “after 11 September, there is a plot to eliminate all the Christian minorities from the Arabic world.”
Does he really think that plot is a Zionist one, not an Islamic jihadist one, despite the fact that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country in which the Christian population has increased since 1948? Maybe — or maybe he knows that in Islamic countries today, Christians who don’t echo the Islamic political line face hard going. And that Islamic political line is inspired by Qur’an 5:82, which terms the Jews the worst enemies of the Muslims, and is shot through with antisemitic conspiracy paranoia. So it is easy to understand why the leader of a community under threat would echo this in order to appease those who really have a gun to his head.
For 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).) Patriarch Gregory lives in Syria, which does not enforce the fullness of Sharia, but Islamic law remains a strong cultural and political presence even in non-Sharia majority Muslim countries. Christians generally know that if they speak out against the mistreatment to which they are subjected, they will only make matters worse.
Accordingly, the Patriarch, as absurd and outlandish as his words were, was almost certainly trying to protect his people. That he would feel it necessary to do so by retailing outlandish, reprehensible and antisemitic conspiracy theories, while ignoring the reality of Islamic jihad violence against Christians, only makes it all the more incumbent upon free people to speak out and act to end the Muslim persecution of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. Christians and Jews, as fellow dhimmis, are natural allies against the advancing jihad. One day, I hope that even Syria will be free enough to enable a Christian leader like the Patriarch Gregory III Lahham to acknowledge that in safety and without fear of violent jihadist reprisal.