This past Sunday’s Boston Globe carried a front-page article — which continued onto and filled most of two inside pages — on “The New Christian Martyrs.” The author, John L. Allen, Jr., a member of the Globe Staff, whose usual beat is the Vatican, would — I was certain even before I started reading — focus laser-like on the fate of Christians at the hands of Muslims, and especially in the Middle East. Indeed, initially he did not disappoint. John L. Allen Jr. started with the story of one Nabil Soliman, the lone Christian in his village in Upper Egypt, who with his family was set upon in November 2013 by a Muslim mob, and forced to flee the village his family had lived in for many generations. Soliman lost his job, his pension, his home. And now his family has moved to a tiny flat (“stifling”) in Cairo, “living on the meager income two of his sons generate selling second-hand clothes in the streets. He can’t afford the rent or even to buy the medicines he needs to stave off his hepatitis C.” Soliman, writes Allen, “understandably…is full of questions about his fate and his future.” But he knows that “[t]his is all because we’re Christians….There is no other reason.”
And then John L. Allen, Jr. quickly introduces — presumably in a spirit of “fairness” or “completeness,” a different, more expansive note: “Such stories…are easy to collect, in Egypt, across the Middle East” and — nota bene — “elsewhere around the world.” And now he takes in that whole wide world: “Religious persecution is increasingly Christian persecution, here and globally…..In 2013.” John L. Allen, Jr. notes: “in 2013 Christians were harassed either by the government or social groups in 102 of 198 countries included in a Pew Research Center study…” These 102 countries are not listed, but a map showing “Christian harassment around the globe” according to the Pew Research Center is helpfully provided with the story, and among the countries depicted in red because it is a place “where Christians were harassed” are Ecuador, Peru, France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Finland and many other surprising candidates, including the United States of America. Perhaps I am missing something, but I was unaware that Christians were being attacked in this country just like hapless Nabil Soliman in Upper Egypt.
John L. Allen continues: “cruelties such as Soliman endured are commonplace.” Stop right there. Are such cruelties “commonplace,” or would it not be more accurate to write “are commonplace in Muslim-majority countries” such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and not at all “commonplace” in such places as “Ecuador, Peru, France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Finland, and the United States of America”? Allen then goes on describe “a diverse set of motives that drives the persecution [of Christians]:” “In much of the Middle East and parts of Africa, it’s Islamic radicalism.” Not Islam tout court, but “Islamic radicalism.” Like everyone else under the sun, John L. Allen, Jr. feels no need to tell us how “Islamic radicalism” differs from garden-variety Islam. And he continues with his tour d’horizon, placing rhetorically on the same level all sorts and conditions of men: “in India, it’s Hindu fundamentalism; in China and North Korea, it’s police states protecting their hegemony,” and in Latin America, it’s often “vested interests threatened by Christians standing up for peace and justice.”
But note that when “police states” are protecting ” their “hegemony” or vested interests attack those who stand up “for peace and justice,” they are protecting their political regimes; in neither case is Christianity qua Christianity being attacked; it is Christianity purely as a political force, and any Christian who supported the “police state” or those “vested interests” would be left alone. His Christian faith is neither necessary nor sufficient to make him an enemy of a dictatorship. In the case of Hindu fundamentalism, it is true that some very extreme Hindus, intent on preventing conversion of Hindus to Christianity, have attacked — and in one or two cases actually killed — those engaged in proselytizing for Christianity. These Hindus, are not, when they — so rarely — attack a Christian missionary, following any directions to be found in the Hindu scriptures. There is not a single word in the Hindu holy books about Christianity, or Islam, or any other religion. The desire of Hindus to maintain their numbers, is a demographic, not a theological worry. And it might be noted that Hindus, who have suffered historically more than any other faith from invasion and forced conversion, and mass-killings of many of its believers by believers in another faith (Islam), should perhaps be met with understanding when some of them, truly “radicalized” Hindus, attempt to protect their numbers from the perceived but much milder threat of organized Christianity. When Muslims attack Christians, they do so irrespective of the political views of the Christians (standing up for peace and justice is not necessary to earn murderous Muslim hostility — as Nabil Soliman found out) and do so following the express commands of the Qur’an and the glosses on the Qur’an that the Hadith provide. Nowhere in the Hindu scriptures, with its fabulous gods and feuding warrior families, is there anything akin to the ninth sura of the Qur’an.
John L. Allen Jr. provides his own analysis of the fate of Egypt’s Copts: “the root cause of persecution and anti-Christian cruelty lies at the bloody intersection of radical Islamism and radicalized politics.” I’m still waiting to find out how John L. Allen would define “radical Islamism” and distinguish it from “Islam,” and I am also wondering what defines the “radicalized politics” that intersect with “radical Islamism.” I don’t know of any particular kind of politics — left, right, center — that must accompany a deep belief in Islam in order to elicit the kind of attacks that Nabil Soliman — whose politics are unstated, and for all we know he has none — had to endure from Muslim neighbors.
John L. Allen, Jr. does recognize that in Iran “Christian pastors face death sentences under a new criminal charge of ‘spreading corruption in the land.'” Allen does not stop to note, as he might have, that this is an Islamic phrase lifted from the Qur’an (5:33). And then things get a little confusing, because between reporting on what happens to Christian pastors threatened with death in Muslim Iran, and reporting on Lebanon, where the Archbishop of Tripoli says that “young Christians today ‘live in anxiety and fear,'” he slips in just a line of reporting from Israel, as if to have that report, squeezed between Iran and Lebanon, take on their coloration. Here is the one sentence he devotes to Israel: “In Israel, which boasts of being the region’s lone democracy, Arab Christians complain of second-class status and harassment by security forces.” Which “Arab Christians” are these? And what “second-class status” can Allen possibly have in mind? Arab Christians, like Arab Muslims, have all the civil rights that Jews in Israel have. The only thing they are deprived of is compulsory military service, but some of those Arab Christians, like the Rev. Gabriel Naddaf, have been pushing for Christians to participate in the defense of Israel as their country, too. Note the wording: Israel “boasts” of being “the region’s lone democracy,” (but it really isn’t because) “Arab Christians complain of second-class status” (an unsubstantiated charge, and Allen does not name any of those making this charge, nor does he bother to flesh out the gravamen of their complaints) and, furthermore “harassment by security forces.” That the security forces are engaged in a difficult campaign against Arab terrorists, most recently engaged in the “knife intifada,” Allen does not bother to mention. Meanwhile, I have received no reports of “harassment” (of Arab Christians) by Israeli security forces. The placement of the sentence, and its wording, both contribute to making the reader think that Israel, though it “boasts” of being a democracy, really isn’t, and is especially mean to Christians, given that they complain (who complains? when? about what, exactly?) of their “second-class status,” and that the single sentence devoted to Israel comes just after the report on Christian pastors given death sentences in Iran and before that about those young Christians in Lebanon who “live in anxiety and fear.” No Christian pastors are given death sentences in Israel; no young Christians — or old ones, for that matter — in Israel live in anxiety and fear. Israel is the one place in the Middle East where Christians enjoy full religious and civil rights, where they are safe from Muslim persecution. Of course, that does not prevent a certain kind of islamochristian, such as Naim Ateek or Hanan Ashrawi, from parroting the PLO line, for some “Christian” Arabs are more Muslim than the Muslims, as a way, they think, of fitting in, of ensuring their survival in a future “Palestine,” which, of course, will be Muslim-dominated.
Still later on in this very long article by Allen, an Egyptian researcher is quoted as saying: “From the era of the Islamic conquest, Christians in the Middle East have been seen as the ‘other’….Whenever Muslims get mad at the West, it’s harder to take it out directly on the Americans or the EU…It’s much easier to march to the Christian church down the street and torch it.” So it’s not any deep hostility toward Christians and Christianity (and all other non-Muslims, too), but rather, just a way of expressing anger with “the Americans or the EU.”
Does that analysis satisfy you? Nabil Soliman had his home burned down, lost his job and pension, and now has to live in a stifling Cairo flat, and on the earnings of his two sons selling second-hand clothing on the street, all because the American Embassy was unavailable for a protest march by Concerned Muslim Citizens in his town? And there are so many others Allen reports on, Copts apparently attacked because it was “harder to take it out directly on the Americans”: “There’s Nadi Moohani Makar, 59, who was a prosperous merchant in a mid-sized Egyptian town…when a mob burst into his home in 2014, shot his wife in the leg, set his house ablaze, and dragged him off for a beating.” All because there was no way for the local Muslims to send a protest to the EU, apparently. Then there is Saqer Iskandar Toos, a Christian “whose father was killed” by Muslim “radicals.” “Toos was finally able to organize a funeral,” but then the same “radicals [who killed his father] stormed the cemetery, dug up his father’s corpse, and paraded it through the streets.” Yes, these Muslims, too, must have been “mad at the West” and unable to deliver a letter to the White House, and so instead decided to kill an elderly Copt and parade his corpse through town.
And Mr. Allen’s report is among the very best on what is happening to the Copts, to the Chaldeans, to the Assyrians, to the Melkites and Maronites. The reports are fine; the attribution of motive, or the deflection of attention, or the inattention to the actual contents of Qur’an and Hadith that could clear up so much if only the Western public were allowed to know their contents, and to take them seriously, is what disturbs. But steadily, step by dismal step, reality is breaking in. And more and more people will, and are, asking themselves, what is it about Islam that makes Muslims behave the way they do? The answer to that can’t come fast enough.