Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dwindling Christians of the Middle East

Next week's Weekly Standard features an excellent piece by Lee Smith on the continued exodus of Near Eastern Christians.

From the outset of his essay, Lee challenges some of the accepted wisdom in Middle East Studies, which traditionally paints Lebanon's Christians as "isolationists" (to use a favored term from the lexicon of Arabism) obsessed with the partition of Lebanon. He writes:
While the Christian community fought to preserve the state’s territorial integrity and avoid war with Israel, the country’s increasingly numerous Sunnis wanted to attach themselves to the great Arab cause—Palestine—and open the border with Israel to the Palestinian resistance.
I would add that until recently Lebanon's Sunni community could care less about a united Lebanon, and had indeed fought tooth and nail, throughout the 1920s and until the birth of the National Pact in 1943, to stunt the new Lebanese state and attach it to a nascent "Syrian Arab Republic", itself a makeshift French concoction patched up together out of the remnants of the Ottoman Vilayets (Provinces) of Aleppo, Beirut, and Damascus.

Furthermore, even at the height of their political and military power, at the time when Bashir Gemayel was elected President, the Maronites still opted for a united multi-ethnic unitary integral Lebanon! Contrary to the claims of the canon of Arabism, had they truly desired a reduced "Marounistan" (to use another beloved term of Arabist advocates of "unity") the Maronites could have sued for (and obtained) one in 1920, 1943, 1958, 1975, AND 1982. In fact, Bashir Gemayel's first official act as President-elect of Lebanon was reconciliation, consensus, and reaching out to those who had for 15 years prior sought the erasure of Lebanon. Indeed, the "10,452" (alluding to the size of modern Lebanon) was a Christian-Lebanese slogan, not an Arabist one, and certainly not a Sunni Lebanese one.

The remainder of Lee's piece offers a glimpse into the resignation of Middle Eastern Christians to their inexorable exodus and disappearance. But the author also breaks ranks with his cohort or Middle East experts by suggesting that the dwindling Near Eastern Christian communities is a phenomenon dating back to the 7th century Arab Conquests. He also questions the concept of "protection" of minorities under Islam, and warns against assuming "protection" to mean "equality". I would add that neither is "tolerance" to be subsumed into a form of "equality" either! Indeed, lost in the simplistic rhetoric about "protection" and "tolerance" of non-Muslim "Peoples of the Book" is the fact that those who are ostensibly being "tolerated" and "protected" are the "Native Americans" of Lebanon, Egypt, and the rest; remnants of venerable civilizations being "tolerated" and "protected" on their own lands, by supposed altruists who are in fact allogeneous conquering colonials and builders of empire..

And lest another minor point be also conveniently swept under the rug, one might want to ask "protection" for what reasons? and "protection" against whom and what?

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