Lee Smith asks us to imagine a Middle East without Christians. The Maronites of Lebanon, he argues, risk the fate of the Jews. Now a minority in Lebanon, they may not be politically viable for much longer. “By openly siding against the Sunnis and allying with Hezbollah—and by extension Iran—the Christians have let identity politics and ideology, rather than interests and values, drive policy.”
It’s true that Lebanese Christians, like other minority groups here, including the Shiites, suffered terrible persecution at the hands of the Sunnis, who for centuries treated them as second-class citizens (at best). But Lebanon’s current Sunni leaders are not Ottomans, never mind jihadists. Like the Christians themselves, the Sunni leadership here [in Lebanon] promotes liberal values and a liberalized economy.
It wasn’t always like that. The Maronites thought they had an enclave in Lebanon set apart from the turmoils of the region. And then the Palestinians showed up, having been driven out of Jordan by King Hussein in Black September, 1970, after trying to take parts of it over for themselves.
The [Lebanese] Sunni community’s political, diplomatic, and financial support of the Palestinians set them squarely against the Maronites, who resisted turning Lebanon into a forward operating base for the P.L.O. They sought to preserve their vision of a Lebanon free from the region’s destructive political currents and to avoid the Israeli reprisals they rightly feared.
But the PLO moved into Lebanon and things were never the same. Typically vengeance for Jordan’s act was visited on the Jews. The Black September Organization (BSO), formed to memorialize that expulsion, went on to kill eleven Israeli athletes and officials and a West German policeman, during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
That attack was depicted in a Steven Spielberg film, Munich which follows the fortunes of an Israeli team sent to wipe out the Black September hit team. In it, the Israeli characters agonize over the “morality of the entire mission … the futility of the mission.”
Someone once said that the worst distortion Western academia and news agencies ever spread about the Middle East was that its politics was all about Arabs and Jews. But that is only the second worst distortion. The greatest sin was in making the story of sectarian strife disappear so that it could continue unnoticed. In some sense, the Druze, Maronites, Copts, Kurds are only different from the Jews in that they have not yet found their Israel. The real sin of the Zionism was in having succeeded in forming an enclave for themselves and thereby setting a bad example to the rest. Israel must at all events be punished pour encourager les autres.
But while qualms of conscience and “leading from behind” may be the latest vogue in the West, “lording it over” is the watchword of the relentlessly aggressive majority communities. Military.com describes Teheran’s unabashed attempts to fill the power vacuum left by US forces. Their purpose is not to live in with other ethnic groups, but to dominate them. War for oil? War for land? Unlike America some groups would find this an excellent reason to slaughter and invade their neighbors.
It’s not news that Iran’s Quds Force (which translates to Jerusalem Force) waged a proxy war against U.S. troops in Iraq. However, Military.com’s newest member, Mike Hoffman, just filed a piece about how officers of the Texas-based 36th infantry division, one of the last American units to rotate through Iraq, told lawmakers about opportunities for Tehran to wage a soft takeover of weak spots in the Iraqi military and economy …
Perhaps most revealing about the threat of Iranian influence inside Iraq is the fact that the Iraqi army is functionally a heavy police force; capable only of fighting terrorists and providing other forms of “internal security” not defending the country’s borders from other militaries …
This news combined with other reports describing Iraq on the brink of civil war, paint a picture of a country ripe for a subtle proxy takeover push by an Iran that’s looking for such an opportunity to expand its power and influence. You can bet that the United States will fight this. But, as our military attention shifts toward Asia and we drop our ability to fight two wars at once, it will be interesting to see how we do this.
But it’s not like the Iraqi Sunnis can’t have the same idea. Nearly 70 people were killed in bombs directed against Shi’ites getting readying for a religious observance. “Baghdad military spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said the aim of the attacks is ‘to create turmoil among the Iraqi people’. He said it was too early to say who was behind the bombings.”
It is always too early to say who was responsible for bombings, even though a culprit has tentatively been identified. That is because nobody wants to expose the game. Politics in the Middle East is not about the Arabs versus the Jews, but about minorites versus relative majorities. The Jews are just a special case of the general condition. But the Copts probably suspected that something was going on when their Christmas observances were bombed last year.
The perpetrators of the bombing have never been identified, compounding Coptic anxieties. The Mubarak government was quick to blame “foreign elements,” specifically a shadowy Palestinian-based organization called the Army of Islam …
In the bewildering climate of rumour and counter-rumour, the one sure thing is that sectarian violence at Christmas has become depressingly routine. On Jan. 7, 2010 (Christmas Day in the Coptic calendar), gunmen murdered eight Christians in Nag Hammadi as they were leaving midnight mass. This year tension is high in the province of Asyut after a Coptic student allegedly posted pictures of the Prophet Mohamed on Facebook, an act of blasphemy in Muslim eyes. An angry mob threatened to lynch the student and, reportedly, some Coptic homes have been burned down
There are two possible scenarios. The first is optimistic … The second is pessimistic. It sees growing hostility to Copts – marked out as scapegoats for the country’s perilous economic and political condition – reaching a tipping point that will see the steady stream of Coptic migration from Egypt swell into a full-scale exodus.
Bombing churches and mosques, pilgrimages and marketplaces are really just a way of posting messages to other communities: get out of town. This place ain’t big enough for the two of us.
The vast displacement of populations within the region has been going on for 150 years. Albanian, Bosniak, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Romanian, Serbian, Hellenic, Arab, Armenian, Jewish and Kurdish nationalisms arising within the former Ottoman empire have progressively broken the place apart. Many nationalist movements have attained their states, though the Kurds are still trying for theirs. The Muslim Arabs, for their part, are bent on demonstrating that the job of division into even smaller sections has not gone far enough.
As for the Christians, they may decide it is not worth the candle to fight for the privilege of living among such charming neighbors. Like the Texas 36th, they may pull out. Where to? For Australia, Europe, North and South America — any place that will take them. But unlike the US Armed Forces all too many will be left behind to face a gradual, but relentless and eventual cultural extinction.
History from one point of view is log of the death certificates of cultures and nations. In 1992 a prominent US linguist predicted that by the year 2100, 90% of the world’s 7,000 languages would have ceased to exist. A study cited by the BBC argues that unless current trends are reversed, religion is headed for extinction in 9 Western countries. And the Guardian quotes a study which says that the mystery of the disappearance of the Neanderthals has finally been solved. Homo sapiens ate them.
One of science’s most puzzling mysteries – the disappearance of the Neanderthals – may have been solved. Modern humans ate them, says a leading fossil expert.
The controversial suggestion follows publication of a study in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences about a Neanderthal jawbone apparently butchered by modern humans. Now the leader of the research team says he believes the flesh had been eaten by humans, while its teeth may have been used to make a necklace.
Perhaps the lesson from history is that nothing lasts forever unless it fights back. And even then, resistance only buys a chance of survival, not a guarantee.
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $3.99, print $9.99