The NYT on the End of Mideast Christianity

Egyptian Copts, one holding a Coptic Christian cross, demonstrate against the overnight sectarian violence, in downtown Cairo, Egypt Sunday, May 8, 2011. Christians and Muslims throwing rocks clashed in downtown Cairo on Sunday, hours after ultraconservative Muslim mobs set fire overnight to a church and a Christian-owned apartment building in a frenzy of violence that killed 12 people and injured more than 200. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
 Photo from Christianity Today

Eliza Griswold’s major piece on Mideast Christians in the New York Times Magazine this past weekend is getting lots of well-deserved attention. The Times, more than almost any other media publication, can place items on the national agenda, and both it and Griswold deserve credit for covering the crisis facing Christianity in Syria and Iraq. Griswold makes a couple of mistakes in the article–she incorrectly describes the beliefs of Oriental Orthodox Christians and ascribes the Armenian Genocide to “nationalism, not religion,” when in fact the genocide resulted from both–but, on the whole, it’s a very impressive piece, and well worth reading.

As an American, I was particularly struck by Griswold’s description of how the United States has abandoned Mideast Christians. Really, we are doing next to nothing to help these poor people. “Wait a minute,” someone might object. “How has the US abandoned them? And why do we have to do anything? We’re not responsible for righting every wrong that occurs in the world, and anyway we were in Iraq, trying to help, for years. It didn’t work. Let Iraqis and other local populations settle this for themselves. It’s not worth more American lives.”

I understand the appeal of this objection, but it depends on not a little willful amnesia. Of course, the parties who bear principal responsibility for the persecution of Christians are local Islamists like ISIS. But the US itself bears indirect responsibility. The US invasion in 2003 led to this situation, by creating anarchy and unleashing long-repressed sectarian resentments. And by abruptly leaving Iraq, we have allowed the crisis to intensify. A Catholic bishop Griswold quotes says it well. “Americans and the West were telling us they came to bring democracy, freedom and prosperity. What we are living is anarchy, war, death and the plight of three million refugees.’’ Having helped to create this crisis, the US has a moral obligation to do something to help. We can’t simply abandon these people–and Griswold makes clear that both the Bush and Obama Administrations deserve blame in this–as though we had nothing to do with exposing them to danger in the first place.

As of now, Griswold reports, the US has done very little. (This morning’s announcement of a potential US-Turkish alliance to fight ISIS in northern Syria seems driven largely by Turkey’s desire to preempt Kurdish gains; I doubt most of the region’s Christians hope for much out of it). The US is doing nothing to speed up immigration applications from Mideast Christians, notwithstanding the obvious persecution they are suffering. Even humanitarian assistance has been lacking.

Griswold correctly diagnoses the problem. Mideast Christians have few allies in American politics. Conservatives don’t feel much affinity for Mideast Christians, who often favor Palestine in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and liberals have a hard time seeing any Christians as sympathetic victims. As someone once observed, Mideast Christians have the misfortune to be too foreign for the Right and too Christian for the Left.

I hope Griswold’s timely piece can do something to help change America’s response. You can read her whole essay here.

Ramírez, “Migrating Faith”

In October, the University of North Carolina Press releases: “Migrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century,” by Daniel Ramírez (University of Michigan). The publisher’s description follows:

Daniel Ramírez’s history of twentieth-century Pentecostalism in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands begins in Los Angeles in 1906 with the eruption of the Azusa Street Revival. The Pentecostal phenomenon–characterized by ecstatic spiritual practices that included speaking in tongues, perceptions of miracles, interracial mingling, and new popular musical worship traditions from both sides of the border–was criticized by Christian theologians, secular media, and even governmental authorities for behaviors considered to be unorthodox and outrageous. Today, many scholars view the revival as having catalyzed the spread of Pentecostalism and consider the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as one of the most important fountainheads of a religious movement that has thrived not only in North America but worldwide.

Ramírez argues that, because of the distance separating the transnational migratory circuits from domineering arbiters of religious and aesthetic orthodoxy in both the United States and Mexico, the region was fertile ground for the religious innovation by which working-class Pentecostals expanded and changed traditional options for practicing the faith. Giving special attention to individuals’ and families’ firsthand accounts and tracing how a vibrant religious music culture tied transnational communities together, Ramírez illuminates the interplay of migration, mobility, and musicality in Pentecostalism’s global boom.

Göle, “Islam and Secularity”

In October, the Duke University Press releases “Islam and Secularity: The Future of Europe’s Public Sphere,” by Nilüfer Göle (entre d’Etudes Sociologiques et Politiques Raymond Aron, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris)). The publisher’s description follows: 

In Islam and Secularity Nilüfer Göle takes on two pressing issues: the transforming relationship between Islam and Western secular modernity and the impact of the Muslim presence in Europe. Göle shows how the visibility of Islamic practice in the European public sphere unsettles narratives of Western secularism. As mutually constitutive, Islam and secularism permeate each other, the effects of which play out in embodied and aesthetic practices and are accompanied by fear, anxiety, and violence. In this timely book, Göle illuminates the recent rethinking of secularism and religion, of modernity and resistance to it, of the public significance of sexuality, and of the shifting terrain of identity in contemporary Europe.