Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Morton, “The Field of Blood”

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Here is a new book by historian Nicholas Morton (Nottingham Trent University), whose work we have noted before, that shows that the city of Aleppo in Syria has been the scene of great carnage before now: The Field of Blood: The Battle for Aleppo and the Remaking of the Medieval Middle East. Aleppo has survived disaster in the past, and will no doubt survive again. The publisher is Basic Books; here is a description from the website:

A history of the 1119 Battle of the Field of Blood, which decisively halted the momentum gained during the First Crusade and decided the fate of the Crusader states

In 1119, the people of the Near East came together in an epic clash of horses, swords, sand, and blood that would decide the fate of the city of the Aleppo–and the eastern Crusader states. Fought between tribal Turkish warriors on steppe ponies, Arab foot soldiers, Armenian bowmen, and European knights, the battlefield was the amphitheater into which the people of the Near East poured their full gladiatorial might. Carrying a piece of the true cross before them, the Frankish army advanced, anticipating a victory that would secure their dominance over the entire region. But the famed Frankish cavalry charge failed them, and the well-arranged battlefield dissolved into a melee. Surrounded by enemy forces, the crusaders suffered a colossal defeat. With their advance in Northern Syria stalled, the momentum of the crusader conquest began to evaporate, and would never be recovered.

Around the Web

Some important law-and-religion stories from around the web:

 

Dunn, “A History of Orthodox, Islamic, and Western Christian Political Values”

In September, Palgrave Macmillan will release “A History of Orthodox, Islamic, and Western Christian Political Values,” by Dennis J. Dunn. The publisher’s description follows:

The book reveals the nexus between religion and politics today and shows that we live in an interdependent world where one global civilization is emerging and where the Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 12.29.47 AMworld’s peoples are continuing to coalesce around a series of values that contain potent Western overtones. Both Putin’s Orthodox Russia and regions under the control of such Islamist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda resent and attempt, in a largely languishing effort, to frustrate this series of values. The book explains the current tension between the West and Russia and parts of the Muslim world and sheds light on the causes of such crises as the Syrian Civil War, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and acts of terrorism such as 9/11 and the ISIS-inspired massacres in Paris.  It shows that religion continues to affect global order and that knowledge of its effect on political identity and global governance should guide both government policy and scholarly analysis of contemporary history.

Elbendary, “Crowds and Sultans”

In March, Oxford University Press released “Crowds and Sultans: Urban Protest in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria,” by Amina Elbendary (American University in Cairo).  The publisher’s description follows:

During the fifteenth century, the Mamluk sultanate that had ruled Egypt and Syria since 1249-50 faced a series of sustained economic and political challenges to its rule,9789774167171 from the effects of recurrent plagues to changes in international trade routes. Both these challenges and the policies and behaviors of rulers and subjects in response to them left profound impressions on Mamluk state and society, precipitating a degree of social mobility and resulting in new forms of cultural expression. These transformations were also reflected in the frequent reports of protests during this period, and led to a greater diffusion of power and the opening up of spaces for political participation by Mamluk subjects and negotiations of power between ruler and ruled.

Rather than tell the story of this tumultuous century solely from the point of view of the Mamluk dynasty, Crowds and Sultans places the protests within the framework of long-term transformations, arguing for a more nuanced and comprehensive narrative of Mamluk state and society in late medieval Egypt and Syria. Reports of urban protest and the ways in which alliances between different groups in Mamluk society were forged allow us glimpses into how some medieval Arab societies negotiated power, showing that rather than stoically endure autocratic governments, populations often resisted and renegotiated their positions in response to threats to their interests.

This rich and thought-provoking study will appeal to specialists in Mamluk history, Islamic studies, and Arab history, as well as to students and scholars of Middle East politics and government and modern history.

Tomass, “The Religious Roots of the Syrian Conflict”

Last month, Palgrave Macmillan released “The Religious Roots of the Syrian Conflict: The Remaking of the Fertile Crescent,” by Mark Tomass (Harvard University). The publisher’s description follows:

512etymsrxl-_sx321_bo1204203200_Explores the historical origins of Syria’s religious sects and their dominance of the Syrian social scene. It identifies their distinct beliefs and relates how the actions of the religious authorities and political entrepreneurs acting on behalf of their sects expose them to sectarian violence, culminating in the dissolution of the nation-state.

Christians, the State Department, and Genocide

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Photo from The Guardian

At USA Today, columnist Kirsten Powers writes about the State Department’s apparent reluctance to refer to ISIS’s persecution of Iraqi and Syrian Christians as a genocide. The reluctance is puzzling. According to press reports, the Department is poised to declare a genocide ISIS’s persecution of another religious minority, the Yazidis. If Yazidis are the victims of genocide, she asks, why not Christians? The situation of these two persecuted minorities is quite similar.

Powers makes a very good point. The 1948 Genocide Convention defines “genocide” as, among other things, “deliberately inflicting on” a religious group “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Obviously, what ISIS is doing to the Yazidis qualifies. So does what ISIS is doing to Christians. ISIS is driving Christians from their homes, seizing their property, and, quite often, killing them in the most horrible ways. How does that not qualify as a genocide?

Apparently, the State Department is hesitating because, unlike Yazidis, Christians have a way out. As “People of the Book” under classical Islamic law — which ISIS has purported to restore in its newly declared caliphate — Christians can choose to abide by the terms of the Dhimma, the notional contract that governs the treatment of Christians, Jews, and some other minorities. As dhimmis, Christians may remain in the new caliphate as long as they follow the rules – paying the jizya tax, for example, and accepting social subordination. (I detail the dhimmi restrictions ISIS has imposed on the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria here).

As Powers point out, however, on many occasions, ISIS has disregarded the dhimmi rules. Moreover, even at their best, the rules are punishing. The jizya is often set at a level where many Christians cannot pay it. These Christians have no choice but to leave. More fundamentally, how is it acceptable to tell religious minorities that things are comparatively good for them because they can “choose” to accept oppressive and demeaning treatment and manage to survive? Quite obviously, ISIS’s goal is to eliminate these ancient Christian communities. And it is largely succeeding: those Christians who can do so are fleeing. Some experts believe that Christianity will disappear from Iraq and Syria – places where Christians have lived the religion began – within one or two generations.

Last Friday, a group of Christian leaders, human rights advocates, and scholars sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking for a meeting on this question, at which they hope to persuade him that Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as Yazidis, should be included in any designation of a genocide. (Full disclosure: I am one of the signatories). Secretary Kerry has not yet responded.

Some persecuted minorities are funny

Take a look at this clip from a recent episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In the clip, Colbert mocks Republican presidential candidates who argue for admitting Syrian Christians as religious refugees. At least I think that’s what he’s doing. Unfortunately, in attacking the GOP, Colbert, who often speaks publicly of his devotion to Catholicism, uses Syrian Christians as a cheap prop.

Republican candidates want to admit Syrian Christians, but not Syrian Muslims, Colbert says, because they think Americans can “relate to average Syrian Christians.” After all, Syrian Christians are “basically Methodists.” For example, he continues, with the cutesy irony that has made him rich and famous, consider Syriac Orthodox Christians. They say something called the Ramsho Prayer every evening—“Ramsho Prayer,” incidentally, is how you say “Vespers” in Syriac—and read their Bibles in Aramaic. He continues with what he apparently thinks is a hilarious sendup of the Syriac Orthodox patriarch, His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II. Flashing a picture of the patriarch in his liturgical robes, Colbert jokes that the vestments make Ignatius look like “Golden Snake Santa Pope,” a comic figure who would fit right in as King of Mardi Gras. Colbert’s piano-playing sidekick joins the audience in guffawing.

Now, I’m sure Colbert, who often makes jokes about his own church, thinks this is all good-natured fun. How clever! These GOP candidates know nothing about real Syrian Christians, and if they did, they’d be shocked, those ignoramuses. But it’s in very bad taste. The whole joke turns on showing how weird and unrelatable Syrian Christians are. That’s why the audience is laughing so hard. (You want us to admit these people?) The Syriac Orthodox have suffered for centuries and are enduring one of their worst trials right now, and Colbert is using them for a cheap gag. The joke is particularly unfortunate with respect to Ignatius himself. I’ve talked to people know him personally, and Ignatius is a saintly man. (But what about those silly clothes?). For many years, he was the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop in New Jersey. He could have continued to live a pleasant life here in the United States, but returned to the hellhole that is Syria last year in order to lead his flock.

Syrian Christians, and Mideast Christians more generally, have a public relations problem. The fact is, they are culturally different from Americans, and it is genuinely difficult for many American Christians to relate to them. That’s one reason why the United States has done so little to help them in the current crisis. Mocking them as weirdos doesn’t help. Those golden snakes on Ignatius’s staff are an ancient symbol of wisdom. Colbert should display some of it himself.

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