Why do we remain silent about anti-Semitism, attacks on Christians? Tim Rutten 8-10-14
Displaced Iraqi Christians settle at St. Joseph Church in Irbil, northern Iraq, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Late Wednesday, militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)
By Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Daily News
POSTED: 08/07/14, 5:09 PM PDT | UPDATED: 2 DAYS AGO
What is most remarkable about the deepening crisis emanating from the Middle East is not the deadly sounds of gunfire and rocketry, but the appalling and equally deadly silences concerning things the Obama administration and the West’s other democratic leaders ought to be addressing at the top of their lungs.
More important, if we are to retain any claim to the minimal moral authority that simple decency confers, those leaders need to not only speak up clearly, but act with resolve and dispatch.
There has been no shortage of willfully wrong-headed — and, in many cases, repellently sinister — criticism of Israel for its monthlong defensive effort to defang the theo-fascists of Hamas who control the unfortunate Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The worse-than-useless secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, may regard the devastation there “as shame to the nations,” as he said this week, but the real shame is that virtually none of those nations expressed outrage over Hamas’ use of 1.8 million of its own people — nearly half of them children — as human shields in its unprovoked campaign of aggression against Israel. In fact, given the unavoidable tactical realities of waging war in a crowded, mainly urban environment like Gaza, what ought to be noted is that Israel inflicted fewer than 2,000 casualties in a monthlong campaign.
The double standard by which Israel is judged, however, means that its unavoidable campaign of self-defense continues to be denounced not only across the Islamic world, but also by the cultural and academic European elites as “genocide” and the policy of an “apartheid state.” Along with that sort of faux-moral outrage has come a tide of overt anti-Semitism rising across Europe, the reassertion of an ancient and murderous darkness. The silence of President Barack Obama and his administration about the incidence of anti-Semitic attacks, vandalism and protests across Europe over the past month is inexcusable. So, too, indifference to the academic and cultural boycotts to which elements in our Western allies now are subjecting Israel. Do we really need to relearn the lesson that silence in the face of this blood-soaked old evil is not an exercise in discretion or diplomacy, but moral cowardice — and at whose expense is our renewed education to come? There are 51 majority Muslim states in the U.N., all of them to one degree or another oppressive and despotic. Why is the world’s only Jewish State, the Mideast’s only functioning democracy, the one nation on Earth required to prove its right to exist over and over?
This indefensible silence about the resurgence of anti-Semitism compounds its evil by making it all the easier for Washington to hold its tongue about the real atrocities occurring across the Middle East — an Islamic campaign of ethnic and religious cleansing unparalleled since the late 1940s and ’50s, when, following Israel’s establishment, Jews were expelled from their ancient homes in various Arab countries. For thousands of years, vibrant Jewish communities had existed in countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. After 1948, all were forced from their ancient homes — and the world said nothing.
Now, various Islamist groups are killing thousands of fellow Arabs across the Middle East every week, but the faux-international morality that attempts to make a war criminal of civilized Israel has nothing to say about these Tunisian, Libyan, Syrian and Iraqi deaths — nor, to all our shames, does Washington. Equally appalling and equally ignored, we are witnessing a campaign of religious and ethnic cleansing across the region unmatched since the expulsion of the Jews.
This past week, Washington has at last been prodded into gingerly addressing events in northern Iraq, where the continuing campaign by the murderous group calling itself the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) has expelled hundreds of thousands of Christians and tens of thousands of Yazidis from their ancient cities. The plight of the Yazidis is particularly heart-breaking, since at least 40,000 of them have been driven onto a barren hillock on the plains of Nineveh and left without food and water with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Dozens of their children are dying every day, as the Obama administration wrings its hands over what can be done. ISIS at least gave the Christians the opportunity to choose between forced conversion to Islam and being robbed of everything they own and sent into refugee exile among the Kurds. The Yazidis, a secretive and insular people whose creed incorporates elements of ancient Mithraism and Zoroastrianism, are regarded as “devil worshipers” by the fanatics of ISIS, so their men are summarily executed and their women forced into sexual bondage to their menfolk’s murderers.
This is all of a piece with the general silence — to which our government continues to make us all a party — about the unprecedented ethnic cleansing that Islamists are being allowed to carry out across the Mideast. At the moment, the horrific situation in northern Iraq has a bare fraction of our attention, but consider this: In 2000, the Christian Arab population of the Middle East was 12 million. Over the next five years, it is expected to sink to half that. When the United States invaded Iraq, Christians were 20 percent of the country’s population; today they’re less than 5 percent and that figure is sinking fast. The Palestinians, in whose cause so much of Europe now speaks with such vitriol toward Israel, are as guilty of ethnic cleansing as the rest of their Islamic brethren. Fully 80 percent of Palestinian Christians, the people who played an outsized role in the formulation of Palestinian national consciousness, now live outside the Middle East. In the 1990s, there were 173,000 Christian Palestinians living on the West Bank, but Islamist pressure has reduced that population to just 50,000. The situation in Gaza is even worse; there Hamas has reduced the Christian population to just a few hundred, if that. No international protests over that.
The one country in the entire Middle East where Arab Christians can live and worship in freedom and prosper economically is the democratic Jewish state of Israel. There, the Christian population has risen to 135,000 and, according to Israeli studies, Christian Arabs — particularly women — outperform every other demographic group in their society in educational achievement. So much for “the apartheid state.”
Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this whole process, facilitated as it is by Western silence and indifference, is that it signals the end of any hope for modern civil societies in the Muslim Arab world. As William Dalrymple pointed out recently in the Guardian, “It is Christian Arabs who keep the Arab world ‘Arab’ rather than ‘Muslim.’ Certainly since the 19th century Christian Arabs have played a vital role in defining a secular Arab cultural identity. It is no coincidence that most of the founders of secular Arab nationalism were men like Michel Aflaq — the Greek Orthodox Christian from Damascus who, with other Syrian students freshly returned from the Sorbonne, founded the Ba’ath party in the 1940s — or Faris al-Khoury, Syria’s only Christian prime minister. Then there were intellectuals like the Palestinian George Antonius, who in 1938 wrote in “The Arab Awakening” of the crucial role Christians played in reviving Arab literature and the arts after their long slumber under Ottoman rule.
“If the Islamic state proclaimed by ISIS turns into a permanent, Christian-free zone, it could signal the demise not just of an important part of the Arab Christian realm but also of the secular Arab nationalism Christians helped create. The 20th century after 1918, which saw the creation of the different Arab national states, may well prove to be a blip in Middle Eastern history, as the old primary identifiers of Arab identity, religion and qabila — tribe — resurface.”
It appears that the Western democracies — including the United States — are prepared to watch this historic tragedy in silence.
Tim Rutten is a columnist for the Los Angeles News Group. firstname.lastname@example.org.