Wednesday, June 5, 2002
New Century Of Christian Martyrdom: The Untold Middle
By Srdja Trifkovic
A book that relates the untold story of the murder of 45 million Christians in the 20th century alone has caused controversy in Italy. The author of The New Persecuted: Inquiries into Anti-Christian Intolerance in the New Century of Martyrs, Antonio Socci, has been accused that by raising the issue of Christian suffering in the Muslim world he "demonizes Islam."
Socci provides evidence that in the past 2,000 years some 70 million Christians have been killed primarily or exclusively for the reason of their faith, two-thirds in the past 100 years alone, with Joseph Stalin as the chief culprit. He says that an average of 160,000 Christians have been killed every year since 1990, the vast majority by Muslims in the Third World. Chronicling attacks, pogroms and wars in East Timor, Indonesia, Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, India, and the Balkans, Socci identifies Islamic extremism as the main danger. And yet, says he, "This global persecution of Christianity is still in progress but in most cases is ignored by the mass media and Christians in the west."
Western indifference to Christian suffering, documented by Antonio Socci, is well illustrated by the recent standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the holiest Christian sites in the Holy Land, which was re-consecrated last month after being occupied by Arab gunmen and besieged by the Israeli army for 38 days. While extensively covered because of its photogenic value and its potential for further bloodshed, the stand-off has caused hardly a ripple in the Western world on what should be the obvious grounds for media scrutiny and public concern: the misuse and abuse of a Christian shrine by warring non-Christians in pursuit of their political objectives. The Bethlehem episode is thus illustrative of two parallel processes overlooked in the current Middle Eastern crisis: the apparently terminal decline of the Christian remnant in the Middle East after two millennia of precarious and mostly painful existence, and the remarkable indifference of the post-Christian Western world to its impending demise.
Already by their choice of the stage for what soon became a propaganda exercise the Muslim gunmen who occupied the church desecrated the basilica built on the site of the grotto where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born. They ate the food they found on the premises until it ran out, while more than 150 civilians went hungry. They consumed alcoholic drinks that they found in priests' quarters, undeterred by the Islamic ban on drinking alcohol. They tore up Bibles up for toilet paper. They turned one corner of the ancient church into an impromptu mosque. They even attempted to bury seven of their comrades, who were subsequently killed by Israeli snipers, inside the church or on its grounds-obviously intending to turn one of the holiest Christian shrines into a place of Islamic pilgrimage to the fallen "martyrs." It may be worth noting that when Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, two years ago, the world reacted angrily to what was interpreted as a gesture calculated to inflame the Muslims, and Palestinians treated his mere presence near the al-Aqsa mosque as sufficiently provocative to justify a new intifada. Their double standards and cynicism are breathtaking, but they were not the only ones to treat Christian shrines with contempt.
Two weeks before the siege of the Church of the Nativity, as Israeli forces stormed into Bethlehem, an Israeli tank shell hit the facade of the nearby Holy Family Church, in a complex with an orphanage, hospital and hostel. The soldiers then fired, from fifty yards' distance, at the statue of the Virgin atop the Holy Family Church. The statue lost its left arm and its face was disfigured. The Israeli army expressed regret and promised investigation, but this did not look like an accidental shot: no terrorist could possibly hide behind the figure on the pinnacle of the hospital church. The story was reported by Reuters, and a picture taken by an AP photographer. It was available to the world media but ignored.
These two incidents illustrate the predicament of the dwindling Christian remnant in the Middle East. Once thriving Christian communities are now minorities squeezed between the warring Jews and Muslims who may hate each other but all too often share their aversion to Christianity. Within Israel the indigenous Christians, as Arabs, are regarded as indistinguishable from Palestinian Muslims, and have suffered accordingly. In 1948 two-thirds of the Palestinian Christians were driven from their homes with the creation of a Jewish state. Within Arafat's Palestinian Authority the Christians are viewed with distrust as non-Muslim. They resent Israeli incursions and occupation as much as their Muslim neighbors, but they also feel uncomfortable amid the tide of Islamic radicalism-symbolized in the rise of Hamas-that has engulfed the Palestinian community. They are also deliberately exposed to Israeli reprisals by their Muslim compatriots: in the West Bank city of Beit Jala Muslim gunmen chose the rooftops of Christian homes as sites from which to fire on neighboring Jerusalem. Institutionalized or covert discrimination to which Christians are subjected in Syria, Israel, Egypt, and Lebanon, accompanied by occasional eruptions of anti-Christian violence by the Muslim majority in the last two countries, have contributed to an exodus that threatens to eradicate the believers in Christ in the lands of his birth and life.
At the outset of the Islamic conquests under Muhammad's successors all of these lands were 100 percent Christian. At the outset of the Ottoman rule they had a Christian plurality, and in Palestine and Lebanon the outright majority. Under the British Mandate, Palestine officially was a Christian country, with Bethlehem having a population that was 90 percent Christian. Today they are literally disappearing. Among almost three million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, only 50,000 Christians remain. Within the pre-1967 borders of Israel there are six million people; only 2 percent are Christians. In the city of Jerusalem the Christian population has declined from 45,000 in 1940 to a few thousand today. At the current rate of decline, the Christian population will be a fraction of one percent in the year 2020 and there will be no living church in the land of Christ. It is a cruel irony that the plight of indigenous Christians remained invisible to hundreds of thousands of Christians from Europe and North America-from mainstream churches and fringe groups-who descended on the Holy Land to mark the 2,000th anniversary of their faith.
If the Jewish or Muslim population of America or Western Europe were to start declining at a similar rate, there would be an outcry from their co-religionists all over the world. There would be government-funded programs to establish the causes and provide remedies. The endangered minority would be awarded instant victim status and be celebrated as such by the media and the academe. By contrast, when the President of the United States visited Jerusalem in October 1994, he was steps away from the most sacred Christian shrines but did not visit any of them. He did not meet a single representative of the Christian community that remained invisible to him. Eight years later, as busloads of American evangelicals still come to the Western Wall in pursuit of their dream of a rebuilt temple that will provide an eschatological shortcut through history, the remnants of that community are on the verge of extinction.
UNDER THE PROPHET'S SWORD
At the time of Muhammad's birth Christianity had covered, outside Europe, the ancient Roman province of Asia extending across the Caucasus to the Caspian Sea, Syria with the Holy Land, and a wide belt of North Africa all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
Christians numbered over thirty million by A.D. 311, in spite of imperial persecution that often entailed martyrdom. Most of them lived not in Europe but in Asia Minor and Africa, the home of many famous Christian fathers and martyrs, starting with St. Paul of Tarsus, such as St. Augustine, Polycarp of Smyrna, Tertullian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria, Chrysostom of Antioch, Origen of Tyre, or Cyprian of Carthage. The Seven Churches of Revelation were all in Asia Minor. (Smyrna was the last of these, and kept her light burning until 1922, when the Turks destroyed it, along with its Christian population.)
Between Muhammad's death in 632 and the second siege of Vienna, just over a thousand years later, Islam expanded-at first rapidly, then intermittently-at the expense of everything and everyone in the way of its warriors. Unleashed as the militant faith of a nomadic war-band, Islam turned its boundary with the outside world into a perpetual war zone. When Muslims conquered the hitherto Christian lands of the Middle East in the 7th century the subject peoples were not immediately aware of the momentous quality of what had come to pass. For many dissident Christian groups that had been denounced as heretical in Europe, it seemed preferable at first to be ruled by largely absentee non-Christian overlords who cared only about taxes and did not feel strongly one way or another about the finer points of Christology.
Slaughters did occur in the initial wave of conquest: during the Muslim invasion of Syria in 634 thousands of Christians were massacred; in Mesopotamia between 635 and 642 monasteries were ransacked and the monks and villagers slain; while in Egypt the towns of Behnesa, Fayum, Nikiu and Aboit were put to the sword. The inhabitants of Cilicia were taken into captivity. In Armenia, the entire population of Euchaita was wiped out. The Muslim invaders sacked and pillaged Cyprus and then established their rule by a "great massacre." In North Africa Tripoli was pillaged in 643 by Amr, who forced the Jews and Christians to hand over their women and children as slaves to the Arab army. They were told that they could deduct the value of their enslaved family from the poll-tax, the jizya. Carthage was razed to the ground and most of its inhabitants killed. Nevertheless, since dead bodies paid no taxes, while the captives were an economic asset, once the conquerors' rule was firmly established a degree of normalcy was reestablished at the communal level. For a long time the outcome of the early onslaught was in doubt. The first wave of attacks on Christendom almost captured Constantinople when that city was still far and away the important center of the Christian world. The Greeks stood their ground against Islam for another six centuries. But the Muslims also conquered Spain, and had they gone further the Kuran -- in Gibbon's memorable phrase-might have been "taught in the schools of Oxford" to a circumcised people: the Muslims crossed the Pyrenees, promising to stable their horses in St. Peter's at Rome, but were at last defeated by Charles Martel at Tours, exactly a century after the prophet's death. This defeat arrested their western conquests and saved Europe. The last attempt in pre-postmodern times, going through the Balkans, took the Sultan's janissaries more than halfway from Constantinople to Dover (1683). On both occasions the tide was checked, but its subsequent rolling back took decades, even centuries.
The Crusades were but a temporary setback to Islamic expansion, and the source of endless arguments that sought to establish some moral equivalence between Muslims and Christians at first, and eventually to elevate the former to victimhood and condemn the latter as aggressors. Far from being wars of aggression, the Crusades were a belated military response of Christian Europe to over three centuries of Muslim aggression against Christian lands, the systemic mistreatment of the indigenous Christian population of those lands, and harassment of Christian pilgrims. The postmodern myth, promoted by Islamic propagandists and supported by some self-hating Westerners-notably in the academe-claims that the peaceful Muslims, native to the Holy Land, were forced to take up arms in defense against European-Christian aggression. This myth takes AD 1095 as its starting point, but it ignores the preceding centuries, starting with the early caliphs, when Muslim armies swept through the Byzantine Empire, conquering about two-thirds of the Christian world of that time.
On the eve of the First Crusade the prominent Islamic scholar Abu Ala Al-Mawardi prepared the formal blueprint for the Islamic government, based on the Kuran, the Tradition, and the practice of the previous four centuries of conquest. It reiterated the division the world into the House of Islam, where umma has been established, and the House of War inhabited by Harbis, that is, the rest of the world. The House of Islam is in a state of permanent war with the lands that surround it; it can be interrupted by temporary truces, but peace will only come with the completion of global conquest. The progression was from Dar al Sulh-when the Muslims are a minority community, and need to adopt temporarily a peaceful attitude in order to deceive their neighbors (Mecca before Muhammad's move to Medina is the model for which the Muslim diaspora in the Western world provides contemporary example)-to Dar al Harb, when the territory of the infidel becomes a war zone by definition. This happens as soon as the Muslim side feels strong enough to dispense with pretense.
The example was provided by Muhammad, who accepted a truce with Mecca when he was in an inferior position but broke it as soon as his recuperated strength allowed, and offered his pagan compatriots the choice of conversion or death. In Europe today the early signs of this forthcoming stage, amounting to a low-intensity civil war, are visible in ethnic disturbances in English and French cities, when young English-born Pakistanis or French-born North Africans venture out from their no-go areas. The final objective all along is Dar al Islam, where Muslims dominate and infidels are at best tolerated, at worst expelled or killed. This applies even to "the people of the book":
Declare war upon those to whom the Scriptures were revealed but believe neither in God nor the Last Day, and who do not forbid that which God and His Apostles have forbidden, and who refuse to acknowledge the true religion until they pay the poll-tax without reservation and are totally subjugated. The Jews claim that Ezra is a son of God, and the Christians say, 'the Messiah is a son of God.' Those are their claims that do indeed resemble the sayings of the Infidels of Old. May God do battle with them!
The Muslims are obliged to wage struggle against unbelievers and may contemplate tactical ceasefires, but never its complete abandonment short of the unbelievers' submission. This is the real meaning of Jihad. Indeed, in certain contexts and in certain times it may also signify "inner striving" and "spiritual struggle," but to generations of Muslims before our time-and to an overwhelming majority of believers who are our contemporaries-the meaning of Jihad as the obligatory and permanent war against non-Muslims has not changed since Al-Mawardi's time. At all times, according to Allah (i.e. Muhammad), "Those who believe fight in the cause of God." For the fallen and victorious alike, the rewards are instant and plentiful: Let those fight in the cause of God who barter the life of this world for that which is to come; for whoever fights on God's path, whether he is killed or triumphs, we will give him a handsome reward.
The conquered peoples were "protected persons" only if they submitted to Islamic domination by a "Contract" (Dhimma), paid poll tax-jizya-and land tax-haraj-to their masters. Any failure to do so was the breach of contract, enabling the Muslims to kill or enslave them and confiscate their property. The cross could not be displayed in public, and the people of the book had to wear special clothing or a belt. Their men were not allowed to marry Muslim women, their slaves had to be sold to a Muslim if they converted, and they were not allowed to carry weapons. They had to take in Muslim travelers, especially soldiers on a campaign, but they had no right to the spoils of war. Since the income from the poll tax was mostly used to finance Jihad, Jews and Christians under Muslim rule were effectively forced to bankroll the subjugation of their co-religionists who were still free.
A host of additional petty rules were either enacted or adopted that were meant to humiliate non-Muslims. Some of them were summarized in the "Pact of Umar," imposed upon the vanquished by Muhammad's conquering successor and son-in-law, in which the Christians were forced to solemnly declare:
We shall not build in our cities or in their vicinity any new monasteries, churches, hermitages, or monks' cells. We shall not restore, by night or by day, any of them that have fallen into ruin or which are located in the Muslims' quarters. We shall keep our gates wide open for the passerby and travelers. We shall provide three days' food and lodging to any Muslims who pass our way. We shall not shelter any spy in our churches or in our homes, nor shall we hide him from the Muslims. We shall not teach our children the Koran. We shall not hold public religious ceremonies. We shall not seek to proselytize anyone. We shall not prevent any of our kin from embracing Islam if they so desire. We shall show deference to the Muslims and shall rise from our seats when they wish to seat down... We shall not ride on saddles. We shall not wear swords or bear weapons of any kind, or ever carry them with us. We shall not sell wines. We shall clip the forelocks of our head. We shall not display our crosses or our books anywhere in the Muslims' thoroughfares or in their marketplaces. We shall only beat our clappers in our churches very quietly. We shall not raise our voices when reciting the service in our churches, nor when in the presence of Muslims. Neither shall we raise our voices in our funeral processions. We shall not build our homes higher than theirs.
Umar told them that disobedience meant death: "Anyone who violates such terms will be unprotected. And it will be permissible for the Muslims to treat them as rebels or dissenters namely, it is permissible to kill them."
Al-Mawdudi adds that "Muslims have the right to confiscate places of worship in such towns as have been taken by storm," as has been done with St. John's in Damascus, the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, and countless others. The precedent is valid to this day. That "protection" was also abolished if the dhimmis resisted Islamic law, gave allegiance to non-Muslim power, enticed a Muslim from his faith; harmed a Muslim or his property; or committed blasphemy. "Blasphemy" included denigration of the Prophet Muhammad, the Kuran, the Muslim faith, the shari'a by suggesting that it has a defect, and by refusing the decision of the ijma-the consensus of the Islamic community or umma.
The moment the "pact of protection" is abolished, the jihad resumes, which means that the lives of the dhimmis and their property are forfeited. To this day those Islamists in Egypt who kill and pillage Copts claim that these Christians have forfeited their "protection" because they do not pay the jizya. This relationship, typical of a war-treaty between the conqueror and the vanquished, remains valid for Muslims because it is fixed in theological texts.
Islamic scholars assert that an Islamic state is by its very nature bound to distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims:
In an honest and upright manner, [it] not only publicly declares this state of affairs but also precisely states what rights will be conferred upon its non-Muslim citizens and which of them will not be enjoyed by them... A Muslim is not to be put to death for (murdering) one of the people of the covenant [a Jew or a Christian] or an unbeliever, but a free Muslim must be killed for a free Muslim, regardless of the race. Discrimination was universal, not only legal. Non-Muslims could not be employed in the upper echelons of the civil service, and in educating or in any way exercising authority over Muslims. Umar, the second caliph, refused to allow an exceptionally able Christian to continue in his post of the tax accountant in Syria, and attacked one of his aides with a whip who employed a Christian to oversee the accounts of Iraq. As Islamic scholars state, "Some who were less qualified than the Christians were appointed; that would be more useful to Muslims for their religion and earthly welfare. A little of what is lawful will be abundantly blessed, and abundance of what is unlawful will be wasted." No one but "a mature, sane Muslim should assume the office of judge" and no non-Muslim should ever "hold a position in which he can have power over a Muslim."
The resulting inequality of rights in all domains between Muslims and dhimmis was geared to a steady erosion of the latter communities by the attrition and conversion. The Greek Orthodox were suspected of loyalty to the Patriarch and the Emperor in Constantinople, which was the main symbol of the Christian enemy until its fall in 1453. All of them were regarded as natural would-be allies of Christendom, an assumption as natural in view of the captives' position under Islam as it was unjustified by their actual behavior. By the time Timur's invasions at the end of the 14th century the Christians became a minority in their own lands where no other religion had been known until the Muslim conquest.
Millions of Christians from Spain, Egypt, Syria, Greece and Armenia; Latins and Slavs in southern and central Europe; as well as Jews, henceforth lived under shari'a, forming what Bat Ye'or calls the civilization of dhimmitude. They endured for centuries the lives of quiet desperation interrupted by the regular pangs of acute agony. In all these societies the dynamics of Islamization were at work, different in form, perhaps, between Spain and Syria, but always following the same pattern determined by the ideology and laws of jihad and shari'a.
The objective in all cases, and the outcome in most, was also the same: to transform native Christian majorities into religious minorities. The initial choice of the vanquished was not "Islam or death" but "Islam or super-tax"; but over time Shari'a ensured the decline of Eastern Christianity, the sapping of the captives' vitality and capacity for renewal. Even in Moorish Spain oppression or anarchy were the rule, good order and civilized behavior a fondly remembered exception.
THE OTTOMAN NIGHTMARE
With the fall of Baghdad to the Tatars a sturdy race of converted barbarians saved the day for Islam. Arab historian Ibn Khaldoun hailed the rise of the Ottomans as the manifestation of Allah's mercy "when the Abbasid state was drowned in decadence and luxury" and overthrown by the heathen Tatars "because the people of the faith had become deficient in energy and reluctant to rally in defense." Allah "rescued the faith by reviving its dying breath and restoring the unity of the Muslims in the Egyptian realms." The Ottoman Empire became the standard bearer of Islam, "one intake comes after another and generation follows generation, and Islam rejoices in the benefit which it gains through them, and the branches of the kingdom flourish with the freshness of youth."
The bearers of the standard came to Anatolia at the turn of the second millennium as mercenary soldiers. Osman I, from whom the name Osmanli ("Ottoman") is derived, proclaimed the independence of his small principality in Sogut near Bursa, on the border of the declining Byzantine Empire, in the early 13th century. Within a century the Osman Dynasty had extended its domains into an empire stretching from the Balkans to Mesopotamia. Its growth was briefly disrupted by the Tatar invasion and Sultan Bayezit's defeat at the Battle of Ankara (1402). Under Mehmet I "the Restorer" the Turks were back in business and conquered a ruined and impoverished Constantinople under Mehmet II in 1453. For three days the conquerors indulged in murder, rape, and pillage.
Islam may have rejoiced, but there was precious little cause for rejoicing in Asia Minor and in the Balkans as further Christian communities came under Muslim rule. The conquered populations were subsequently subjected to the practice of devshirme. The annual "blood levy" of Christian boys in peacetime was a novelty even by the Arabian standards. In Arabia those families unable to pay the crushing jizya were obliged to hand over their children to be sold into slavery, and to deduct their value from their assessment. But Turkish "devshirme," introduced by Sultan Orkhan (1326-1359), consisted of the periodic taking of a fifth of all Christian boys in the conquered territories:
On a fixed date, all the fathers were ordered to appear with their children in the public square. The recruiting agents chose the most sturdy and handsome children in the presence of a Muslim judge... The devshirme was an obvious infringement of the rights of the dhimmis -- a reminder that their rights were far from secure, once and for all.
Military expeditions made forays into Christian villages. Enslavement of the subject peoples was thus legitimized even if they did not rebel against their conquerors. The practice left a deep scar on the collective memory of the Christians. And yet contemporary Turkish propagandists present the tragedy of the kidnapped boys and their families as the Ottoman equivalent of a full scholarship to Harvard or Yale: "From the poor families' point of view, it was a great chance for their sons to be offered a high level of education especially in the palace which would provide good future prospects."
The difference between the crusaders' senseless debauchery and the Turks' calculated barbarism is visible in the treatment of both subjects by a great painter. While acknowledg
The difference between the crusaders' senseless debauchery and the Turks' calculated barbarism is visible in the treatment of both subjects by a great painter. While acknowledging the shame of the "Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople," through his 1840 painting of the same name, it was Eugene Delacroix's depiction of a Turkish monstrosity that became the Guernica of the 19th century. "The Massacre at Chios: Greek families awaiting death or slavery" is a masterpiece of horror depicting the systematic extermination of the entire population of an Aegean island, graphically illustrated how being a Greek, Armenian, Serb, or indeed any other Christian in the Ottoman Empire meant living in daily fear of murder, rape, torture, kidnap of one's children, slavery, and genocide.
As for the Jews expelled from Spain, they were invited by the Sultan not because of any motivations involving tolerance but to replace the vast swathes of Christians that had been eliminated, and thus maintain the area's commerce and the Sultan's tax base. While the Ottoman Jews were also subjected to discrimination and periods of cruel persecution, that they held a favored status within the Empire over the subhuman giaours (infidel Christian dogs) is as much a reason for celebration of the Ottomans' "tolerance" as the fact that the Nazis were "tolerant" of occupied Slavs in comparison to their treatment of the Jews.
The weakening of Turkey enabled ascendant European powers first to take an interest in the destiny of the remaining Christian communities under Muslim rule, and next to try and alleviate their condition. The effort was conducted through bilateral agreements between the Ottomans and victorious European powers (Russia, Austria) or voluntary contacts with the friendly ones (Britain, France). Some improvement resulted from the granting of a Western style constitution in 1839, which eventually led to the abolishment of the old Millet system and at least nominal equalization of rights between the three main religious communities. In part these reforms were defensive in nature, as the Turkish government hoped to placate the Europeans and, by enacting desired legislation remove the grounds for interference. They did not have much effect on the ground, however.
The last century of Ottoman rule-from the defeat of Napoleon until the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War -- witnessed a more thorough and tragic destruction of the Christian communities in the Middle East, Asia Minor, and the Caucasus, than at any prior period. Almost the entire Greek population of the island of Chios, tens of thousands of people, was massacred or enslaved in 1822 (as we have seen in reference to Delacroix). The following year the number of victims of the slaughter at Missolongi is known precisely: 8,750. Thousands of Assyrians were murdered in the province of Mossul in 1850, and in 1860 some 12,000 Christians were put to the sword in Lebanon. The butchery of 14,700 Bulgarians in 1876 was almost routine by Turkish standards. At the town of Batal five thousand out of seven thousand inhabitants were murdered, the fact that was unsuccessfully suppressed by the British government of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli but nevertheless made public by private journalists. In many cases the massacres of Christians resulted from local Muslim revolts against any decree granting them greater rights than those that were regarded as divinely ordained by Caliph Umar. At the same time the great Western powers, and Great Britain in particular, supported the Turkish subjugation of Christian Europeans on the grounds that their empire was a "stabilizing force" and a counterweight against Austria and Russia. The scandalous alliance with Turkey against Russia in the Crimean War reflected a pernicious frame of mind that has manifested itself more recently in the overt, covert, or de facto support of certain Western powers for the Muslim side in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Chechnya, Cyprus, Sudan, East Timor, and Kashmir.
>From many anti-Christian pogroms in the 19th century the "Bulgarian Atrocities" are remembered because they provoked a cry of indignation from Gladstone (to the chagrin of Disareli), who asserted, "No government ever has so sinned, none has proved itself so incorrigible in sin, or which is the same, so impotent in reformation." But Gladstone's opponents, the advocates of Turkophile policy at Westminster, went beyond Realpolitik in arguing for the lifeline to the Sick Man at the Bosphorus: they devised the theory that the Ottoman were in reality agreeable and tolerant, and only need a friendly, supportive nudge to become just, or almost, like other civilized people:
If, in the more remote past, Bourbon France had made common cause with the Sublime Porte (the scandalous union of the Lily and the Crescent) against Habsburg Austria, the arrangement at least had the virtue of cynical self-interest: Catholic France was hardly expected to praise the sultan's benevolence as part of the bargain. But by the 1870s, Disraeli's obsession with thwarting Russian ambitions in the Balkans prompted the Tories' unprecedented depiction of Turkey as tolerant and humane even in the face of the Bulgarian atrocities. Even so, Britain's Christian conscience, prodded by Gladstone's passionate words, was sufficient to bring down Beaconsfield's government in 1880.
In 1876, Gladstone told the Ottomans: "You shall retain your titular sovereignty, your empire shall not be invaded, but never again, as the years roll in their course, so far as it is in our power to determine, never again shall the hand of violence be raised by you, never again shall the flood gates of lust be opened to you." This was not to be. Regular slaughters of Armenians in Bayazid (1877), Alashgerd (1879), Sassun (1894), Constantinople (1896), Adana (1909) and Armenia itself (1895-96) claimed a total of two hundred thousand lives, but they were only rehearsals for the genocide of 1915. The slaughter of Christians in Alexandria in 1881 was only a rehearsal for the artifical famine induced by the Turks in 1915-16 that killed over a hundred thousand Maronite Christians in Lebanon and Syria. So imminent and ever-present was the peril, and so fresh the memory of these events in the minds of the non-Muslims, that illiterate Christian mothers dated events as so many years before or after "such and such a massacre."14 Across the Middle East, the bloodshed of 1915-1922 finally destroyed ancient Christian communities and cultures that had survived since Roman times-groups like the Jacobites, Nestorians, and Chaldaeans. The carnage peaked after World War I ended.
DUSK OF LEVANTINE CHRISTIANITY
"The attitude of the Muslims toward the Christians and the Jews is that of a master towards slaves," reported the British Vice Consul in Mosul, 1909, "whom he treats with a certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep their place. Any sign of pretension to equality is promptly repressed." It is ironic but unsurprising that the persecution of Christians culminated in their final expulsion from the newly founded Republic of Turkey in the early 1920s under Mustapha Kemal known as Attaturk, the same man who also abolished the Caliphate, and separated the mosque and state. The fact that this ethnic cleansing was carried out under the banner of resurgent Turkish nationalism, rather than Ottoman imperialism or Islamic intolerance, mattered but little to the victims. The end result was the same: churches demolished or converted into mosques, and communities that used to worship in them dispersed or dead.
The burning of Smyrna and the massacre and scattering of its three hundred thousand Christian inhabitants is one of the great crimes of all times. It marked the end of the Greek civilization in Asia Minor which at its height had also given the world the immortal cities of Pergamus, Philadelphia, and Ephesus. On the eve of its destruction Smyrna was a bustling port and commercial center. The seafront promenade, next to foreign consulates, boasted hotels modelled after Nice and elegant cafes. Yellowing postcards show its main business thoroughfare, the Rue Franque, with the great department and wholesale stores, crowded by the ladies in costumes of the latest fashion. American consul-general remembered a busy social life that included teas, dances, musical afternoons, games of tennis and bridge, and soirees given in the salons of the rich Armenians and Greeks:
In no city in the world did East and West mingle physically in so spectacular a manner as at Smyrna, while spiritually they always maintained the characteristics of oil and water. One of the common sights of the streets was the long camel caravans, the beasts passing in single file, attached to ropes and led by a driver on a donkey in red fez and rough white-woolen cloak. These caravans came in from the interior laden with sacks of figs, licorice root, raisins, wood, tobacco and rugs. While the foreigner is apt to be afraid of these ungainly beasts, one often saw a Greek or Armenian woman in high-heeled boots and
elegant costume, stoop and lift the rope between two camels and pass under. At the north end of the city is a railroad station called "Caravan Bridge", because near by is an ancient stone bridge of that name over which the camel caravans arriving from as far away as Bagdad and Damascus, used to pass.
Sporadic killings of Christians, mostly Armenians, started immediately the Turks conquered it on September 9, 1922, and within days escalated to mass slaughter. It did not "get out of hand," however; the Turkish military authorities deliberately escalated it. Metropolitan Chrysostomos remained with his flock. "It is the tradition of the Greek Church and the duty of the priest to stay with his congregation," he replied to those begging him to flee. The Muslim mob fell upon him, uprooted his eyes and, as he was bleeding, dragged him by his beard through the streets of the Turkish quarter, beating and kicking him. Every now and then, when he had the strength to do so, he would raise his right hand and blessed his persecutors. A Turk got so furious at this gesture that he cut off the Metropolitan's hand with his sword. He fell to the ground, and was hacked to pieces by the angry mob.
The carnage culminated in the burning of Smyrna, which started on September 13 when the Turks put the Armenian quarter to torch and the conflagration engulfed the city. The remaining inhabitants were trapped at the seafront, from which there was no escaping the flames on one side, or Turkish bayonets on the other, but the spectacle remained invisible to the "Christian" West:
The Turks were glutting freely their racial and religious lust for slaughter, rape and plunder within a stone's throw of the Allied and American battle-ships because they had been systematically led to believe that they would not be interfered with. A united order from the commanders or from any two of them-one harmless shell thrown across the Turkish quarter-would have brought the Turks to their senses. And this, the presence of those battle-ships in Smyrna harbor, in the year of our Lord 1922, impotently watching the last great scene in the tragedy of the Christians of Turkey, was the saddest and most significant feature of the whole picture.
Elsewhere in the Muslim world following the end of World War I, and notably in the newly-independent or semi-dependent Arab states, European presence meant that it was no longer possible to enforce more drastic forms of discriminatory practices against the surviving Christian population. But this was merely a temporary improvement, not a permanent solution of their position:
But at the very time that Europe achieved its military and geopolitical advantage, the moral and religious decline that culminated in the autogenocides of 1914 and 1939 had become evident. Having found in their grasp places their Crusader predecessors had only dreamed of reclaiming Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople -- effete and demoralized European governments made no effort to re-christianize them and, within a few decades, meekly abandoned them. One notable exception to a brief era of imposed tolerance, even in the period of Western domination between two world wars, was Saudi Arabia, which remains to this day a fortress of stern Wahabbism, as determined to convert the western world to Islam as it is to decapitate any one of its own subjects who violates the tenets of the Faith.
ARAB NATIONALISM MEETS ISLAM
The perceived slight of infidel presence and direct or indirect dominance in the Arab world has created the backlash in the form of Islamic religious revival. Notably in the aftermath of the Arab defeats of 1967 and 1973, Christians were subjected to new restrictions. In Egypt the construction of new churches was obstructed, a quota system was instituted regarding university admissions, Christians were barred from high government positions, and they were even accused of complicity with Zionism on the grounds of conciliatory statements from the Vatican about the Jews. The process of Islamic resurgence reached a new peak with the fall of the Shah and the Islamic revolution in Iran 1979. As late as 1955, Istanbul's Christians suffered the worst race riot in Europe since Kristallnacht. Further east, in Asia Minor and the Lepanto, some Christian communities survived but their numbers are a pale shadow of what they were only two centuries ago. Entire peoples have been obliterated since that time.
Egypt, supposedly a friend of the United States and the second largest recipient of the U.S. taxpayers' largesse, failed to convict a single murderer following the January 2000 massacre of 21 Coptic Christians in the village of Al-Kosheh, 300 miles south of Cairo. The court convicted only four of 96 defendants, and only on lesser charges. All four men convicted were Muslims; not one was convicted for murder, but two for "accidental homicide and illegal possession of a weapon" and the other two were each sentenced to one year in prison for damaging a private car.18 From the outset the government of Egypt had sought to cover up the gravity of the case and to avoid the political minefield of punishing Muslims for the murder of Christians. After the verdict Egypt's Christians may well have cause to fear for their lives. Further up the Mediterranean coast, just how many Christians remain in Lebanon is in dispute: there are no official population figures. The last census was taken in 1932. The reluctance to complete a new one illustrates how explosive an issue population figures become when so many sects vie for power. It is widely believed that no more than one million residents, or 25 percent of the country, are Christian. This figure is less than half of the nearly 60 percent majority of the early 1970s. Among Christians, Maronites -- who are in union with Rome-represent roughly two-thirds of the total. They take their name from a 4th century Syrian monk, St. Maron. The next two largest denominations are Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic, and they are also in rapid numerical decline.
The Maronite patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, says that most Maronites consider themselves Phoenicians, whose civilization dominated the eastern Mediterranean for centuries, not Arabs. "The Christian church has been here from the dawn of Christianity," says Cardinal Sfeir. "But what we see today is very sad for us. We see the Christian majority shrink to a minority. We fear it will shrink even more." The Vatican acknowledges the Maronite flight as a profound threat to the future of the Catholic Church in the Mideast. Rome convened a synod on Lebanon prior to a visit by Pope John Paul II there in May of 1997. The council created a mechanism for reconciliation between Christians and Muslims, which church officials consider the first step to rebuilding the country and staunching the outflow of Christians.
It is remarkable that in this age of rampant victimology the persecutions of Christians by Muslims has become a taboo subject in the Western academe. A complex web of myths, outright lies, and deliberately imposed silence dominates it. Thirteen centuries of religious discrimination, causing suffering and death of countless millions, have been covered by the myth of Islamic "tolerance" that is as hurtful to the few descendants of the victims as it is useless as a means of appeasing latter-day jihadists. The silence and lies, perpetrated by the Western academe and media class, facilitates the perpetuation of religious discrimination and persecution even today.
The myth of tolerant Islam did not die with the collapse of the Turkish Empire. Rather it took another form: that of the national Arab movement, which promoted an Arab society where Christians and Muslims would live in perfect harmony. Once again this was the fabrication of European politicians and writers. In the same way as the myth of the Ottoman tolerance was created to block the independence of the Balkan nations, so the Arab multi-religious fraternity was an argument to destroy the national liberation of non-Arab peoples of the Middle East: Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Maronites, and Jews.19 The exact meaning of its "defensive" character is provided by the Traditions: Jihad "has its material and moral functions, i.e. self-preservation and the preservation of the moral order in the world... The sword has not been used recklessly by the Muslims; it has been wielded purely with humane feelings in the wider interest of humanity."20Those "wider interests" have been defined by Allah: "fight and slay the pagans wherever we find them and seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every way." The famous Surra of the Sword leaves no room for ambiguity: "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day. Nor hold that forbidden
which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth (even if they are) of the People of the Book. Until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." This abrogates the often-quoted "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error."
Recent attempts by Islamic apologists to assure the West that only the "spiritual" definition of Jihad really applies amount to distorting history and brushing up centuries of very physical "striving" by generations of Muslim warriors. It is true that "Muslims are called by the Qura'an and the example of the Prophet of Islam to strive for Peace through all available means," but the "Peace" that is called upon believers to implement is impossible unless it is established under Islamic rule. The author quite correctly admits that "in Qura'anic terms, peace does not only mean absence of war, it is also a positive state of security in which one is free from anxiety or fear." He does not specify, however, that this state of security is only available in Dar el-Islam, once Islam defeats its enemies and conquers their lands. This is exactly the same definition of "peace" as that used by the Soviet empire in the period of its external expansion (1944-1979): it is the objective, but it is fully attainable only after the defeat of "imperialism as the final stage of capitalism" and the triumph of the vanguard of the proletariat in the whole world.
What matters to non-Muslims today, and to non-Communists 60 years ago, is not the metaphysical meaning of "Peace" within the community of the believers, but the consequences of their definition for the rest of us. Those who invented Jihad in the 7th century intended it for particular purposes and are the authors of the concept and as such, they should be respected intellectually. "If some of their heirs wish to change the meaning of what was normal then, they should say so, and act upon it. In
the Christian world, modern Christians outlawed Crusading; they did not rewrite history to legitimize themselves. Those who believe that the Jihad-Holy War is a sin today must have the courage to delegitimize it and outlaw it as well."
Islam is and always has been a religion of intolerance, a jihad without an end. Despite the way the apologists would like to depict it, Islam was spread by the sword and has been maintained by the sword throughout its history. William Muir, one of the greatest orientalists of all times (1819-1905), summed it up at the end of a long and distinguished career when he declared his conviction "that the sword of Muhammad and the Qur'an are the most fatal enemies of civilisation, liberty and truth which the world has yet known." They have combined to create the Arab empire, once described as "an unmitigated cultural disaster parading as God's will," but parading, in its modern metamorphosis, as the creed of equality:
This fiction has been presented as a fact with an unparalleled skill. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad divided humanity into two sections, the Arabs and the non-Arabs. According to this categorisation, the Arabs are the rulers and the non-Arabs are to be ruled through the yoke of Arab cultural imperialism: Islam is the means to realise this dream because its fundamentals raise superiority of Arabia sky-high, inflicting a corresponding inferiority on the national dignity of its non-Arab followers. From the Arabian point of view, this scheme looks marvellous, magnificent and mystifying . . . yet under its psychological impact the non-Arab Muslims rejoice in self-debasement, hoping to be rewarded by the Prophet with the luxuries of paradise. The Islamic love of mankind is a myth of even greater proportions. Hatred of non-Moslems is the pivot of Islamic existence. It not only declares all dissidents as the denizens of hell but also seeks to ignite a permanent fire of tension between Moslems and non-Moslems; it is far more lethal than Karl Marx's idea of social conflict which he hatched to keep his theory alive.
The Tradition is surprisingly modern when it describes wars of global conquests, slaughter and enslavement of countless millions as an activity with a "moral function" undertaken "in the interest of the humanity." Never are people killed more easily, and in greater numbers, than when it is done for their own good. The jihadi campaigns fought by the Muslims in Spain, France, India, Iran, throughout the Balkans, or at the very gates of Vienna, were as defensive as Stalin's winter war with Finland, or the "counterattack" against Poland by his illustrious German colleague.
The only distinction between Islamic terror through the centuries -- against Medinan Jews, Arabian pagans, Greeks, Serbs, Persians, Hindus, Armenians, African Blacks, and countless others -- and its 20th century totalitarian counterparts, as practiced in the workhouses of the Final Solution and the Gulag, concerned methods. Unlike Arabs, Turks, and their local collaborators through the centuries, the mass murderers in European totalitarian powers adopted the "style" of a developed industrial state. Their terror relied on complex equipment and intricate administrative network, while Islamic terror was "primitive" and "traditional." Nazis and Stalinists relied on coordinated plans, orders, reports, invoices, lists, cost-benefit calculations, statistics. On the other hand, from Muhammad and Usman to Abdul Hamid, Mustafa Kemal, and the Sudanese Army, the orders have been mostly oral, the apparatus of terror arbitrary, the selection of targets and methods of killing sometimes random. Nazi and Stalinist terror was for the most part depersonalized and bureaucratic, it was cold, abstract, objective; the warriors for Islam were direct, personal and "warm." Their terror was often directed against their first neighbors; it was passionate and subjective. The terror of the Reichkommissars and Politkommissars, with its somberness, discipline, bureaucratic pedantry, was "puritanical," while the Muslims in all ages and locations indulge literally in orgies of violence.
The Malaysian Islamist leader Anwar Ibrahim was unintentionally frank when he declared "We are not socialist, we are not capitalist, we are Islamic." The differentiation is vis-à-vis rival political systems and ideologies, not religions:
While fundamentalist Islam differs in its details from other utopian ideologies, it closely resembles them in scope and ambition. Like communism and fascism, it offers a vanguard ideology; a complete program to improve man and create a new society; complete control over that society; and cadres ready, even eager, to spill blood.
In all cases the lust for other people's lands, possessions, women, and sheer power over other people's lives have been justified by a self-justifying ideology that perverts meanings of words, stunts the sense of moral distinctions, and destroys souls.
Fourteen centuries after Muhammad the real question for the free world -- and the term is more apt now than it had been at any time during the Cold War -- the real question is not "why does a Muslim wage jihad." In a sane world such a question would concern nobody but social anthropologists. It is "what makes a jihad-minded Muslim hate the West so much that he is prepared to kill any number of Westerners, and himself for good measure, to make that point." It is certainly not jazz and rock and roll that he hates, as Orianna Fallaci has noted, not the usual stereotypes like chewing gum, hamburgers, Broadway or Hollywood. The "tangible" objects of that resentful hate are the skyscrapers, the science, the technology, the jumbo jets. Accustomed as the Westerners are to the double-cross, blinded as they are by myopia, they'd better understand that a war of religion is in progress:
A war that they call Jihad. Holy War. A war that might not seek to conquer our territory, but that certainly seeks to conquer our souls. That seeks the disappearance of our freedom and our civilization. That seeks to annihilate our way of living and dying, our way of praying or not praying, our way of eating and drinking and dressing and entertaining and informing ourselves. You don't understand or don't want to understand that if we don't oppose them, if we don't defend ourselves, if we don't fight, the Jihad will win. And it will destroy the world that for better or worse we've managed to build, to change, to improve, to render a little more intelligent, that is to say, less bigoted -- or even not bigoted at all. And with that it will destroy our culture, our art, our science, our morals, our values, our pleasures.
Islam, a religion born of the desert, has created jihad and remains defined by jihad, its most important concept for the rest of the world. Through jihad Islam has emerged as a quasi-religious ideology of cultural and political imperialism that knows no natural limits to itself. Unlike the "just war" theory originated in Christian thinking, which has evolved into a secular concept instituted in international laws and codes, including the Geneva conventions, jihad is inherently religious as well as political: Islamic normative thinking does not separate the two. It has emerged from the desert and it perpetually creates new mental, psychic, spiritual, and literal deserts of whatever it touches.