Entries with tag israel .

Reflections from Yad Vashem: Israel’s Official Holocaust Memorial

The United Nations is remembering the Holocaust this week through a series of programs and activities related to the theme of “educating for a better future.”

 

Coincidentally, I was in Israel just three weeks ago and found myself at Yad Vashem, the country’s official memorial to the victims of that catastrophe. One of its primary aims is education.

 

For those wondering, the name “Yad Vashem” in Biblical Hebrew comes from the book of Isaiah:

 

Even to them I will give in My house

And within My walls a place and a name

Better than that of sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

That shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 56:5)

 

The name “Yad Vashem” conveys the memorial’s purpose as a place where the names of the Holocaust’s Jewish victims can be enshrined forever, even those who have no one to carry their names after death.

 

I admit, it came as somewhat of a personal surprise that this visit to Yad Vashem was one of the most moving moments of my life, as the complex’s museum and various monuments present an exceptionally robust and sensitive encapsulation of the Holocaust’s pain, endurance and hope all in one place—on the western slope of Mount Herzl on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

 

Yad Vashem is an emotionally weighty site for Jews for obvious reasons; for non-Jews, it is not only an abiding reminder of our shared humanity, but of how a festering prejudice can beguile the public firmament and bring about the worst and most destructive tendencies in all of us.

 

The museum—easily one of the best I have ever visited—begins with a snapshot of the many early 20th century Jewish communities in Europe before pivoting to Adolf Hitler’s rise and the genesis of German anti-Semitism.

 

The museum was careful to illustrate that despite Hitler’s and his ministers’ fanaticism, the bulk of the Holocaust’s many atrocities were committed by very regular people who were deceived and poisoned by decades of propagated fear.

 

Of course, an event like the Holocaust attracts the most sadistic and antisocial individuals in a society; but it’s the horrible crimes otherwise good people committed against fellow human beings—many of them their own neighbors—that should strike a nerve in all of us.

 

The act of murder being so unnatural, young German soldiers often had to get drunk before they could make themselves shoot an innocent Jewish man, woman or child for the first time. But many of them later recounted that it got easier the more times they did it, and that it eventually became easy.

 

In fact, it is important to note that no German soldier was ever punished for refusing to kill a Jew—contrary to popular belief, those duties were entirely optional.

 

This prompted our tour guide to ask: When the humiliation, torture and murder of innocent people becomes easy, who really loses their humanity? The victims or the perpetrators?

 

If those German soldiers occupy one end of Yad Vashem’s portrait of humanity, the opposite can be found in its Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Along with thousands of trees, the garden contains walls inscribed with the 26,120 individuals who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

 

The title “Righteous Among the Nations” is, in fact, the highest honor bestowed by the State of Israel to non-Jews, and entitles the recipient to a medal and a certificate, along with Israeli citizenship with a pension and free healthcare for life should he or she choose to resettle.

 

The distinction is given without regard to the social status of the person—queens and princesses to the most humble individuals have all been recognized. People who fit somewhere in the middle, like the famous Oskar and Emilie Schindler, have their names engraved on the walls as well.

 

Yad Vashem works tirelessly to ensure that visitors remain in the present. Its museum, for example, does not formally end; enormous glass doors lead out of the building to the edge of the mountain and a stunning view of the hills surrounding Jerusalem—meant to symbolize that the history and the memory of the Holocaust itself do not actually end.

 

In a literal sense, they do not end because victims continue to be identified and Righteous continue to be honored. In a symbolic sense, they cannot end because the risk of a similar catastrophe always remains.

 

Hitler, our guide reminded us, did not take power in a violent revolution. He was peacefully elected by a willing public.

 

As the U.N. commemorates the Holocaust this week, we know that its painful memory does not belong only to Jews. It belongs to all of us—to every human being who has a voice in this world.

 

The memory of those 6 million victims charges each and every one of us to recall and revoke the depravity of their untimely and violent deaths, and insists with fervent conviction that such a catastrophe must never happen again. The normalization and institutionalization of bigotry must never happen again.

 

We must educate, like Yad Vashem and like the U.N. this week do, both ourselves and those we know.

 

And then we must ask ourselves: Are we the deceived, or are we the righteous?

 

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).


The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

Bombs, Borders and Bodegas: Caring for Our Neighbor

As daily consumers of breaking news, it seems like cable television and newspapers have no trouble fulfilling our hunger for scandal, controversy and conspiracy. What has largely made this possible is our remarkable ability to communicate with others and to instantly share with them global news and events in real-time. The vast quantities of information that we digest each minute of each day has, however, reduced our attention span and have rendered us seemingly helpless when it comes to processing and retaining specific details.

To better illustrate my point consider the news cycle over the past five or six months. Five months ago the entire world was concerned about fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Vigil services were held around the world; even the Pontiff offered his prayers for the 227 passengers and 12 crewmembers that went missing. Hundreds of millions of dollars and countless man-hours were invested in the international effort to find and retrieve that all-elusive “black box” from the ocean floor. In almost a blink of an eye, the world shifted its attention from Southeast Asia to Ukraine. Following the aftermath of the Ukrainian Revolution the world worried that we were entering a period of frigid relations between Russia and the West. The papers, cable news, policy analysts, and government officials all made this story their top priority. As expected, news about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 slowly recessed and eventually stopped; people were no longer interested in the missing plane or the fate of the passengers on board.

For almost a month now I have tried to pay close attention to the news as I searched for a story that could inspire my next blog post. This has proven to be quite a challenge! Once I thought I found what I wanted to write about, BANG, some other breaking news would distract me! It was impossible for me to concentrate on just one story, as email alerts and tweets were constantly bombarding and distracting me with updates.

When I finally sat down to write I thought that I would attempt to juxtapose three issues that are proving to be humanitarian crises, namely, the crisis on U.S. borders, the recent conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the conditions of underserved communities in major US cities. I don’t pretend to be an expert in geopolitics, diplomacy, international relations, or human rights, nor do I possess greater insight into these issues than the average person. However, like everyone else, I try to form an opinion about what I read in the papers and hear on the news. From my understanding, while each issue is unique and deserves to be considered alone, when viewed next to each other, they all share a fundamental element, namely, CARE, or the lack thereof.

Bombs: The Conflict Between Israel and Palestine

Over the centuries, the dry lands of the Middle East have become soaked with human blood as a result of human conflict. The causes of the conflict are as diverse as those communities involved. Violence in the region has been sparked by a number of factors, including religious and sectarian ideologies, racial and ethnic differences; however, it is also the case that strife bewtween communities has also arisen through the efforts of people to overcome brutal rulers.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, what is clear is that the two communities have become ever-more entwined in what seems to be a never-ending conflict. Most recently, the kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah (three Israeli Jewish teenagers) and the revenge killing of Abu Khdeir (a Palestinian Muslim teen) have led to the latest showering of bombs and missiles upon Israel and Gaza. In just a few days 216 Palestinians (mostly civilians, including four young boys playing on a Gaza beach) and 1 Israeli have lost their lives, countless people have become displaced, neighborhoods and their social institutions have been destroyed, and people—Jewish, Muslim, and let us not forget, Christians—are living in constant fear. The international community, including the United States, is paying close attention to the conflict and it is hopeful that a temporary ceasefire will eventually lead to a permanent halt of the violence.

Borders: Mass Deportations

Since the founding of our great nation, countless people have attempted to make their way to the United States. For individuals longing to enter our country, America represents opportunity, hope, and freedom. While the majority of immigrants have come to America following the prescribed legal procedures, for decades, thousands of people have entered the United States illegally. Most recently, many of these individuals have attempted to emigrate from Central America.

Its important to remember that anyone who has chosen to make the journey into the United States through illegal means quite literally risks everything, including his or her life. These individuals have decided to leave that which is most familiar to them in an effort to escape poverty, violence, and an uncertain future for themselves and their loved ones. They view the United States as their last chance. In the process of integrating within the community, many of them are apprehended, detained, and eventually deported. Deportation has increased to new levels during the past few years. Moreover, until their deportation, people must be kept in confinement; most recently, this has taken place in various towns of Southern California and Texas. A large number of citizens in these areas, as well as their elected officials, have protested the presence of these illegal immigrants and are calling for their immediate deportation. While protesting, people have shouted hurtful messages and carried signs with messages such as: “Illegal is a Crime,” “Return to Sender,” “Deport Illegals.” In many instances those on the receiving end of such words have been minors.

Bodegas: Underserved Neighborhoods

In major US urban centers countless people are suffering from a threat that remains largely unspoken. No, the threat has nothing to do with gang violence or drugs. People—our fellow neighbors—both young and old, have been suffering for decades because they continue to lack access to healthy and nutritious food. In many of these communities, parts of New York City, grocery stores that are common in most communities are few and far between. If you walk through the streets of these communities you will not find Whole Foods, Fairway, Food Town, or Stop & Shop. And you can forget about finding a farmer’s market; they are even harder to spot than a supermarket. You will, however, find “Brisk Bodega,” “BoHo Bodega,” “Silver Deli & Grocery,” and “Don Juan Grocery.”

If you have never entered a bodega before it is difficult to understand why this is such a big deal. After all, can’t you buy the same groceries at the local bodega as you can at Trader Joe’s? Nope! In general, one will usually find products with long shelf-lives, which means that they are full of preservatives. Also, candy, chips, soda, and cigarettes can be found throughout. Perhaps one will be lucky to find some bananas, tomatoes or a head of lettuce. Such limited options will often contribute to the rise of chronic disease in these communities, including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

So, absent local supermarkets, most people (including the elderly and those with infants and small children) are forced to do their shopping at their local bodegas. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with bodegas per se; they have, after all, tried to serve the needs of local urban communities for years. Fortunately, according to a New York Times article, owners of these local bodegas and JETRO (a major wholesaler which provides most products stocked in bodegas) are taking things into their own hands. JETRO has begun to offer healthier food products and bodega owners are dedicating more space on their shelves for such items. 

Conclusion

One may wonder how these three stories are related. The truth is, when we view them separately, bombs, borders and bodegas have nothing to do with each other. However, a closer reading, under the prism of Christ’s calling to love our neighbor, soon uncovers for us that element common to all three crises, namely, human indifference.

In all three instances, we are dealing with members of communities that are victims of circumstances outside their control, largely, the origin of their birth. One can never choose his parents and he can never choose where he is born. And if this alone wasn't difficult enough to handle, local and global indifference exacerbates their suffering. Yes, we can and should accept that indifference is as bad, if not worse, than actively causing harm.

Many of us think that the government is solely responsible for coming up with a solution to the problems. While elected officials are specifically tasked with caring for their citizens, this does not mean that the rest of us are allowed to sit back and become mere spectators. Grassroots efforts are as important, if not more important, than government-sponsored initiatives. The message sent to the world is far stronger when there is solidarity on the ground. We see this happening, already. Jews, Christians and Muslims throughout the world have come together and have refused to accept violence as an acceptable path toward peace and reconciliation; responsible local business owners have decided to become more concerned about the overall wellness of their patrons and have begun stocking shelves with healthier food choices; and countless U.S. citizens have demanded that local and federal governments take steps to preserve the human dignity of undocumented immigrants and to find ways to assist people in their effort to enter our country. 

What can we do? How can we make a difference? We should first take time and learn what is going on around us. When we have a firm grasp on the facts, we should then speak the truth in love; we should become advocates, sharing the story of those in need with others. We should also pray for the helpless. Prayer for those in need is embedded in everything we do as Orthodox Christians precisely because we are all in need of God’s mercy. If prayer is too difficult for some, then we should at least remember those in need. If we are willing to remember our neighbors then maybe the next time we set our alarms at night we will think about our brothers and sisters who are startled in the middle of the night by bomb sirens; the next time we cross a bridge we will think of those who risk everything in life to help pave a brighter future for their families; and the next time we enjoy our third meal of the day we will think about of the child who goes hungry all day or has little else to eat than a candy bar and a soda. Perhaps if we can remember our neighbors we will begin to care for them.

Apostolic Pilgrimage: Day Two

After experiencing the awe of Golgotha and the silence and the glorious light of the Holy Resurrection, the second day of the Apostolic Pilgrimage would lead me to the humility of Bethlehem. His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and other pilgrims from around the world traveled to Bethlehem to venerate the Grotto where our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born.

I must say that I was full of emotions during the ride to Bethlehem. The Church of the Nativity is located in the West Bank of Palestine. This means that halfway to our destination we had to stop at an Israeli security checkpoint and then drive along concrete walls and electric fences with the sole purpose of separating people who had once lived harmoniously together in the region. I soon experienced an internal storm, feeling all at once anger, sadness and guilt. I felt angry because the walls and fences restricted people’s freedom to move and conduct their lives as they wished; sadness because for the first time I realized how difficult it would be to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and guilty because I felt in my heart that I had somehow contributed to the problems through my own shortcomings.

Fortunately, we soon arrived at the Church of the Nativity and I encountered the only source of hope for lasting peace. The basilica, commissioned by St. Helen (the mother of St. Constantine the Great) is an awesome structure that was built above the cave in which Christ was born and the manger in which He lay. Along with other members of the members on the Apostolic Pilgrimage, I had the blessing of venerating the actual location where the gap between heaven and earth was bridged.

After we venerated the sacred space, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew proceeded into the sanctuary. It was quite moving to see the Ecumenical Patriarch, the first hierarch of Orthodoxy, enter the basilica and proceed directly to the grotto. He did not enter the cave wearing his hierarchical mantle or holding his bishop’s staff. Rather, he entered wearing only a “shroud of humility,” recognizing that in such a place everyone kneels in awe and gratitude as God’s servant.

Following the veneration of the Grotto, a Doxology was celebrated. The church was filled with hymns chanted in Greek and Arabic. Palestinians, Greeks, Americans, and pilgrims from other parts of the world united in prayer. His All-Holiness’ official address focused on peace and reconciliation. I was inspired when the Patriarch addressed the youth, saying to them: You, the youth of Bethlehem, are the hope and the future of your homeland. Remain faithful to your historical mission and preserve unextinguished the flame of our Orthodox faith in this land, where the Lord initiated His work of salvation for the whole world. Your presence here as Orthodox Christians is of immense importance. Continue your work with the same passion. May God be with you!

As the Ecumenical Patriarch was departing from Bethlehem, he had the opportunity to speak with local Palestinian Orthodox Christians. They welcomed him as their father and he embraced them as his beloved sons and daughters. He blessed their children and encouraged them to remain faithful to their traditions and hopeful for a brighter tomorrow.

When it was time to depart from Bethlehem I found that I was better prepared for the trip through borders and barricades. I was able to see beyond the border patrols and the fences that divided people. By venerating the birthplace of Jesus Christ I received a renewed sense of hope that if the Prince of Peace were able to bridge the gap between heaven and earth then He would also be able to overcome those walls that divide brothers and separate sisters.

Read Apostolic Pilgrimage: Day One & Apostolic Pilgrimage: Day Three

Myth-Busting and Reality-Checking: Historical and Political Commentary on the Endangered Reality of Christians in the Middle East

The fact that the Christian presence—living, breathing people, and the churches, monasteries, cemeteries, schools, and libraries that were built and inhabited by those people—in the Greater Middle East is undergoing a steady process of erasure was a headline subject in several recent events along the East Coast corridor where academic, policy, and religious communities converge.  Having spilled a lot of ink, expended many hours in air travel, and returned to the safety of life as a Christian in America, I accepted invitations to speak at two events this past week that dealt with the emergency reality that Christians face each day in the Middle East. 

There’s a kind of spiritual, psychic, and emotional fatigue that creeps into the discussions about how to help the plight of an entire people facing daily threats to their survival as a community.  The exhaustion is a direct function of the failure to produce any concrete results, much less to discern any break in the general apathy regarding the horrible circumstances facing Middle East Christians.  Indeed, that was the underlying question— why are Christians being eradicated with nary a word nor much remedial support, from either the US or from fellow Christians in America—that shaped my remarks at both events that framed my lecture week.  

Given the organizers of the two events, I was especially mindful of trying to deconstruct the causes for the remarkable lack of knowledge, the general misinformation, and the shameful indifference, that surrounds the existence of Christians in countries that are usually referred to in the media, in policy circles, and in academic discussions, as “Muslim countries or Muslim societies or the Muslim world.”  The first gathering, a conference on Current Challenges Facing Christian Communities in the Middle East, was co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a leading think tank in Washington, DC, and Villanova University’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies; the CAP organized this event, in an effort to catalyze progressive and liberal action on religious freedom matters and around the plight of Christians, issues on which this country’s progressives have been deafeningly silent.  The second event, a Consultation in Global Mission sponsored by the 10-university consortium known as the Boston Theological Institute, was hosted by the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts; the discussion on “The Middle East: The Future of Ecumenism in an Age of Strife,” culminated in a keynote address, breathtaking for its simultaneous tragedy and hope, on “Christians in Syria at the Crossroads,” by Greek Orthodox Bishop Elias Toume from the Syrian city of Homs.

What follows is a synthesis of my remarks from both events.  My reference to myth-busting and reality-checking is straightforward: only by breaking open the myths that have shaped perceptions about Middle East Christians, only by doing a reality-check of the actual conditions on the ground, will it be possible to alter the discourse and the policy responses, and hopefully, to change the trendline for Christians in the region.  By creating the conditions that can help the region’s Christians, by stopping the eradication of Christians in their lands of origin, all peoples living in the Greater Middle East will see an improvement in the overall political, economic, social, cultural and security conditions that shape their lives.

Here are five myths that need breaking and checking against empirical reality:

1. The Myth of Ottoman Pluralism.  The myth of the Ottoman Empire as an experience and experiment of religious pluralism and multiculturalism pervades the scholarship and policy discussions about Christians in the Middle East.  The myth itself has been developed initially through the Orientalist scholarship of historians such as Bernard Lewis, and therefore, has a long tradition.  However, the cultivation of this myth has occurred with the influx of enormous funding from state and private sector sources in Turkey, for research and faculty appointments in the US and Europe.  The success of this myth can be measured by the frequency with which it is has been institutionalized and perpetuated in US foreign policymaking circles.  While multiculturalism and religious pluralism may be useful as descriptors for the Ottoman Empire, in no way are they helpful, either as analytical terms or as points of departure, for thinking about the current condition of Middle East Christians.  In fact, the Ottoman Empire was organized according to the sectarian millet system, which amounted to the institutionalization of a legal, political, and cultural structure of "separate and unequal" when it came to the issue of religious differences.  It was a model of the subject, not the citizen, so it is a blueprint that should be boxed permanently in the attic.  Whether a Muslim subject or a non-Muslim subject, the millet has little to do with how we might think about social pluralism and political citizenship today.  For Christians in the Ottoman Empire, the reality was permanent, fixed, irrevocable second-class status as property of the Ottoman state, with legal inequality summarized in the second-class status of dhimmitude.  This dhimmi model has left a strong political and cultural residue that has informed the self-styled secularist and Islamist regimes in the region, reflected in genocide and other forms of violence against Christians, as well as in economic disenfranchisement, political exclusion, and cultural discrimination.  Two practices are most compelling for laying bare the lie of this myth—the devshirme, forced conscription, accompanied by forced religious conversion, of young Christian boys into the Ottoman military; and the jizya, a poll tax levied disproportionately against Christians in Ottoman times, and now, revived in its essence in the Syrian implosion by the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), jihadists demanding protection money from Syrian Christians. 

2. The Myth of the Middle East as the Muslim World.  The pervasiveness of this language and imagery of the region speaks both to the acute lack of knowledge and to the deliberate narrative misrepresentation of the place of Christians in the Middle East, and is related to the myth of Ottoman pluralism.  Most discussions about religious pluralism in the region today, and certainly about the plight of Christians in Syria and elsewhere, frame these communities as minorities in a geographic space that has always been majority-Muslim in its demography, culture, and politics.  This myth depends, of course, on reinforcing the Ottoman Empire as the historical context for analyzing Christians in the region, or at the very least, works from the narrative that the region’s Arabs were all pagans until the twin events of Mohammed’s westward conquest from the Arabian Peninsula and the establishment of the Umayyad Caliphate in 7th-century Damascus and the Ottomans’ capture of Constantinople in the 15th century.  In fact, Christians have lived in the region for two millennia, since the time of Christ and the Apostles, and the kind of religious pluralism often assigned to the Ottoman Empire was actually the hallmark of the (Eastern Roman) Byzantine Empire.  The discursive formulation of Muslim Middle East or Muslim World reinforces the Orientalization of the region—thereby feeding into ugly civilizational claims that essentialize all Muslims as violent terrorists.  The same formulation has been manipulated and utilized by Muslim-majority governments to assign to Christians a place as minorities, not as citizens, but as minority groups who were supposedly latecomers, foreigners, and aliens to the region.  This myth has made it easier for local political authoritarians and religious extremists alike to take measures that discriminate against, persecute, and cleanse Christians, by disregarding and distorting Christians’ indigenous presence in the region.

3. The Myth of Christians as alien imperialists and agents of the West and Western Christian Crusaders.  This myth follows naturally from the previous myth, by building out the historical narrative of Christians that begins with the Ottoman Empire.  However, this myth and the previous one are built on the insidious narrative by which Orthodox Christians, Eastern Christians, have largely been written out of the history of Christianity—a history that has been presented as synonymous with European—read, Western European, centered in Rome—that excludes the Eastern Roman Empire and the inconvenience of the Asian (i.e. Middle Eastern) origins of Christianity.  This myth depends on an a historical narrative that skips over the Byzantine Empire and its Orthodox Christian identity (here, I will use the term as it’s come to be deployed currently by Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodox and Oriental Christians); instead, this myth starts by interrogating Christians as a minority in Ottoman times and, in the nation-state era, by treating Christians as minorities in the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of Turkey, and as minorities in the decolonization period and Arab revolts that led to the formation of Arab states and Israel.  This falsified and distorted historical periodization has allowed Western (primarily US, but with a similar logic, European Union) policymakers and academics the convenience of ignoring the long process, and the underlying causes, of Christian decline in the Middle East and, above all, to remain indifferent to Christians’ experience on the frontlines as objects of religious cleansing in the Middle East.  By perpetuating this myth of Christians as aliens or late arrivals, Transatlantic policymakers have shied away from speaking openly about the cleansing of Christians, fearful of angering non-Christian political leaders in the Middle East, who have deliberately presented Christians as Crusaders and agents of Western imperialism.  Furthermore, an historically accurate narration of the history of Christians in the region would, of course, have to acknowledge the dominant Orthodox Christian (again, read Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian) presence in the region, as well as address the divergent and quite different experiences of Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant Christians in the region.  This would, of course, require an examination of the deliberate Orientalization of Orthodox Christians by their Western co-religionists through scholarship that has equated Christianity with Europe and, therefore, that has deliberately reduced Christianity to Western Christianity.  In fact, Christianity originated in Asia—the Near and Middle East are geographic Asia—and Christianity is a Eurasian faith, but this reality does not conform neatly to current geopolitical and ideological narratives and dichotomies.  Correcting the distorted myth of Christians as alien interlopers and invaders in the Middle East would also require attention to the causes and circumstances leading to the pluralization of the Christian presence in the region; this historical analysis requires heavy lifting and uncomfortable facts for Christian ecumenism, since the arrival of Roman Catholic Crusaders, as well as Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries, and their actions vis-à-vis Orthodox Christians, constitute some of the uglier features of intra-Christian relations.  Finally, remedies to this myth would also require that Orthodox Christians examine their own record of resignation and passivity in the face of the very real oppression and objectification as minorities in Muslim-majority states and societies; the psychological trauma of dhimmitude is necessarily part of the building of this myth, and psycho-cultural and political-psychological research is replete with cases of traumatized populations internalizing the hegemonic narratives of their oppressors as a means of (usually, counter-productive) longterm survival.

4. Myth of Ecumenical Solidarity amongst Christians in the Middle East.  This myth is related to the previous one, and is one of the most uncomfortable for Christians, since it requires the kind of honest and uncomfortable self-criticism and reflection that is usually inconvenient and that requires ample doses of humility, repentance, and forgiveness.  The reticence about robust self-criticism is also understandable.  The clear and present danger of extinction is one that Middle East Christians have faced for the entire 20th century (Turkey, which usually gets a free pass for its cleansing of Christians, is the end-stage of what is happening to Christians in the other states of the Middle East), and Christians are now facing an immediate, and potentially fatal, threat to their survival in this 21st-century Middle East.  Simply put, as the region’s Christians’ struggle to survive in the face of religious cleansing perpetrated by secularist and Islamist regimes alike, review of the challenges to Christian ecumenical solidarity has taken a back seat to the exigencies of survival.  Nonetheless, the cracks in the ecumenical edifice exist, and require acknowledgement and repair in order for Christians to try to save themselves—much less to raise a stronger voice in asking for others’ help.  Of particular importance to the ecumenical repair-work is a corrective to the Western Christians’ long record of indifference to the plight of Orthodox Christians in the Middle East, and acknowledgment of the politics of the Euro-Western-centricity of the narrative of Christian history—linked to the myth of Christians as late arrivals to the Middle East; Western Christian proselytism that has aimed more at Orthodox Christians than at Pauline evangelism is also a critical part of the repair agenda for ecumenical solidarity, particularly given more recent, aggressive proselytizing by Evangelical Protestants in the Middle East, whose knowledge about, and especially, respect for Orthodox Christians in the region has been largely null.  Also of importance in overcoming ecumenical dysfunction is Orthodox Christians’ willingness to resolve their defensiveness vis-à-vis their co-religionists’ intentions, and to reject a behavioral standard of submission to the kinds of Ottomanist second-class status that has manifested in “staying away from the red lines, not rocking the boat, hoping for the goodwill of individual state leaders.”  The approaching visit to Jerusalem by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis can go a long way to building on the spirit and capacity of ecumenism, so that solidarity becomes a resource for survival of Middle East Christians.  Likewise, some signs of encouragement are visible in Evangelical Protestants’ critical examination of their support for the ideology of Christian Zionism—the “Christ at the Checkpoint Conferences” are instructive, insofar as they have begun to explore the theological problems of Christian Zionism; to explore the sharp negative consequences for Christians in the Holy Land, in Israel and the Palestinian Territories; and to consider the corrosive effects of such theology for Jewish-Christian-Muslim peaceful co-existence.

5. Myth of Israel as Protector State for Christians.  This myth resonates in media and policy language in the United States, and has been reinforced by two factors.  It bears mention that, in comparison to the pace of decline (because of the combined forces of emigration and subjection to violence), Christians in Israel do, indeed, fare better than their co-religionists in the surrounding countries of the region, whether in Arab states or Turkey.  Yet, even this empirical record depends on a comparative, relative framework that is deceptive and reductionist, because it ignores the realities of the Christians’ position of being caught between the pincers of two kinds of rising religious fundamentalism and extremism—Islamic and Jewish—both of which are endangering Christians, both of which leave no room for Christians as equal citizens before the law and accepted members of national collectivities.  Indeed, the myth of Israel as protector state for Middle East Christians depends on constructing all Palestinians as Muslims, which also reinforces a construction of Israel as a Jewish state.  Both of these formulations leave no room for Christians, and contribute to a pernicious identity politics in the region, holding the Israeli-Palestinian problem hostage to zero-sum nationalisms that negate solutions premised on citizenship and that, most certainly, reduce Christians to second-class status in any future vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Mythology has been critical to the precipitous decline and endangered status of Middle East Christians.  It’s time to break open and break away from the above myths, and to do some serious reality checking when it comes to the operative assumptions and, especially, urgent and effective actions, to stop the erasure of the Christian presence in the lands where Christianity was born.

Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou is Visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, and Affiliate Scholar at Harvard University's Center for European Studies, where she Co-Chairs Study Groups on Southeastern Europe and on Muslims and Democratic Politics.

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