The end of Arab Christianity

By Razib Khan | November 20, 2011 10:08 am

Anthony Shadid has a poignant piece up, … But There’s a Slim Hope in History, on the specter of extinction facing Arab Christianity in the wake of the Arab Spring. This is an issue which I think most of my Left-liberal friends simply seem unable to confront forthrightly: ethnic and religious cleansing are often the consequences of populist national self-determination. This isn’t a speculative proposition, the history of Europe is a testament to this, as well as what occurred in newly independent European colonies (e.g., the fate of Indians in Burma and Chinese in Vietnam). This reality is often emphasized by a sort which is very rare in the United States: cosmopolitan imperialists. To these partisans of the old regimes the Austro-Hungarian Empire is often held up as an ideal. This ‘prison house of nations’ was notoriously fractious and muddled, held together only by the history of the House of Habsburg. To illustrate this in a manner accessible to modern Westerners, Jews were often arch-imperialists because they saw themselves as likely receiving a better deal in a situation of imperial ethno-linguistic pluralism than in the possible nation-states where they would be a prominent minority overshadowed by the majority (I think the subsequent history of Jews in the inter-war states does confirm this fear as being grounded in reality). Additionally, in the mid-19th century it was reported that some military units resorted to English as their lingua franca! (the language being popularized by migrants who had returned from the United States).

This section of the Shadid piece emphasizes the broader concerns in the Arab world today:

Rare is the Arab politician today who would specifically endorse secularism; the word itself in Arabic is virtually a synonym for atheism. In an otherwise triumphant tour of North Africa, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey unleashed invective from all stripes of Islamists when he endorsed a rather tame take on secularism, namely that the state would treat all religions equally.

Across the region, the climate seems to have grown more inhospitable, more dangerous. In places like Egypt and Syria, authorities have cynically fanned fears and biases to fortify their power. In the military’s bloody response to a Christian protest in Cairo in October, Egyptian television referred to Copts as though they were foreign agitators bent on subversion, calling on “honorable citizens” to defend the army. Religious stalwarts often speak rightly of Islam’s long tolerance of minorities. But these days, the talk feels condescending; minorities are asking for equality, not benevolent protection.

There are two points which I always think are worth emphasizing: moderate Islamists in the Arab world probably occupy a position which is analogous to Christian Reconstructionists and Dominionists in the West. Any analogy between ‘Christian fundamentalists’ in the USA and ‘Muslim fundamentalists’ collapses because of the radical difference in intent and plausibility of execution of that intent. In much of the Muslim world the dominant religion has already attained the undisputed position of power and legitimacy which Christian Reconstructionists can only dream of. It is understood that non-Muslim religions and peoples exist and persist only at the suffrance of Islamic law and values. The genuine ‘moderation,’ or more accurately reconciliation with a minimum level of norms acceptable to Western liberal democracy, of Turkish Islamism has less to do with the nature of Turkish Islam than it does with the range of opinions of the general Turkish population. That range of opinion is at least analogous to a very religious Western nation, like the United States (e.g., only a marginally greater number of Turks accept Creationism than Americans). There is simply no analogy to the distribution of beliefs and orientations found in Western nations within most Arab societies. The Libyan government installed by Western military power explicitly asserts that its laws and actions will be grounded in Islam. Consider how chilling most Western liberals find a similar assertion by conservative Christian Western politicians? The anti-Jewish attitudes common across the Arab world also hearken back to an older time in the West. Whatever hostility Arabs as a whole may have toward the state of Israel, they often seem unable to separate individual Jews from that hostility, and rather manifest a very old and nasty sentiment which is reflected in parodies like Borat (in part because of the forced expulsion of Jews after World War II from many Arab nations means that very few Arabs encounter individual Jews in the flesh).

Then there’s the issue of Islam’s history of religious tolerance. This is correct, but the term tolerance here has an older meaning. It refers to the right to exist, not the right to liberty and equality. Non-Muslims in the Muslim world were subordinated explicitly, and lesser subjects in the Muslim order. They were protected by Muslim states in return for a tax and specific sets of debilities. That protection did not always hold, and expulsions and pogroms did occur on occasion. Several times I have heard Arab dissidents point to this past history of coexistence and tolerance. I suspect that like many ignorant Westerners they take this at face value, without understanding the deep inequalities which were lifted only during the era of European colonialism. But this is not a past to be proud of, and only notable because of the exclusive intolerance of European Christendom during the same period. Like the famous rights of women granted in Islam, this is only positive when graded on a strong historical curve!

Finally, there’s the issue of the future of Arab Christianity. Does it matter? Let’s hit the practical and the principle. The practical is that there aren’t many Arab Christians left in the Levant and Iraq. There are more people of Arab Christian heritage in the New World than in this region. Millions of Americans and Brazilians have Arab ancestry. The vast majority of people of Palestinian Christian heritage reside outside of Palestine. The Iraq War of the early 2000s has decimated the Christians of Iraq, many of whom have fled to Syria (the irony, the most powerful nation of Christians is responsible for the evisceration of one of the most precarious and ancient Christian communities!). Likely when the Assad regime falls they will flee again, perhaps to Lebanon, or the West. These transplanted communities persist after a fashion, but their distinctive identity as grounded in the locales of their origination and evolution do seem to decay, as they lose their peculiarities. These ancient Christian traditions are unlike American Evangelical Protestantism, in that specific place and history have deep meaning. The idea of Assyrian Christians worshiping in a strip-mall seems ridiculous on the face of it. The reality is that Arab Americans, and particularly Arab Christians, have a very weak sense of ethnic solidity and coherency in the West. They melt away as individuals, and the community loses its sense of integrity. The functional rationale for integrity necessary in a hostile Muslim environment is far less in the United States, France, or Brazil.

It seems entirely plausible that as the Fertile Crescent is cleansed of its Christians that they will resettle in the West, and evaporate into the ether of the broader cultural milieu. Their numbers are modest, probably ~5 million or so. The more pressing issue is Egypt. There are likely ~10 million or so Coptic Christians, and I do not see a feasible migration out of Egypt for most of this population. The Christians of the Levant invariably have family abroad, and so the options for migration are numerous, and the feasibility of transplantation rather high. In contrast the Copts are more solidly grounded within Egypt, and their numbers are such that it seems impractical that any one nation could embrace them in large numbers. I suspect that the next few decades will be difficult ones for the Copts, as they are brutalized by an Egyptian democracy which goes through a process of ‘maturation.’ A substantial number of Copts will embrace Islam to secure liberty in a society which grants full equality only to Muslims. This an old story, not a new one.

Finally, there’s the principle. Who cares? I don’t believe in any religion, let alone the Christian religion, so what does it matter that a particular ethno-religious group loses its coherency in the face persecution if they persist as individuals? I think this is a fair logical point, and I don’t have a fair logical defense. I’m in fact broadly skeptical of the proposition that groups have collective “rights” as opposed to individuals. Rather, let me simply observe as a descriptive matter that just as we live in the age when the Western Black Rhino goes extinct, so we live in the generation that will likely see the passing of the ~2,000 year old living Christian communities of Iraq and Palestine. Of course the scions of these communities will continue to make pilgrimages to their ancient holy sites, but without a living community to care for them they will become as the ruins of Nineveh, a testament to memories and ages forgotten. The partisans of the ‘true Islam’ are now ushering in a profoundly different world, as societies are progressively cleansed of their diversity and difference. In this way they are to a great extent the heirs of the French Revolution, and not the first decades of Islam.

Addendum: I am aware that many “Arab Christians” deny that they are Arab. I will refer to them as Arab in this space because most readers will be confused by the details of the argument, and this semantic gloss does not alter the substance of my argument here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Religion
  • http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/ Brian Schmidt

    “Like the famous rights of women granted in Islam, this is only positive when graded on a strong historical curve!”

    I think it might be asking too much of human nature to grade on anything other than a historical curve.

    Re the Copts, they’ve survived 1300 years of Muslim domination in a variety of contexts. I doubt this next one will be much worse. Regardless though, we’ll see within 5 years or so if Razib’s predictions are right for the Copts and the Levant.

    I’ve thought it’s kind of interesting that conservative religious Americans ignore the Christian Palestinians in the West Bank. A minority, yes, but I don’t think they’re happy with the treatment from Israel either.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I think it might be asking too much of human nature to grade on anything other than a historical curve.

    i think it’s OK to grade on the curve for the past. the problem is when you judge the present by the past. e.g., some admirers of the american founders deny that they’d be considered illiberal today, which i think is stupid. similarly, i also think it’s stupid to judge the founders by modern standards.

    Re the Copts, they’ve survived 1300 years of Muslim domination in a variety of contexts. I doubt this next one will be much worse.

    the reality is that the issue isn’t the extent of prejudice, but the power of modern states to enforce that prejudice. pre-modern states didn’t have the ability to be very totalitarian. modern states have an industrial-level ability to re-order society. additionally, i think the power that modern economics gives to individuals increases the gains to ‘defection.’ a coptic peasant who defected in 1700 had far fewer options than the coptic professional who does so in cairo in 2011. in any case, there are plenty of empirical cases of non-muslim minorities which survived thousand-some years of persecution, only to evaporate within a few decades in the modern era. don’t pretend as if my prediction here is totally theoretical. i’m sure you know of plenty of non-muslim minorities which disappeared ‘in our time’ (e.g., mandaeans). if you don’t, why are you commenting as if you know?

    I’ve thought it’s kind of interesting that conservative religious Americans ignore the Christian Palestinians in the West Bank. A minority, yes, but I don’t think they’re happy with the treatment from Israel either.

    that’s the tendency of christian zionists. but catholics, mainline protestants, etc., are pretty conscious of the palestinian christians, or at least those that remain. though the major issue probably now is the fact that so many christian holy sites are now controlled by jews and muslims. even ‘christian towns’ like nazareth are majority muslim.

  • Theophile

    Didn’t Jesus say to His followers ” They will thrust you out of the synagogues, persecute you, and kill you, and think they are doing God’s work”? Foxes book of Martyrs records centuries of just that behavior:
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22400/22400-h/22400-h.htm

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    who remembers the catholic martyrs in northern europe? who remembers the relics destroyed, the art defaced? do the christians mourn the destruction of the serapeum? the small persecutions against the pagan rustics, burned as ‘witches,’ in antiquity? history is written by the victors, as are the martyrs remembered. the losers live in as vague shadows, footnotes in history. when the memories of the ancestors are forgotten they are other people’s martyrs, people no longer existent, and the persecutors become the ancestors.

  • Charles Nydorf

    What concrete steps can be taken to protect religious minorities?

  • Paul Givargidze

    Thank you for referring to the Mandaeans in your reply, above, Razib. As an Assyrian, I feel helpless to change what appears now to be a foregone conclusion regarding our future. But, at least we have a generation, or two, or three before the decimation likely runs its course. The Mandaeans, since their numbers were so few to begin with, do not have that luxury (if you can call it that). The Mandaean plight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZQ7SlpcID0

    If I were not an agnostic atheist, perhaps I would take some solace in the words from Isaiah 19:23-25: “In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.”

  • Tim M

    Thanks for a thoughtful article on a much too little understood issue!

    A small bit of editing: You write, “There are likely ~10 or so Coptic Christians.” I think what you mean to say is that Egypt is roughly 10% Coptic, not that the country now contains only 10 Copts?

  • Magnus Lu
  • Raff

    Everybody dances around the issue of which sect is the current dominant one and why it discriminates against others and how to ameliorate the problem. They fail to examine that the real issue is that the root of this problem is some particular religion and the current crop of interpretors of their particular “holy book.” Why don’t we all just agree that religion, not money, is the root of all evil?

  • yogi-one

    Thanks for an article that brings out the difference between Arab religious tolerance and western religious tolerance. Honestly, I don’t know of any other author who has addressed the issue that historically the two arise out of different cultural milieus and mean different things within the context of their cultures.

    And also for pointing out that today’s American Fundamentalist Christians (Dominionist and Reconstructionists specifically, that is) do not have any value of preserving ancient Christian sects in countries that they regard as Islamic countries. The kind of highly authoritarian, mixed-with-money-and-power-politics Christianity that is popularly called “Conservative” Christianity in the west has almost (save for the militancy of its devotees) nothing in common with conservative (read: traditional) Islam. The popular trend of equating Muslim and Christian fundamentalists is misleading, not to mention that it shows historical and cultural ignorance on the part of those making that assertion.

  • juan

    Was this, in some sense, inevitable? Clearly the 2003 Iraq War accelerated the process, but it had been going on for many decades, as my Lebanese friends (born and raised in Ohio and Florida) can attest.

    And how much of the cleansing is now caused by aggressive governments, as opposed to just aggressive neighbors and young men disgusted at the idea of allowing non-Muslims to live near them. Is most of the cleansing due to explicit govt action or just inaction as the police stand aside while local bully boys harass, intimidate, assault and murder non-Muslims until they leave?

    And could anything be done by the US or Europe to stop it — short of carving out some portion of Lebanon as some sort of Israel-like refuge for Arab Christians.

    I find this all quite discouraging, not because I have any affinity for the Arab Christian traditions being erased, but I do have strong antipathy to the intolerant Islamists doing the cleansing.

    I also have been reading for years as writers like Thomas Barnett assure the West that this Islamist violence is actually a sign of the weakness of the old-guard theocrats and that the millions of muslim immigrants in the the West are going to inevitably bring modernity and liberalism to the Islamic world as our cultural values are somehow osmotically absorbed back into the Islamic societies supplying the immigrants. I’d like to believe that, but I’m not seeing much evidence for it.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    As an Assyrian, I feel helpless to change what appears now to be a foregone conclusion regarding our future

    the church of the east is almost totally diasporic already.

    Not worse than what is said in the EU.
    http://m.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/aug/29/germany.eu?cat=world&type=article

    retarded. are you stupid enough to equate the establishment of the lutheran church with the role of the salafi establishment in saudi arabia? perhaps you are. moron.


    What concrete steps can be taken to protect religious minorities?

    neocolonialism. which IMO isn’t feasible or wise. IOW, they’re fucked.

    Why don’t we all just agree that religion, not money, is the root of all evil?

    i think it’s reductive and wrong. unfortunately it’s not that simple. in fact, it’s as simple as saying that if you ‘know jesus all will be clear.’ not really. the world is complex.

    Thanks for an article that brings out the difference between Arab religious tolerance and western religious tolerance. Honestly, I don’t know of any other author who has addressed the issue that historically the two arise out of different cultural milieus and mean different things within the context of their cultures.

    just to be clear: western tolerance did go through a phase similar to what you see in the arab world today. it was simply in the 17th and 18th centuries. see Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe. so, for example, we are often told that the dutch were religiously tolerant in the 17th century. they were. but only compared to their contemporaries. the dominion of the reformed over catholics and heterodox protestants was rather oppressive in reality by modern standards.

    Was this, in some sense, inevitable?

    well, nothing is inevitable. but there probabilities seem to have made it likely. this is common with the rise of nation-states more generally. the issue is that if you believe in a model of history like francis fukuyama you have to wait for the arabs to become modern. that’s going to take time, and the minorities are going to be brutalized until they become mature, just as they were in europe. if you don’t have such a view of history, well, then the arabs might be creating their own alternative model. i say arabs because the issues are particularly extreme with them. muslim majority countries like senegal have had non-muslim political leaders, though they tend to not be ‘archetypical.’

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    There seemed to be an implicit reliance on “The Lost History of Christianity“, though you are one of the few people I know of historically literate enough that you might have already known all the stylized facts before reading it. I just put up some quotes from that book on the shift from tolerance to persecution after centuries of relatively peaceful co-existence.

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

    Apologies if this is a stupid question, but what was the dominant Arab religion pre-Islam?

  • Simplicio

    @Lab Lemming. There wasn’t any one dominant pre-islamic Arabic religion. There were several Christian Arabic kingdoms, at least one Jewish one and various pagan traditions, from which the Muslim’s inherited the veneration of the Kabah in Mecca.

  • Gregor Stephan

    Lab: “The South Arabians before Islam were polytheists and revered a large number of deities. Most of these were astral in concept but the significance of only a few is known. It was essentially a planetary system in which the moon as a masculine deity prevailed . . . ”
    Raff/Razib: If you would like to read a philosophically strong argument regarding the dangers of religion, acquaint yourself(ves) with Sam Harris, “The End of Faith …,” and “Letter to a Christian Nation.”

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    : If you would like to read a philosophically strong argument regarding the dangers of religion, acquaint yourself(ves) with Sam Harris, “The End of Faith …,” and “Letter to a Christian Nation.”

    i’ve read sam harris. i find his views too reductive. if only the world were as simple as he perceives it to be! (that being said, i do think that on some issues harris does have a clear view of the world, though i might disagree with his prescriptions)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    re: religion before islam, a minority of revisionists would probably deny the ubiquity of polytheism/paganism before islam. they’d argue that this was an islamic myth promoted to more starkly illustrate the need for religious reform. i actually think they’re wrong, but i thought i’d throw that out there.

  • http://lablemming.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    I’m surprised more people aren’t pushing for more federalism in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. The idea that only a strong central government can bring stability seems a bit simplistic, especially given the facts on the ground in Afghanistan over the past decade. And federal governments, while more complicated, might be better havens for cultural preservation if they are set up properly.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #19, the problem with federalism is that iraq and libya are oil economies. devolution might result in differential allocation of the spoils/rents. secondarily, in a place like egypt i don’t believe there is strongly regional differences. like jews in europe copts are a minority everywhere.

  • Justin Giancola

    9. Why don’t we agree that you are millionth person to bring up this tired talking point on this blog and it adds nothing to the conversation. Can we get a refrain on the prothletising of this “revelation?”

    + what razib said. ha :)

  • Khalid

    Whether framed as tolerance, multiculturalism or rights, the principal of peaceful co-existence needs re-emphasing. In practice the clearest theoretical underpinning of this principal does not always provide the best outcomes in practice (eg US and slavery). The painful fact that enlightenment values enshrining individual human rights are balanced upon on material prosperity and are not the cause of it is now being given greater attention by writers such as John Gray (see ‘False Dawn’, or: ‘Straw Dogs’). For a nuanced historical analysis of this topic with regard to Egypts Copts see this AJE opinion piece http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/11/2011111616317813239.html Whatever your faith respectful co-existence without dominance should be enshrined as a principal, underpinned in law and echoed in rhetoric. We live in ‘interesting’ times.

  • osama

    i am Arab christian, and Christian was in that area the middle east long time ago before Islam, and yes we are afraid of what will happen if our region turned to fanatic Islam or the power in t other heir hand, as they don’t accept any belief

  • Mark

    Regarding protection of religious minorities, the minorities themselves could do what the Anabaptists did when faced with extinction: move to the New World and adopt a separatist philosophy. I’d be shocked if this actually happened though.

  • ejmohr

    Great article Razib.

    Who cares, you say. I think we should all care, not because we favour one religion over another, but because the rights of these minorities are being violated. It’s not just the ancient Christians of the Middle East, but it seems to me the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Buddhists, the Zoroastrians and the Bahai of the middle east as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan are being ruthlessly and slowly exterminated under the jackboot of sharia. Last I read, Pakistan had far fewer Sikhs and Hindus than when partition occurred.

    What aggravates me is the mainstream media falling over themselves in delight as “democracy” is unleashed in these regions. Meanwhile you never hear about the persecuted minority civilians who under sharia have very little in the way of rights. We see Colonel Ghaddaffi being executed, or perhaps “caught in cross fire” and jubilant people celebrating his end. Yet there is little mention of the Al-Qaeda flag that appeared over the NTC headquarters. The Arab Spring is starting to look like a modern version of Jihad. Right now the Jihad is focused on the infidel rulers of the middle east just like it was when war broke out after the assassination of the fourth Caliph.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    The Arab Spring is starting to look like a modern version of Jihad.

    i think this is an assertion lacking in substance.

  • http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/ Brian Schmidt

    “the reality is that the issue isn’t the extent of prejudice, but the power of modern states to enforce that prejudice”

    Rwanda was a counterexample.

    Re disappearing small minorities, that happens everywhere. A minority consisting of 10% of the population and millions of people is a different matter. In an Iraq-type catastrophe maybe you could get significant displacement/conversion/murder, but otherwise I doubt there will be significant reductions in the number of people identifying as Coptic Christian five years from now. Five decades from now, I suspect the greater loss to Coptic populations will be through assimilation, as happened to the African population in Mexico. We’ll find out though, someday.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Rwanda was a counterexample.

    say more.

    A minority consisting of 10% of the population and millions of people is a different matter.

    well, mass migrations aren’t unknown. e.g., pulses of east bengali/bangladeshi hindus leaving in the 1950s and early 1970s. these are on the order of the copts. the main issue is that there isn’t an easy ‘safety valve’ for them.

  • ackbark

    Rather than calling religion the root of all evil, I would say the root of all evil is stupidity, self-consciousness of stupidity relative to an apparent standard, and stupidity exploited and given self-justification.

    Even in the case of criminal psychopaths, is that not a kind of stupidity?

  • BenjaminL

    TGGP, agreed on the relevance of “The Lost History of Christianity.” The decline of Christianity because of Muslim persecution has been going on for a long time.

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R1LSR3LQKKN8KE/

    “For all the reasons we can suggest for the…[Christian] decline…the largest single factor…was organized violence, whether in the form of massacre, expulsion, or forced migration” (141).

    “It is astonishing…how readily the myth of Muslim tolerance has been accepted…the story…involves far more active persecution…than would be suggested by…believers in Islamic tolerance” (33, 99)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #30, lots of evidence of organized violence in the last few centuries. but i’d bet that defection due to penalties imposed on dhimmis probably more important in the early years (punctuated by bouts of violence). again, it needs to be kept in mind that the ability of pre-modern people to organize en masse was limited by tech constraints.

  • Onur

    but i’d bet that defection due to penalties imposed on dhimmis probably more important in the early years (punctuated by bouts of violence).

    Could you clarify what you mean by defection and give some examples?

  • Onur

    I asked that question because in that context the word defection can be used either to mean defection to Islam, i.e., conversion to Islam, or to mean defection to a non-Muslim-ruled land, i.e., taking refuge in a non-Muslim-ruled land. I presume you meant the former.

  • Curtis

    The oldest religion in Iran isn’t faring very well either.
    http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/14/opinion/choksy-iran-zoroastrian/index.html

  • omar

    Just a thought: A relatively static community with little active proselytizing spirit MAY be in a weaker position than a smaller persecuted sect which is still aggressively trying to convert people and is proud of it’s martyrs. e.g. no christian community in the Arab world has yet faced the kind of systematic non-stop persecution that Ahmediya Muslims have faced in Pakistan, where they are officially non-muslim, cannot call themselves Muslims, and literally thousands have been charged under laws prohibiting Ahmedis from praying like Muslims or using Muslim symbols..yet their numbers do not appear to have shrunk. They continue to live in the country and even to acquire new converts. I am not 100% sure of the assertion about their numbers, but that is what I have heard. If this assertion is true (it would be very hard to check) it may indicate that it is not be easy to eliminate a sect that is willing to soldier on in adverse circumstances and even to take pride in standing up to persecution..martyrdom has its own positive energy.
    Are there Christian sects in the Arab world that are aggressive about “spreading the good news”, even if it means acquiring some martyrs?

  • http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/ Brian Schmidt

    Re Rwanda, that was a Rooney-Garland type of “hey everybody, let’s put on a genocide!” with similar level of organizational complexity, and it was pretty effective on a grassroots level, villagers with machetes taking the initiative without oversight. For the contrary argument, radio was crucial in spreading genocide, but that’s a pretty basic tool in the kit of a modern state.

  • http://lablemming.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    22: These days, isn’t “multiculturalism” just a fancy word for evangelical liberalism? I don’t hear a lot of “live and let live” or “turn the other cheek” out of self proclaimed multiculturalists, of which Australia has an overabundance.

    29: No, parsnip is.

    20: The 18th century USA was rich in natural resources, as was 19th century Germany. Natural wealth doesn’t have to result in cultural suppression. I give you Egypt, but 3 out of 5 ain’t bad. But even in Afghanistan, where it is an obvious choice, the nation building is directed towards centralization.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    “In contrast the Copts are more solidly grounded within Egypt, and their numbers are such that it seems impractical that any one nation could embrace them in large numbers.”

    I’m not certain about that. There are substantial Coptic communities in the various Anglophone immigrant receiving countries, secondarily in Europe, and fairly well-established Coptic networks overseas. The potential does exist for the volume of Coptic emigration to accelerate sharply. The relative advance of Christians over Muslims in Egypt’s demographic transition also implies the possibility of future net decrease achieved through a combination of net emigration and stable to declining natural population change. All IMHO.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I’m not certain about that. There are substantial Coptic communities in the various Anglophone immigrant receiving countries, secondarily in Europe, and fairly well-established Coptic networks overseas.

    ratios. 2 or 3 “levantine” christians probably live outside of the levant now for every 1 than resides in the levant (depending on how you count someone as levantine, as so many are mixed-ancestry). the copt ratios can’t be that skewed. there are around two multiples or more copts than levantine xtians now in the mid-east, and i believe many multiples fewer copts abroad than levantine christians.

    The potential does exist for the volume of Coptic emigration to accelerate sharply.

    i think this will occur. what i’ms suggesting is that it is feasible and possible that lebanon and syria are de-christianized in near totality in a generation, like the mideast was of jews after world war 2. the diasporic communities can absorb a few hundred thousand of these a year, which would do the trick. but i don’t think that the copt outflow would do the trick; there’d be a substantial residual. by analogy, no matter the outflow of jews from the russian empire, which was substantial, there were just too many for russia to be emptied. even after the migration to israel and the usa in the 90s there are still man russian jews.

  • TWS

    Razib,

    Don’t you wonder about the genetic diversity that might be lost? Isn’t likely that the cultural differences help to preserve the genetic differences? Is there an older population in Egypt that will be lost? Was that population already lost?

    I know that they do not like to be called ‘Arab’. I used to work with a nice lady who was very definite about not being Arab. What about the non-mainstream Muslims in North Africa? How will they do when the community becomes more monolithic?

    I am not talking about culture. My questions are genetics. Unless of course you quit believing in HBD! ;>)

  • Y ddraig verdd

    35.Omar : I don’t know of any Christian church in the Middle East that is trying to convert people now, even those that did this in the past. They are actually loosing people to protestant churches. Most of them have become, more or less, ethnic religions( the Maronites or the Church of the East for example). I guess this happened due the long Muslim domination and the heavy penalties imposed on those trying to convert (death for apostasy). Something similar happened with other religions minorities in the area (Zoroastrians/Parsis). Conversions did happen but more from one minority to another (Druze to Maronite) and in very small numbers. It seams that they have basically accepted there inferior position in the region which is somehow understandable as, except the Maronite, the other communities have been ruled only by other religions since the 7th century. The Ahmediya are a special case, as they still see themselves as Muslims and they present themselves to the world as such. They are also a fairly new community and still have the initial converting zeal of all new religious movements. The Ahmediya did not accept their dhimmi status, especially as there is no clear place for them in the traditional systems, as a post-Mohamed revelation.
    The only church in the region who is trying to convert is the Greek dominated Orthodox Church in Alexandria, but their efforts are only directed to non-Muslim parts of Africa (Kenya, Uganda etc.)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Don’t you wonder about the genetic diversity that might be lost? Isn’t likely that the cultural differences help to preserve the genetic differences? Is there an older population in Egypt that will be lost? Was that population already lost?

    1) they’re not exterminated, they’re assimilated, so there isn’t diversity being lost.

    2) it takes HUGE bottlenecks to wipe away a lot of genetic diversity in any case.

    so the issue here is cultural, not biological. if the above responses don’t make sense, please check out a pop gen book. it’s pretty simple.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    They are also a fairly new community and still have the initial converting zeal of all new religious movements.

    the key issue with conversions often in a static social-religion circumstances is the reach of social networks. as such, new religious movements can often spread because they’re seeded within older religious social networks. i think that’s PART of why non-muslims in the mideast don’t/can’t preach to muslims: they’ve become insulated ethnic groups without the reach into muslim networks. this is one reason that american protestants have often failed in some regions, as among muslims or upper caste hindus. they try, but they have no social entry (this was a problem in 19th century china too). then there’s the small issue of the extreme collective penalties imposed upon non-muslims if caught attempting to convert (this applied to jews in christian europe too). that being said, there are apparently some prominent maronite families who have sunni origins. or at least part of the family converted during the declining years of the ottomans. probably because of the power of europeans.

  • omar

    #41: I think you are on to something. The Christian communities in the Arab world (except Lebanon?) accepted their Dhimmi status a long time ago. They had a bit of a honeymoon during the late colonial era, but they remained careful not to offend by starting to preach etc. Is there any tradition of vocal resistance? violent or non-violent?
    Though I think Razib is right that the copts are too many to just emigrate and disappear. Maybe they will also resist more openly?

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    “The idea of Assyrian Christians worshiping in a strip-mall seems ridiculous on the face of it. ”

    Any more so than St Mary Ethiopan Orthodox Church, which is in an Aurora, Colorado strip mall near a long row of tailer parks (it is one of several strip mall Ethiopian Orthodox churches in greater Denver)? Other congregations have taken spaces preciously held by other churches or ultimately built their own.

    I also wouldn’t discount the possibility that “Islamist” in the political sense in places that are overwhelmingly Islamic already, has more to do with the sense that religious institutions are currently less corrupt than governmental ones, than it does with Islam v. non-Islam sentiment.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Any more so than St Mary Ethiopan Orthodox Church, which is in an Aurora, Colorado strip mall near a long row of tailer parks (it is one of several strip mall Ethiopian Orthodox churches in greater Denver)? Other congregations have taken spaces preciously held by other churches or ultimately built their own.

    my point is that liturgical churches lose some of their uniqueness when you take them outside of their proper geographical and historical context. this is obvious (e.g., american catholicism is qualitatively different from european catholicism), so why are you disputing it?

    I also wouldn’t discount the possibility that “Islamist” in the political sense in places that are overwhelmingly Islamic already, has more to do with the sense that religious institutions are currently less corrupt than governmental ones, than it does with Islam v. non-Islam sentiment.

    this is a cartoon. why are you arguing with a cartoon? islamist institutions become corrupt once they come into power (e.g., iran, saudi arabia). but islamism isn’t the issue, the issue is that ‘secular’ muslims in egypt and pakistan are batshit crazy barbarians when it comes to their fucking prophet. the assassin of salman taseer came out of the ‘moderate’ ‘sufi’ and ‘mystical’ barelvi movement, which has been targeted by ‘fundamentalists.’ pakistani islamists famously have never had great success electorally. so? it’s arguably more scary to be a religious minority in pakistan than ‘islamist’ iran. how’s that for moving beyond the cartoon for you?

  • Y ddraig verdd

    “that being said, there are apparently some prominent maronite families who have sunni origins.”

    Yes, like this guy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bashir_Shihab_II
    This is, I think, a big difference between Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East, namely christian ruling families. Also Lebanon was always more connected with Europe, Fakhr ad-Din II a Druze ruler of Lebanon (from a initially Sunni family) was allied with Renaissance Tuscany.
    The only christian groups who did fight in the area where the Armenians and the Maronite, and it didn’t end very well for them. The only viable state Christian stat in the area could have been a smaller Lebanon, but the Maronites used their influence with France to expand Lebanon, thinking that they could continue to rule over the smaller ( at the time) and poorer Muslim areas.
    In the end I think the writing was on the wall for the christian Arabs for a long time. They have tried to create, at the beginning of the 20th century a pan-Arabic identity (either a nationalistic one or a socialist inspired one) but no matter how much they tried to make Arab= Muslim+Christian in the end Arab=Muslim. See for example how the Palestinian movements evolved. Also the fact that they first started the demographic transitions and emigrated in larger numbers did not help.
    Egypt is a bit different as the christian community is still very large and, more importantly much poorer, then other christian communities. As such they have a lot less international connections and a higher fertility rate. It also seams that a large number of them have a similar level of fanaticism as their Muslim neighbors. I mean I did not hear Iraqi Christians chanting their readiness to day for the cross or fighting pitch battles with the police when a church was bombed.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    “2 or 3 “levantine” christians probably live outside of the levant now for every 1 than resides in the levant (depending on how you count someone as levantine, as so many are mixed-ancestry). the copt ratios can’t be that skewed. there are around two multiples or more copts than levantine xtians now in the mid-east, and i believe many multiples fewer copts abroad than levantine christians.”

    Right. My sense of the issue is that the proportion of diasporids to non-diasporids can be plausibly explained as a matter of timing. The proportion of Copts in the Egyptian immigrant communities in Christian-majority countries such as the United States and especially Australia is well above the proportion of Copts in the Egyptian population. Basically, if you’ve got the incentive, the networks, and a demonstrated tendency, it’s going to be only a matter of time.

    “i think this will occur. what i’ms suggesting is that it is feasible and possible that lebanon and syria are de-christianized in near totality in a generation, like the mideast was of jews after world war 2. the diasporic communities can absorb a few hundred thousand of these a year, which would do the trick. but i don’t think that the copt outflow would do the trick; there’d be a substantial residual. by analogy, no matter the outflow of jews from the russian empire, which was substantial, there were just too many for russia to be emptied. even after the migration to israel and the usa in the 90s there are still man russian jews.”

    I agree that the number of Copts in Egypt is such that the country wouldn’t be emptied of Christians in one generation. It’d be two. The large majority of Russian Jews live outside the former Soviet Union–only a quarter of the Jews living in the Soviet Union in 1989 are living in the Soviet successor states in 2011. The economic incentive for emigrants combined with virulent anti-Semitism to produce a very large population movement that is still continuing, if necessarily at lower speed.

  • BigRed

    I agree that the issue you are bringing up is a very important one and one that is underreported and underconsidered.

    I have a bit of a problem with: “This is an issue which I think most of my Left-liberal friends simply seem unable to confront forthrightly: ethnic and religious cleansing are often the consequences of populist national self-determination.”, however.

    As you point out yourself, the first action that brought about such an impact on a Middle Eastern Christian community was the invasion of Iraq in 2003, performed at the order of a socially-conservative-free-market-neoliberal president. As was in fact the bombardment of Libya’s regular forces (neither the UK, nor France or Italy had a “Left-liberal” government at the time).
    And while the center-left delude themselves into believing that some form of liberal democracy will arise from the ashes, I have not really heard anyone from the socially-conservative-free-market-neoliberal camp voicing their objections (or pointing out the likely impact on Christian communities).

    I don’t know anything about you, Mr Khan, but just from this piece, I feel the suspicion grow that it is an attempt at someone who is not part of the “Left-liberal” camp to stake out a “we told you so” position when this was in fact not the case.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I have not really heard anyone from the socially-conservative-free-market-neoliberal camp voicing their objections (or pointing out the likely impact on Christian communities).

    http://digitaljournal.com/article/313623
    http://www.politico.com/blogs/politicolive/1011/Bachmann_Libya_still_a_mistake.html

  • TJR

    Islam was to a large extent spread through military conquest and tax breaks. Does anyone know if the extra taxes for non-moslems, or something similar, still exist anywhere, or did that idea disappear centuries ago?

  • Ibrahim

    Razib Khan: my point is that liturgical churches lose some of their uniqueness when you take them outside of their proper geographical and historical context. this is obvious (e.g., american catholicism is qualitatively different from european catholicism), so why are you disputing it?

    You should attend one of the Orthodox Churches in America (OCA)or an Indonesian OC or Tanzanian OC or perhaps an Ethiopian OC in Jamaica and try to say that same thing. It looks like you are generalizing something based on your experience with RCC’s in the US.

  • Tomasz R.

    In all fairness – does anyone except for Christians like christianity? It looks like a lonely religion.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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