Tag Archives: Religion in the Middle East

Event: “The Race Against ISIS: Efforts to Preserve Ancient Christian Culture in the Middle East” (Dec. 2)

On Tuesday, December 2 at noon, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom will host Dr. Amal Marogy, originally from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, to discuss “The Race Against ISIS: Efforts to Preserve Ancient Christian Culture in the Middle East.”

As ISIS continues to wage a campaign to eradicate the entire Christian presence and every trace of that ancient community’s existence in northern Iraq, a treasure of Christian patrimony, consisting of relics and manuscripts testifying to nearly two millennia of Christianity, is being systematically destroyed. Dr. Amal Marogy, originally from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, fears that the ongoing jihadist religious cleansing of this 1,600-year-old Christian community means that Iraq’s Aramaic language and culture is in danger of dying out. ISIS has already burned some 1,500 biblical manuscripts held at the fourth-century monastery of St. Behnam, which was seized last summer in Nineveh. While some manuscripts, including those of Mar Behnam, have been digitized, many others have not.

Dr. Marogy is on an urgent mission to record the social history of her region, Duhok, and its Aramaic songs, prayers, and poetry. In 2013, she founded the Aradin Charitable Trust to help preserve Aramaic and the Christian heritage throughout the Middle East. She is an Affiliated Researcher in Neo-Aramaic Studies at Cambridge University and was previously Director of Studies in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College.

Register for the event, which is in Washington, D.C., here.

You can also live stream the event on Hudson’s homepage.

“Armenian Christianity Today: Identity Politics and Popular Practice” (Agadjanian, ed.)

Last month, Ashgate Publishing released Armenian Christianity Today: Identity Politics and Popular Practice, edited by Alexander Agadjanian (Russian State University for the Humanities). The publisher’s description follows:

Armenian Christianity Today examines contemporary religious life and the social, political, and cultural functions of religion in the post-Soviet Republic of Armenia and in the Armenian Diaspora worldwide. Scholars from a range of countries and disciplines explore current trends and everyday religiosity, particularly within the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC), and amongst Armenian Catholics, Protestants and vernacular religions.

Themes examined include: Armenian grass-roots religiosity; the changing forms of regular worship and devotion; various types of congregational life; and the dynamics of social composition of both the clergy and lay believers. Exploring through the lens of Armenia, this book considers wider implications of ‘postsecular’ trends in the role of global religion.

 

Massad, “Islam in Liberalism”

This January, University of Chicago Press will release “Islam in Liberalism” by Joseph A. Massad (Columbia University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Islam in LiberalismIn the popular imagination, Islam is often associated with words like oppression, totalitarianism, intolerance, cruelty, misogyny, and homophobia, while its presumed antonyms are Christianity, the West, liberalism, individualism, freedom, citizenship, and democracy. In the most alarmist views, the West’s most cherished values—freedom, equality, and tolerance—are said to be endangered by Islam worldwide.

Joseph Massad’s Islam in Liberalism explores what Islam has become in today’s world, with full attention to the multiplication of its meanings and interpretations. He seeks to understand how anxieties about tyranny, intolerance, misogyny, and homophobia, seen in the politics of the Middle East, are projected onto Islam itself. Massad shows that through this projection, Europe emerges as democratic and tolerant, feminist, and pro-LGBT rights—or, in short, Islam-free. Massad documents the Christian and liberal idea that we should missionize democracy, women’s rights, sexual rights, tolerance, equality, and even therapies to cure Muslims of their un-European, un-Christian, and illiberal ways. Along the way he sheds light on a variety of controversial topics, including the meanings of democracy—and the ideological assumption that Islam is not compatible with it while Christianity is—women in Islam, sexuality and sexual freedom, and the idea of Abrahamic religions valorizing an interfaith agenda. Islam in Liberalism is an unflinching critique of Western assumptions and of the liberalism that Europe and Euro-America blindly present as a type of salvation to an assumingly unenlightened Islam.

“The Routledge Handbook of Religions and Global Development” (Tomalin, ed.)

This January, Routledge Press will release “The Routledge Handbook of Religions and Global Development” by Emma Tomalin (University of Leeds, UK).  The publisher’s description follows:

Routledge Handbook of Religions and Global DevelopmentThis Handbook provides a cutting-edge survey of the state of research on religions and global development. Part one highlights critical debates that have emerged within research on religions and development, particularly with respect to theoretical, conceptual and methodological considerations, from the perspective of development studies and its associated disciplines. Parts two to six look at different regional and national development contexts and the place of religion within these. These parts integrate and examine the critical debates raised in part one within empirical case studies from a range of religions and regions. Different religions are situated within actual locations and case studies thus allowing a detailed and contextual understanding of their relationships to development to emerge. Part seven examines the links between some important areas within development policy and practice where religion is now being considered, including:

  • Faith-Based Organisations and Development
  • Public Health, Religion and Development
  • Human rights, Religion and Development
  • Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Religion
  • Global Institutions and Religious Engagement in Development
  • Economic Development and Religion
  • Religion, Development and Fragile States
  • Development and Faith-Based Education

Taking a global approach, the Handbook covers Africa, Latin America, South Asia, East/South-East Asia and the Middle East. It is essential reading for students and researchers in development studies and religious studies, and is highly relevant to those working in a range of disciplines, from theology, anthropology, and economics, to geography, international relations, politics, sociology, area studies and development studies.

Rosati, “The Making of a Postsecular Society”

In January, Ashgate Publishing will release “The Making of a Postsecular Society: A Durkheimian Approach to Memory, Pluralism and Religion in Turkey” by Massimo Rosati (University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’). The publisher’s description follows:

Drawing on the thought of Durkheim, this volume focuses on societal changes at the symbolic level to develop a new conceptualisation of the emergence of postsecular societies. Neo-Durkheimian categories are applied to the case of Turkey, which in recent years has shifted from a strong Republican and Kemalist view of secularism to a more Anglo-Saxon perspective. Turkish society thus constitutes an interesting case that blurs modernist distinctions between the secular and the religious and which could be described as ‘postsecular’.

Presenting three symbolic case studies – the enduring image of the founder of the Republic Atatürk, the contested site of Ayasofia, and the remembering and commemoration of the murdered journalist Hrant Dink – The Making of a Postsecular Society analyses the cultural relationship that the modern Republic has always had with Europe, considering the possible implications of the Turkish model of secularism for a specifically European self-understanding of modernity.

Based on a rigorous construction of theoretical categories and on a close scrutiny of the common challenges confronting Europe and its Turkish neighbour long considered ‘other’ with regard to the accommodation of religious difference, this book sheds light on the possibilities for Europe to find new ways of arranging the relationship between the secular and the religious. As such, it will appeal to scholars of social theory, the sociology of religion, secularisation and religious difference, and social change.

El-Menawy, “The Copts”

This September, Gilgamesh Publishing released “The Copts: An Investigation Into The Rift Between Muslims And Copts In Egypt” by Abdel Latif El-Menawy.  The publisher’s description follows:

The CoptsAbdel Latif Al Menawy met and interviewed late Pope Shnouda, the third Patriarch of Egypt many times during his rule. Throughout his career in journalism he was constantly in touch with leaders of the Coptic Society in Egypt. He had unparalleled access to developments of the various crises unravelling in the streets of Egypt as a result to confrontation between religion and politics.

The Copts explains how Christianity became so deeply rooted in Egypt that Islam was never able to overcome it, leading to an uneasy relationship between the two faiths. It will give accounts, never published before, of direct confrontations between  the Late Pope Shnouda and both Presidents Late Anwar Sadat and former President Hosni Mubarak.  Abdel Latif also reveals the role the Coptic Church has played in the recent uprising in Egypt.

Kobani, Then and Now

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Kobani, Syria, Last Weekend

For the past several weeks, the world has been watching Kobani (in Kurdish, Kobanê), a small city on the Syrian-Turkish border. In September, militants from ISIS, the Sunni Islamist group that has declared a restored caliphate in the Middle East, laid siege to the city, which is mostly Kurdish and currently in the hands of the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish group that opposes the Assad government. Kobani’s strategic significance is debatable, but the city has symbolic importance, and its fall would be a huge morale boost for ISIS. Consequently, the US has instituted a bombing campaign to push ISIS back. As of this weekend, the siege was at a standstill.

A bewildering set of parties is involved. In addition to the two main antagonists, ISIS and the YPG, there are the Iraqi Kurds – who, unlike the YPG, do not have good relations with the PKK, the Kurdish militants who seek to establish a homeland in Turkey – the Free Syrian Army, part of the “moderate” secular opposition to Assad; the Assad regime itself; the Iraqi government; regional powers like Turkey and Iran; and the international anti-ISIS coalition, led by the US. Each of these parties has its own interests to protect, which makes cooperation very difficult. Most observers think the city will fall unless outsiders supply substantial ground troops. That seems unlikely. Although Turkey last week said it would open its border and allow some Iraqi Kurdish fighters, as well as members of the Free Syrian Army, to reinforce Kobani, it’s not clear whether that will occur.

One group that does not have a significant representation in Kobani is Christians. This is ironic, because Kobani was in fact founded by Christians during the last great wave of persecution in the region, about 100 years ago. In the wake of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, an ethnic-cleansing campaign that killed millions of Armenians and other Christians in the Ottoman Empire, Armenian refugees established a village near a recently-built train station on the Baghdad Railway, at a place called Ayn al-Arab in the Aleppo Province. The Kurds came later and called the village “Kobani,” apparently after the German company that had built the railway.

The Turks pushed many of Kobani’s Armenians further south. Those who avoided deportation built churches and schools in Kobani, but most eventually decided to move on, to other cities in Syria or to Soviet Armenia. Doubtless, many of them wished to leave a place with so many bad memories. According to political scientist Cengiz Aktar of the Istanbul Policy Center, the area surrounding Kobani is known as “‘the Armenian cemetery’ because of the thousands of Armenians who died there during the deportations. It was a terrible place when the Armenians arrived back then, and the area has a tragic history. It is being repeated now.”

Hardly anyone today remembers the Christian presence in Kobani. I didn’t know the story, myself, until a friend said his grandfather, one of the refugees, once had a shop there. The churches are gone. New humanitarian disasters succeed the ones of 100 years ago; history moves on. Still, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the great suffering that led to Kobani’s foundation, and the great suffering that continues there now. It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood.

Photo from CNN

The Synod on the Family and the Developing World

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First World Problems?

Not long after his election, the new Pope explained why he had taken the name “Francis”: “Ah, how I would like a church,” he said, “that is poor and is for the poor.” It was refreshing: the Pope was going to change the basic terms of the conversation between the Church and the world. Instead of waging a grinding “culture war” against a secular West, the Church would instead speak to the most urgent concerns of the global East and South. The first Pope to come from beyond Europe and the Mediterranean basin promised to be the champion of those who lived in the parts of the earth where hunger, injustice and persecution abounded. Places like the Philippines, Mexico, and Nigeria had already become the true center of gravity of a global Church, displacing Quebec, Chicago, Milan and Vienna. The new Pope would speak for the populations of the emerging world – for their suffering, their desperation, their resilience, their energy, their sense of hope. The “North/South” polarity would supplant the “Left/Right” one. The Church would make the pivot to poverty. In making that turn, it would address the West too – but by awakening it from the deadly self-absorption of the affluent.

So when one learns that the Synod of Catholic cardinals and bishops summoned by the same Pope has returned the conversation to the culture wars of the West – though with unmistakable overtones of capitulation on many of the bishops’ part — it is, to say no more, a disappointment. Try as it may, the Church under Francis seems to be unable to resist scratching the sores of Western sexuality. The consuming obsessions of the West, now in the terminal phases of the sexual and cultural revolutions that have swept over it for more than half a century, are dominating the Church’s agenda once again. At the Pope’s insistence, the bishops did a reset, plunging the Church into renewed debate over divorce and homosexuality and cutting short the conversation that the Pope had earlier invited over famine, persecution and want. With Islamist terrorist groups like Boko Haram recently murdering 2500 Catholics in one Nigerian diocese alone, and with Christian children being crucified or cut in half by ISIS, you might think that the world’s bishops would have more pressing things on their mind than the compatibility of same-sex unions with Church teaching. You would, of course, be wrong.

Indeed, even considering “family” issues alone, the non-Western Church was short-changed: how much attention was given to the question of inter-faith marriages, despite its being a major concern for the Church in India? In the Philippines, many marriages break up because poverty forces a spouse or parent to migrate overseas in search of employment, leaving home, spouse and children behind. Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle noted this problem, saying that poverty “goes right at the heart of the family” in his country ; but how much attention did this issue get?

What is more, the organizers of the Synod openly expressed their indifference to – if not contempt for – the opinions of the leaders of the non-Western Church. They spoke as if the opposition of the African bishops to their “modernizing” program could stem only from irrational hatred and prejudice. What the Africans needed, they seemed to be saying, was a good, stiff dose of Richard Posner’s writings. In the controversy over the initial draft of the Synod’s statement, Cardinal Walter Kasper, an octogenarian German theologian and a favorite of the Pope’s, infamously said:

Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

Kasper later denied having made those revealing remarks – a denial that was then proven to be false. In any case, the remarks hardly seemed out of character for the Cardinal. In an interview with the German magazine Focus published under the heading “Third World Land,” Kasper was reported to have said, “When you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country.” The German Cardinal obviously notices different things when he is at the airport from what Cardinal Tagle does. The Philippine prelate spoke of his anguish in watching Filipino mothers at airports forced to part from their children because their poverty is so desperate that they must leave their families and search for work abroad.

Not Just Cardinal Kasper

Even if Cardinal Kasper’s statement were merely condescension on the part of the passenger with the first-class cabin towards the passengers in steerage, it would be bad enough. But Kasper and those like him simply did not seem to understand the position. Perhaps the Africans and Asians are not just squinting narrowly at the issue of homosexuality, but rather looking at the state of Western culture as a whole? And perhaps they do not like what they see? Perhaps the cultural exports of the secular West – its current practices regarding marriage, abortion, childbirth, the family, the relations between the sexes – are no more wanted in Africa and Asia than the West’s toxic wastes and sewage effluents? (New York Cardinal Dolan’s wonderful defense of the “prophetic” African Church effectively made these points. )

But the problem with the Synod went far beyond the tactlessness and incomprehension of elderly European churchmen. Apparently at the Pope’s insistence, the Synod’s final report included three controversial articles that had received the approval of a Synod majority, but not the supermajority required for consensus. The final report will now go to the Church throughout the world for discussion and debate before the Synod reconvenes. You can be sure that the media coverage of the debate in this intervening period will focus overwhelmingly on the articles that the Pope reinstated. Cui bono? In their effort to get the conversation back on the familiar tracks of the Western culture wars, the Pope and his bishops are doing serious harm to millions of faithful Catholics trying to live out the Gospel in hostile and often dangerous conditions in the emerging world.

My former student, Andrew Ratelle, makes the point forcefully:

By upholding the nuclear family, the Church made what was perhaps the most important social investment in history. People in the poorer, more pagan regions of the world where polygamy, polyandry, arranged and child marriages were common, now had a place to look for support when it came to building a life that was most beneficial for themselves and their children. By weakening this support, or at the very least dispersing it to include more “diverse” arrangements, these bishops have weakened the very shield from which the nuclear family has received so much protection. Even in our own country, where “diverse” familial arrangements have almost become synonymous with urban poverty and crime (at least for those who have no gilded safety net to fall into), where should families look to now, since the Church has seen fit to dilute the medicine they have thrived on for so long?

Church leaders in the developing world understand this perfectly well. South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, for instance, wondered how he could deny communion to an African man living in polygamy in accordance with local culture and tradition, if he had to administer the sacrament to a divorced man married to his second wife? “Successive” polygamy, Napier pointed out, is hardly distinguishable from “simultaneous” polygamy.

Pope Francis was right (at first): it really is time to change the conversation. The global Church is not the parochial Western Church; the Church of the poor and the marginal is not the affluent, greying Church of Western Europe and North America. The Church should not be shadowing the West’s cultural trajectory all the way downwards. The future of the Church lies elsewhere. Ex oriente, lux.

Photo from the Catholic News Agency.

Klein, “Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron”

Next month, Hurst Publishers will release “Lives in Common:  Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron” by  Menachem Klein (Bar-Ilan University, Israel). The publisher’s description follows:

Most books dealing with the Israeli–Palestinian conflict see events through the eyes of policy-makers, generals or diplomats. Menachem Klein offers an illuminating alternative by telling the intertwined histories, from street level upwards, of three cities — Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron — and their intermingled Jewish, Muslim and Christian inhabitants, from the nineteenth century to the present. Each of them was and still is a mixed city. Jerusalem and Hebron are holy places, while Jaffa till 1948 was Palestine’s principal city and main port of entry.

Klein portrays a society in the late Ottoman period in which Jewish-Arab interactions were intense, frequent, and meaningful, before the onset of segregation and separation gradually occurred in the Mandate era. The unequal power relations and increasing violence between Jews and Arabs from 1948 onwards are also scrutinised. Throughout, Klein bases his writing not on the official record but rather on a hitherto hidden private world of Jewish-Arab encounters, including marriages and squabbles, kindnesses and cruelties, as set out in dozens of memoirs, diaries, biographies and testimonies.

Burak, “The Second Formation of Islamic Law: The Hanafi School in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire”

In December, Cambridge University Press will release “The Second Formation of Islamic Law: The Hanafi School in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire” by Guy Burak (New York University). The publisher’s description follows:

The Second Formation of Islamic Law is the first book to deal with the rise of an official school of law in the post-Mongol period. The author explores how the Ottoman dynasty shaped the structure and doctrine of a particular branch within the Hanafi school of law. In addition, the book examines the opposition of various jurists, mostly from the empire’s Arab provinces, to this development. By looking at the emergence of the concept of an official school of law, the book seeks to call into question the grand narratives of Islamic legal history that tend to see the nineteenth century as the major rupture. Instead, an argument is formed that some of the supposedly nineteenth-century developments, such as the codification of Islamic law, are rooted in much earlier centuries. In so doing, the book offers a new periodization of Islamic legal history in the eastern Islamic lands.