As usual, Chuck Colson gets it completely wrong. My comments on Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey are interspersed. You can find the original link here.
Running for Their Lives
Christians in the Middle East
By: Chuck Colson
Published: January 20, 2011 12:00 AM
U.S. foreign policy often has unintended consequences. Those consequences now include the persecution of Christians.
“As the last of Baghdad’s and Mosul’s Christian population packs up their cares and flees for their lives,” writes international religious freedom expert Nina Shea, people are finally taking notice.
Before the Iraq War began, Christians comprised about five percent of the population of Iraq. Since then more than half have fled the country. And with last fall’s Islamic terrorist raid on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad that left fifty-nine dead, many who are still there are planning to run for their lives as well.
The New York Times reported that an Iraqi army officer told a Christian living in hiding, “We cannot protect you.” “Cannot”? Or “will not”?
What is especially disturbing is that what is happening in Iraq is beginning to happen across the Middle East. And the implications for Middle Eastern Christians and the strategic interests of the United States and the West could not be more serious.
The Iraqi Army officer meant 'cannot,' because Iraq has suffered twenty years of destruction. The infrastructure of the country has been smashed and over the course of the last eight years, their complete social framework has unraveled. These ethnic Christians were actually quite safe under Saddam Hussein. Tariq Aziz Saddam's Foreign Minister is a Chaldean Christian.
The Baghdad government is weak and ineffective and doesn't even control large swathes of the country, particularly in the semi-autonomous Kurdish north, nor in the Shiite south. The Kurds and Assyrian Christians have had their run-ins over the years, but largely they get along or at least tolerate each other. Despite the religious differences, their cultures are quite similar. The Assyrian homeland not only overlaps with Iraqi, Iranian, and Turkish Kurdistan, there are Sunni Arabs and Turcomans and other people as well. And in this fragile environment of ethnic fault lines coupled with social breakdown...the problems arise.
Some of the disenfranchised Sunnis have turned to violence, and some have been Islamicized, or Radicalized in a country that knew very little of such ideology before Western Powers and particularly the Americans showed up.
Colson was part of American policy during his time in Washington…a record he is quite proud of, as he states on a regular basis. And as an Evangelical leader he has supported the Republican generated wars. Only under Obama has he changed his tone and begun to question the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It would seem politics rather than principle drives his thinking.
The present tale of the Syriac Christians…the Nestorian Assyrians and the Chaldean Catholics is a sad one. Western manipulation, war and death have fueled an Islamic quest to end the old Middle Eastern form of pluralism and create a Monistic society. Their goals are exactly the same (in principle) as Christian Dominionists. Different religion and somewhat different means...but the same overall concept of what victory looks like.
You probably read about the vicious New Year’s attack on Egyptian Christians. Radical Muslims bombed the Coptic “Church of the Two Saints” as worshippers left a midnight New Year’s service.
Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute noted that the bombing highlights the Egyptian government’s failure to protect its Christians, some 10 percent of the country’s population.” In fact, in Egypt, “It is extremely rare for anyone to be punished for sectarian violence against . . . Christians.”
I could say something about the Hudson Institute, but I'll only say, look into it. One of these days I'll dig out some of the gems I've received from The Heritage Foundation. Even if I agree with their goals, I would have to denounce them for their duplicity and manipulation. Many think tanks and foundations are little interested in diligently studying facts and figures and teasing out conclusions. Many serve as nothing more than propaganda and lobbying machines. You be the judge, or more appropriately, you decide.
Of course in Egypt we find a quasi-dictator who has long been a friend and beneficiary of American power. Egypt's job seems to be to maintain the status-quo, and attempt to play a mediatorial role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Mubarak's rule of Egypt has also resulted in the birth on an Islamic movement….the Brotherhood, which can at times seem moderate, at other times seem radical. But Colson's statement from the Hudson Institute is a typical example of oversimplification and reductionistic interpretation.
Egypt is a boiling pot, and the elderly Mubarak is sitting on the lid trying to keep it from boiling over. The more he oppresses the Radicals….one could raise the question as to whether religion or politics are driving their radicalism….the more the pressure increases.
Everyone in the world except the American public knows about the American role in the Middle East. If Mubarak starts cracking down in order to defend Coptic Christians, the pot will explode. He's only got a few years left. He's just trying to hold on…but he may not make it. Tunisia (another American backed dictator) may be the harbinger of what is to come in Egypt.
But Colson knows all this. He can't pretend he doesn't.
And in Turkey the Church is being slowly suffocated. According to the 2010 report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Turkish government restrictions “effectively deny non-Muslim communities the right to own and maintain property, train religious clergy, obtain and renew visas for religious personnel... [or] offer religious education.” The result is predictable: the Turkish Church is vanishing.
Mustapha Kemal or Ataturk established a secular nationalist state after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. While he didn't come right out and deny Islam, all historians would agree he care very little about it, and his own heart and certainly his agenda for Turkey was Western oriented.
To create a nationalist state, he destroyed the Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontic Greeks. After the Greek invasion he drove the Greek populations from Western Asia Minor, turning Athens into a refugee metropolis overnight. To many this man was a monster. Newt Gingrich declares him to be one of his heroes.
The Turkish military has been the guardian of Ataturk's secular legacy and has long been in a close relationship with the NATO….particularly the United States. Turkey has continued its nationalist legacy built on Turkish identity and claim to Asia Minor. This has also led to the suppression of the Kurds who live in the Southeast of the country. The Kurds for years were referred to as Mountain Turks who have forgot their language. Their story is not told in the Western Media…it would make an American ally look bad. However, the Kurds in Iraq received lots of press when the American media was trying to make Saddam look bad...which he was, but that's hardly the point. As the Kurds will tell you, they were backstabbed by the Americans in the 1970's when the Shah grew fearful of nationalism within his borders. The Kurds were betrayed in their struggle against Baathist Iraq. Of course just a few years later, America was shaking hands with Saddam, recruiting an ally in their new struggle against Revolutionary Iran.
The Turkish military has maintained a firm grip on the country not hesitating to overthrow governments it disapproves of. The NATO commitment was at least during the Cold War the pre-eminent driving force for Turkey. An EU membership was the prize, she never received. Remember, the Iron Curtain had an eastern extension in Transcaucasia. The Soviet states of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were right across the border. The Soviet Black Sea fleet had to sail through the Bosporus to access the Mediterranean.
During the Cold War the Americans had listening bases in Sinope in the north along the Black Sea, as well as their airbase at Adana near Tarsus. There are numerous other American bases and outposts as well. Diyarbakir was a key spot in the post 1991 Iraq theatre, the no-fly zones etc...
As Americans we all know the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis but few know that the Soviet missiles were precipitated by not only the Bay of Pigs fiasco, but also due to American nuclear weapons being positioned in Turkey. Please don't think I'm trying to defend the Soviet Union, but the United States had placed missiles on their borders…is it a great surprise they responded by wanting to position missiles in Cuba? Khrushchev famously backed down, but of course few remember that Kennedy was forced to promise that he would remove the missiles from Turkey. That part often gets left out.
I don't know what the official policy was in the 1990's, but I know from my military days in Europe…I personally loaded nuclear missiles on a plane bound for Turkey….the overseeing Colonel barking at us to hurry up, the satellite window was expiring.
Turkey up until very recently has proved an ally to Israel. Turkey has long had a nasty border dispute with Syria. The region of Hatay, an Arab speaking region was grabbed by Ataturk in the post WWI chaos and Syria insists it belongs to them. Arabs and Turks don't always get along very well. Turks refer to stray dogs as "Arabs" and consider their southern co-religionists as treacherous for allying with Lawrence and the British during World War I in their rebellion against the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Arabs of course, refer to Turks as non-Muslims and consider them to be barbarians out of Central Asia.
Turkey as a NATO member and American ally found common cause against Syria with…yes, Israel. Secular Turkey was happy to ally with secular Israel against the Damascus regime…which was also harbouring the PKK, the Kurdish guerilla fighters. Terrorists in our media...they're hardly Islamic extremists. They hold to a peculiar Kurdish nationalist version of Marxism.
Through all this many of the Turks themselves have done rather well. Turkey serves as a gateway between East and West. Turkish businessmen are everywhere from the EU to the Turkish speaking nations of Central Asia. Turkish migrants work in the EU and send home money to their families. Turkey despite many problems is growing and vibrant.
The growing Turkish middle class, coupled with the gecekondu (shanty-town) multitudes who have moved into the cities and been confronted with modernism and secular values have grown tired of a government that allies itself with American and Israeli interests. They have found an identity not in Ataturk's secularism but in Islam. This is nothing like the radical Islam of the Wahhabi's, this is more like a Moral Majority-type movement. They want to affirm their identity as Muslims. Spurned by the EU, and tired of being a pawn against their co-religionists in the rest of the Middle East they elected a government which is trying to carve a place for Turkey as a trans-regional power broker, a strong bridge between East and West. The EU has rejected them, and largely many of the Turks no longer have any interest in joining the EU. Turkey is a unique position with a unique role.
Though the majority of Turks are not extreme Muslims, the combination of events in the larger Middle East have generated some who are extreme and a handful who have turned to violence.
It's a country of contrasts. In the west, you can walk down a beach and see topless German tourists walking down the beach on their way to a discothèque, and in Anatolia you can find devout Muslims living in almost pre-modern conditions, who throw stones if you get your camera out. There are extreme secularists who wish to ban the headscarf, the hijab…and there are others who are turning to violence to promote Islam. The Kurds are huddled into cities all over Turkey. Their presence in Eastern Anatolia has been uprooted, the villages of Turkish Kurdistan sit empty. They are trying to find their place in Turkish society. Ironically the Kurds wear their Islam rather lightly and would probably fit in rather well in a secular envisioned society. But the military that seeks to build such a society has worked hard to destroy them.
It's complicated. Colson knows this. He was in the White House for several years during the Cold War. He knows full well what the situation was in Turkey…but it's much easier to just point to Ankara and say…bad Turks, you're not protecting your Christians. It's absurd and dishonest.
The Armenian and Greek historical legacy and archaeological heritage has been systematically destroyed for decades and is ongoing. The Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and Kurds have been there for thousands of years. The Turks of Central Asia are actually the newcomers and in the post-Ottoman world, they've always felt a little insecure about that. Hence, Ataturk's desire to erase the older peoples from memory and modern Turkey's denial to even discuss the Armenian Genocide. Admission means international courts and possible land and financial reparations. Since America is their ally, the issue is dead in the water. Oh, you get some Senators who make some noise, but it's just for show.
Modern Turks aren't even really the people who came out of Central Asia. They have mixed with the Armenians, Greeks, and Kurds, as well as multitudes of other Turkic peoples and Slavs out of the Balkans. Some of the Turkic people in Central Asia…who appear more Oriental to the Western eye, refer to the citizens of the Turkish Republic as mongrels. The modern Turks exhibit a range of phenotypes, many with light skin and fair hair.
Actually Turkey is a fascinating place, with an amazing dynamic people and an abundantly rich culture...in many ways the heir to Byzantium. It's a shame that they have been taken advantage of and under-appreciated. And now, American policy is beginning to reap a sour harvest. The Turkish situation is complicated but Colson's advice would only alienate them. The Bush administration did much to test and strain the relationship...Obama wants to heal that rift. Colson would rip it wide open. The last thing Turkish Christians need is for 'Christian' America to start threatening them or encouraging the military to stage a coup....oh, I forgot, that's already happened and failed. Just another log of endearment to throw on the fire.
Americans may think it's neat when an F-16 flies over their house, but I assure you when people in other countries living near American bases experience that...the response is not the same.
And as a final note…the Church in Turkey is certainly small but vibrant. I've heard very encouraging reports from people I know who have had extensive contacts with Christians there.
It is absolutely fantastic that among Turkish Christians, Turks and Kurds live in peace and share fellowship in Christ.
I also know of (friend of a friend) an Iranian man who had to flee from the Tehran regime because of his Christian profession. Ah, Iran another American influenced story…..
He fled to Turkey and eventually made his way to the United States….land of the Christians. Let's say he lived down toward Bible Belt country, hardly the secular and liberal coastal metro regions. He had his dream, a life in America and in the American Church. He was mightily disappointed in American Christianity. It wasn't the Christianity he knew from his Bible. After a few years he left and went back to Turkey…he wanted to be with the Christians there. The Church in Turkey is living, while American Christianity is fat (that's a spiritual condition, not about weight), self-centered, and all about politics.
Colson's understanding of the Church may be vanishing in Turkey…he's thinking numbers and power, but that's not how God sees it. And Colson thinks America needs to get more aggressive in threatening these governments. That's an agenda speaking....not based on what he knows to be the situation on the ground, and not based on anything Biblical.
It actually says far more about his understanding of the Gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ.
Even in formerly tolerant Muslim countries, the tide is turning against Christians. Morocco recently started deporting foreign Christian aid workers and educators. Nina Shea suspects that the government is feeling pressure from Islamic extremists.
But it’s time for the Middle East to feel a little pressure from the United States. And we have plenty of leverage. We’ve propped up the Iraqi government. Egypt is second only to Israel as a recipient of U.S. aid. And Turkey has received $26.5 billion in economic and military aid over the years. All the while, Christianity is being snuffed out.
If Christianity is suffering in the Middle East…it is a direct result of American policy. And in the past we could say the same in regard to British or French policy. Colson's solution would only make it worse. The whole mess is a result of people like him…Constantinians and Imperialists.
It's the Shapur Effect……In ancient Persia, Christians were fine, but when Constantine made the Roman Empire, a Christian Empire…then the Persians viewed their Christian population as a threat and persecution ensued.
This has got to stop. And the U.S. government has the power to stop it. But I fear the government hasn’t contemplated the strategic consequences of the oil-rich Middle East emptied of Christians, and Christian influence.
A Church that calls on the government to fight to its battles is not a faithful bride, but a whore that goes down to spiritual Egypt for help and succor.
I'm sorry but much of the Ethic Christianity of the Middle East is not promoting any kind of salt and light influence. They are ethnic enclaves, cultural sub-groups. The Bible Christians are converted Turks, Arabs, and perhaps some members of these ethnic groups. But their gospel influence is crushed by the fact that Christian America wars against the region with missiles in one hand, and a poster of Hannah Montana in the other.
Just last week Hillary Clinton spoke in Qatar about the dangers of extremism and the importance of reforming Middle Eastern governments and economies. But she totally failed to mention the favorite targets of extremism—Christians, the very people who are critical for the kinds of reforms she advocates. This is shocking.
It's not shocking. The last thing Washington wants to do is cast the whole issue in religious terms. Making the situation a war between Christianity and Islam will only exacerbate the already dismal situation. Hilary is being a pragmatist…that's what diplomats are. Ideologues start wars, diplomats talk in terms of mutual interests.
George Bush the Evangelical President de-stabilized the entire Middle East and probably did more damage to the fabric of the region and America's standing than any other president ever has. He disgraced America...for what that's worth, but more importantly he's disgraced Christianity and gave the Lord's enemies an occasion to blaspheme.
History, real history, not the Hudson Institute and The Heritage Foundation versions, will rightly regard him as one of the worst presidents in American history. I actually feel kind of sorry for him, because I honestly don't think he understood what he was doing...where those whispering in his ear were trying to take him.
Strategic concerns aside, there’s another aspect of the growing wave of persecution against Christians. The Bible, remember, is replete with warnings of judgment upon those who persecute God’s people or aid and abet that persecution. God will not be mocked in the Middle East. Nor will He in Washington, D.C.
Indeed. Nor in Colorado Springs, nor in the 'sanctuaries' of Evangelical Churches, nor in the Christian lobby groups and think tanks….
Colson thinks Christianity is power and civilization.
Let us continue to pray for the Middle East, the United States, and the Christians living in places like Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey.