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Not the way to defend Christians

Jun 05,2017 - Last updated at Jun 05,2017

The recent horrific massacre of 29 Egyptian Coptic Christian pilgrims served as a tragic reminder of the vulnerability of minority faith communities in many parts of the Middle East.

As a Maronite Catholic with family and friends in the Middle East, a PhD in comparative religion and over 40 years of work experience throughout the Arab world, this issue is deeply personal for me.

I know that in many parts of the world there are religious communities that are facing threats to their very survival or are dealing with serious problems of discrimination and dispossession.

The challenge we face is how to help and not harm these vulnerable communities.

Three years ago, this issue was directly addressed by eight patriarchs of the Eastern Christian churches —representing the majority of the Middle East Christians — gathering together at a conference in Washington, DC.

Their message was poignant and direct: we need your help, but the help we need is not for you to vilify Muslims.

Demonising Islam may generate applause in some circles in Washington, but it does not help Christians in the Middle East.

That simple message was clearly not heard by the makers of the film “Faithkeepers”, which is currently being screened across the US.

While purporting to be in defence of Christians in the Middle East, the movie is a not so subtle attack on Islam.

The film mixes real stories of Christians and others who suffered at the hands of Daesh with the insidious insinuation that such persecution is at the heart of the Muslim faith.

Adding insult to injury, the film falsely conflates disparate historical events — the Armenian genocide, the Jewish exodus from Iraq and other Arab countries, and the atrocities committed by Daesh — as if they were all the result of Islam’s “inherent” desire to purge all non-Muslims from the region.

What “Faithkeepers” ignores is the fact that the Armenian genocide was perpetrated by a secular movement in Turkey that attacked all non-Turks, including Muslim Kurds; and the horrific anti-Jewish pogroms in Arab countries, which followed the 1948 war, were in reaction to Israel’s horrific “ethnic cleansing” of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Christians and Muslims from what became the “Jewish state”. 

When “Faithkeepers” looks at the situation of Christians in Iraq and Syria, it fails to mention that, historically, Christians fared well in both countries.

It was the civil war in Syria, the US invasion of Iraq and the resulting disruption of life and the empowering of extremist sectarian movements in both countries that put Christians and the entire population of both countries at risk.

And when speaking of the Christian exodus from Arab countries over the past century, “Faithkeepers” fails to understand that it was not Islam, but several other factors, that led Christians and other elites to leave the Middle East, namely, that Christians had connections, through their churches, with the West and, when seeking opportunity, the US and Western Europe were obvious desirable destinations (note: many Muslims left as well for similar reasons, but they found the Arab Gulf countries or Africa to be more promising and hospitable destinations).

But none of this matters in “Faithkeepers”, since its central purpose is to demonise Islam

It is not a stretch to make such a claim when we look more closely at the production team that made the film, its funders, and those who are promoting it, most of whom have a disturbing record of disseminating and supporting a number of anti-Muslim propaganda films and organisations.

A look at the line-up of individuals and organisations behind “Faithkeepers” reveals a “who’s who” collection of the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s list of Islamophobic “hate groups”.

The film itself is a product of the Clarion Project, which has been involved in the production, direction and distribution of other films — including: “Obsession” and “The Third Jihad” — both of which have been discredited as works of notorious anti-Muslim propaganda.

According to NPR, Clarion was founded by employees of Aish HaTorah — a pro-Israel group with offices in Israel and the US — and shared offices with that group.

Clarion’s funding comes from the same sources that have funded anti-Muslim campaigners like Pamela Gellar, David Horowitz, Robert Spencer and Brigitte Gabriel. 

Finally, if there were any question as to the intent of “Faithkeepers”, that matter is resolved in the film’s credits, which note that the film itself was based on an article written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an anti-Muslim activist who has described Islam in the most offensive terms.

The bottom line is that vulnerable Christian communities do need protection and support.

What they do not need is to be exploited as pawns in a disgraceful effort to demonise another religion.

 

By using the plight of Christians for no other purpose than to further an anti-Muslim agenda, “Faithkeepers” has broken faith with those it claims to be helping.

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Comments

I applaud James Zogby for setting the record straight and defending the reputation of the majority of Muslims who for centuries have been displaying tolerance towards other minorities who are either ethnically or religiously different from them. My family hailed originally from the North Caucasus and we arrived in Jordan while it was under Ottoman rule. So we were obviously ethnically different yet under Arab rule and in a predominantly Arab country we were able to experience for ourselves how the Jordanians under the Hashemites were generous and tolerant towards other minorities In the best traditions of Islam.
Incidentally the Armenian genocide was matched on the other side by genocides perpetrated by imperial Russia. None of this was because one side was Christian and the other Muslim but because there was a time when two powerful countries Russia and Turkey were criminally negligent with the lives of the populations they controlled and their tit for tat cost many Muslims and Christians their lives.
There is nothing more dangerous these days than hiding from the facts or Not challenging warped or malicious narrative. Those of us like James who have something to say had better say it and ensure as far as possible we are heard.
I have been living in the UK since 1972 but there is not a day when I forget about it or how much my family and ancestors awe it.
Satanay Mufti Dorken

Mr. Zogby is obviously a Christian of Arab heritage, but has he ever lived in the Middle East?

AS USUAL, JAMES IS CORRECT AND ALL PARTIES MUST RETHINK THE WAY WE ENGAGE IN THE BUSINESS OF POLARIZATION RATHER THAN UNITY, PEACE AND STABILITY. AS ONE MATHEMATICAL MODEL STATES, IF YOU ADD EQUAL TO EQUAL, THE RESULT IS EQUAL AND IF YOU ADD AND SUBTRACT ANY EXACT NUMBER, YOU ARE BACK TO THE POINT OF POLARITY AND SO NO ONE CAN PROTECT ME AS A CHRISTIAN BY MAKING ENEMIES ARROUND ME THROUGH MOCKREY OF ANY RELIGION OR FAITH. RESPECT IS AND MUST BE RECIPROCAL.

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