The West And The Rest
I spoke to two Ugandan women at an event I attended this weekend. After we finished talking, I asked them if I could relay their comments on my blog as long as I didn’t identify them. They said yes.
The women talked about the West’s LGBT ideology as deeply offensive to Africans. The first woman said, “We are at the point where you cannot get development aid, water aid, or any kind of aid from NGOs unless you affirm LGBT. What kind of message do you think that sends to us about what the West cares about?”
The second woman said, “China is making lots of inroads in Africa. We can see it all the time. The Chinese come and build things, and give us things, and they never tell us we have to change to suit their ideology. The Americans and the Europeans demand that we do. The Chinese leave us alone.”
I asked the woman to clarify. Is she saying that the West is pushing Africa into China’s arms because Western elites have made LGBT rights into a global crusade?
Yes, absolutely, she said.
I was reminded of something a semi-retired professor in Budapest told me this past summer, when I was there. I asked him if he wasn’t worried by the Orban government’s plans to allow the Chinese to build a campus of Fudan University there? Not at all, he said. He has spent most of his career teaching in Western universities, and have seen them take a totalitarian turn with wokeness. He said he would be much more worried if a prestigious Western university tried to open a campus in Hungary.
“Fudan University is a great university,” he said. “And the Chinese will respect Hungarian culture. They won’t force us to be woke.”
Incidentally, I had to take a journey from this exurban town into central Rome yesterday to give a speech. I had a taxi driver who was an Arab Christian immigrant from Syria. I asked him how he came to Europe. That got him going.
“Do you think Christians love the Assad government?” he said. “No! But we support Assad because he is the only thing preventing us all from being murdered by Muslims.”
He said that it makes him crazy how little Europeans want to hear from Christians like him who have lived as minorities in Muslim countries. Their testimony, he said, completely contradicts the nice liberal worldview of Europeans, who imagine that we can all live together in peace and harmony. The Syrian said that he often finds himself among Arabs here who don’t realize that he’s a Christian, and that they talk viciously about the “kafir” (a slur term for non-Muslims), and fantasize about the vengeance they intend to take one day.
He said one of the strangest things he has seen is Arab women who do not wear the hijab back in their home countries putting it on when they get to Europe. Why do they do that? I asked.
“I think it’s because they feel safer in Europe identifying as a member of their own people,” he said. There is no more clear public declaration that one is a Muslim woman than wearing a hijab.
As I listened to the Syrian Christian speak, I was reminded of the conversations I had with emigres to the West from Communist countries, lamenting how little Westerners wanted to hear them talk about their own life experiences, vis-à-vis things going on in the West today. These people told me, over and over, that Westerners preferred to keep their minds untroubled about threats facing them, rather than listen to people who have lived experience testifying otherwise. We in the West are so confident in our view of the world that we simply refuse to imagine that we might be wrong.
The Syrian told me he is very pessimistic about Europe’s future. “I hope it doesn’t come to your country,” he said, as we parted.
I thought about what he said. I strongly believe that we Christians (and all men and women of good will) should stand with Muslims when we can, especially (in the US) when they are persecuted for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion. But the Syrian Christian said, emphatically, that everything will be fine in terms of interreligious harmony until Muslims gain numerical majority. Then the mask comes off. “We have seen this many times,” he said.
Is he wrong about this? I have heard some version of this from other Middle Eastern Christians over the years. I resist it not out of liberal sentimentality, heaven knows, but because I have known good Muslims with whom I wish to stand in solidarity. Yet it is impossible to dismiss the steady testimony of these Arab Christians, who have lived a different reality than I have lived. Indeed, I have been hearing a version of this since 1999, when I began attending a Lebanese (Maronite) Catholic church in Brooklyn.
I think that there is a clear connection between this and our American bungling in thinking that we could impose liberal democracy on the Middle East. It comes from a universalist self-deception. My time with the Syrian taxi driver was relatively short, but I remember that he kept saying how frustrated he was by Westerners who refuse to recognize that there are substantial differences between religions (in this case, between Islam and Christianity). What he was getting at, I think, is that Westerners naively think that all religious people, whatever their confession, want the same thing. He said that the image of man — the human person — in the Bible, and the image of man in the Quran, are incompatible.
I look forward to hearing from commentators who have experience in this area. I know we have Muslim readers of this blog. Please, let’s hear from you too. If you prefer to e-mail me, please do: rod — at — amconmag — dot — com. Unless you say otherwise, I will consider your comments publishable, though I won’t use your name unless you ask me to.
(Also, please feel free to comment on LGBT, the West, Africa, and China!)