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The Flight of Iraqi Christians

According to the New York Times (August 5) some 4,000 Iraqi Christian families have taken refuge in Syria. Others go to Jordan or Lebanon, but Syria is the favored destination. Ruled by a branch of the Baath Party at odds since the 1960s with its Iraqi counterpart, Syria remains a secular republic. Ten percent of the population (about 1.8 million) is Christian, and Iraqi Christians reportedly feel little discrimination in the country. There is no rigid dress code such as one finds in Saudi Arabia and some other Arab nations; the liquor stores are open.

“We are safe here, and so we feel free,” says Abdulkhalek Sharif Nuamansaid, who has brought his family to Damascus from Baghdad. “The Syrians are brothers to us. There is no discrimination here. That is the truth, and not a compliment.” According to a 2002 report by International Christian Concern, a group that monitors persecution of Christians globally, “No government acts of religious persecution have been witnessed” recently, and “There is no evidence that prisoners are being held for their Christian beliefs at this time.” ~ Gary Leupp, Why Iraqi Christians Are Moving to Syria

While I do not reach the same conclusions as Mr. Leupp about the nature of Mr. Bush’s errors (i.e., Christian fundamentalism is the source of the trouble), he provides an excellent summary of the advantages for Christians in the secular Arab republics when compared to the pro-Islamist alternatives available in the Near East. He also offers a strong argument that the result, and the apparent goal, of U.S. policy in the Near East is to perversely empower Islamists through the destruction of the only bulwarks against them, namely Baathist Iraq and Syria. Perhaps the goal is to provide a permanent set of adversaries that will justify perpetual intervention.

To develop the question of secularism vs. fundamentalism further, I cannot stress enough the reality that Mr. Bush and his advisers are secularists. An honest-to-goodness Christian fundamentalist would never say, as Mr. Bush repeatedly has, that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. In Mr. Bush’s politics, the evangelical spirit is perhaps still there in some measure, and the confidence of doing God’s will is there, but the content and the fruits of his works demonstrate his terribly amoral and machtpolitisch views.

His rhetoric, identifying the cause of some godless democracy with the true God, is very much like the progressive Christians around Woodrow Wilson at the time of the Great War. An important point to remember from that “crusade” (Wilson used the same pompous and incorrect language) is that the conservative and fundamentalist Christians largely opposed involvement in the war, presumably stemming also from their commitment to American neutrality and the noninterventionist tradition of the Founders in addition to their religious convictions. But it is a valuable parallel, because genuinely sober and truly conservative Christians do not usually support crusades, and they certainly do not support them when they manifest values so blatantly contrary to Christian virtue.

Jingoism in the case of Iraq and indeed any political enthusiasm are always highly questionable from the perspective of the Church and they usually reek of gnostic pretensions to be able to perfect oneself and the world. The belief that Evil can be defeated through action–except in eschatological terms–is a modern gnostic or Manichean fantasy, and it betrays an attitude of impiety and hubris. Modern gnostics are uniformly “progressive” and anti-Christian in their prejudices. The real question for any supporter of this current brand of enthusiasm is not whether fundamentalism leads to such enthusiasm (arguably, certain types may occasionally do so, but not often), but whether this enthusiasm is moved by the Holy Spirit or by some other spirit.

Bush’s gospel has become emptied of its revealed content and been transformed into the expansion of secular, managerial democracy complete with “women’s liberation” and sexual license. It is ironic that so many leftists find fault with Mr. Bush for his purportedly great religiosity, when he has done more to introduce their destructive social attitudes to fairly traditional societies than most presidents.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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