Western neoliberalism destroying Christianity?
According to RT show, CrossTalk, with host Peter Lavelle today, Christians may become a thing of the past in less than two generations in the Middle East, which is ironic considering that this region was its birthplace.
Today’s debate (re-aired from December 21, 2015, a few days before Christmas) takes place with Iben Thranholm, a critically acclaimed journalist from Copenhagen; Reverend Nadim Nassar, Director of Awareness Foundation in London; and Jeffrey Taylor in Moscow, Russia, who has been a contributing editor of the Atlantic magazine and is the author of seven books, most recently Topless Jihadis.
This episode brought to fore the unmentionable religious aspects of war in the Holy Land. As war rages in Syria, despite the media blackouts, refugees continue to desperately seek a new homeland, but are turned away.
As Reverend Nadim Nassar points out, Middle Eastern ethnic groups live and breathe religion; however else the West may regard them, they are faithful to their religion. He mentions that it is foolish to impose democracy, because political institutions such as democracy must arise of its own volition–whether there was ever any secularism (protection for religious minorities) or not.
Iben Thranholm warns us about the importance of regaining moral ground in our blind allegiance to [neo]liberalism, while Jeffrey Taylor asserts that the answer to the chaos would be to restore the kind of secularism that the regimes of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria have allowed.
While the U.S. State Department acknowledges the tragedy of the civil war, it appears to want to spend far less in helping with resettlement of refugees, Christians or Muslims. Refugees’ freedom to practice may depend upon which camp they end up in as well as who they are surrounded by. Here is one quote in remarks by Anne C. Richard in a press release in December 2014:
Only a small fraction of those who want to be resettled can be – only about one hundred thousand refugees per year, worldwide. There are more than six times that many Syrian refugees in Jordan alone.
But war’s true cost is measured in human suffering. Resettlement can help – one person at a time – to bring that suffering to an end.
….The United States accepts the majority of all UNHCR referrals from around the world. Last year, we reached our goal of resettling nearly 70,000 refugees from nearly 70 countries. And we plan to lead in resettling Syrians as well. We are reviewing some 9,000 recent UNHCR referrals from Syria. We are receiving roughly a thousand new ones each month, and we expect admissions from Syria to surge in 2015 and beyond.
The number of refugees being officially admitted around the world are well below ten percent, probably only five percent of four million or more Syrians who have fled that country. Many are unaccounted for, which is why this may easily become the largest genocide in recent history.
The fact that the first-world countries are doing pitifully little while continue to ratchet arms and war spending for the Middle East wars created a bleak Christmas filled with false consciousness and smug complacency.
A transcript from the episode titled “Endangered Christians” is provided below. Note that this transcript by AGN may contain some minor transcription related errors or omissions.
Peter Lavelle (PL): We are warned that Christianity will disappear in Iran and Syria, places where Christians have lived since the religion began. Some think it will disappear in one or two generations. Why is the West ignoring the fate of Christians in the Middle East (ME)? The forced toppling of regimes in the region have been a catastrophe for the followers of Christ.
Regarding fate of Christianity in Europe; why is the West largely indifferent? There are websites, but in the mainstream Christians are largely forgotten.
Iben Thranholm (IT): I don’t think the problem can be understood only by the political and economic framework. Without a spiritual perspective you won’t get the full picture. The western political and cultural elite has forget their faith in God, and they are actually worshiping a kind of false religion, a kind of idol. And they have sort of created a new religion which is liberal democracy. And the essence of liberal democracy is to reject the faith in God. Not God in the broad sense, but faith in the Christian God, the Biblical God. So the goal is for the liberal democracy is actually to destroy, to deconstruct, and to desecrate the Christian faith. And now we are talking about persecutions in the Middle East, but those are going on in Europe. And also in the United States. And here, I mean Christian symbols are taken out of the public places, and when Christians talk openly about their faith they get mocked, they get ridiculed, they get labeled as kind of unintelligent, they are marginalized culturally, and isolated socially, and….
PL: Okay, that’s the case in Europe, but I want to stay with the Middle East, if I can go to Reverend Nadim here. Whole communities, ancient communities are being destroyed. When we had secular regimes even if they were brutal dictators, these religious minorities remained intact, and they have been from time immemorial. And that’s all coming to an end rather quickly. As I’ve pointed out, there are a number of experts who believe that within two generations Christianity may be completely gone from the Middle East, where it was born.
Reverend Nadim Nassar (RN): Yes, I think we are on the way to vanish from the ME. And there is a total indifference in the West about what is happening to Christianity in the ME because the interest is not about religion. Yes, the spiritual side is there, and important, but also what is happening in the West is the political side and the economic side. Here, they follow their interests; their ignorance is phenomenal about Christianity in the ME. Peter, they still ask me, after 18 years of being in this country, in the UK in London, Father when did you become Christian? Because they think I was a Muslim and I became Christian, and when I say, well I’ve been always a Christian, they say, oh well, your parents became Christian. That far they can go but nothing further. So where we are: we were invisible before the conflict in Iraq and Syria. The people here are unaware that we exist; they think Christ was born under Big Ben!
PL: Reverend, if I can just point out here, being invisible wasn’t such a bad thing, I mean because nobody bothered you. Now you’re very very visible. Very visible right now.
Okay, Jeffrey if I can go to you. It’s really interesting, irrespective if you are religious or not, it is interesting historically that Christianity did come from the ME, did come this region here and it became the religion of the West, and it’s the West now is intensely secular. But what, isn’t there any kind of historical sympathy to the roots of Western civilization in protecting Christians? I mean you could look at it from that point-of-view. And if you look at it from the Western point-of-view right now, people are very touchy about how you talk about Islam, but nobody talks about Christianity.
Jeff Taylor (JT): I actually do see talk about Christianity and about the loss of or reduction of the numbers of Christians in the ME. In commentary on the right in the US and I follow the media intensely in Italy and France, and both of the segments of the media there that do talk about the fate of the Christians who are like segments of the country where secular regimes have been overthrown, and suffering.
So I would disagree with what Iben said about the goal of liberal democracy being to destroy Christianity. The idea is secularism, and if we hadn’t overthrown Saddam Hussein in Iraq, we would have had a secular dictator or secular regime that would have protected the Christians who have been living there since the beginning of Christianity. And the same would be true if Assad were to suddenly leave in Syria where there are a million and a half Christians who would be immediately forced to flee or possibly be massacred.
RN: I think it’s not only. When secularism—it’s not only secularism–I would say atheistic secularism which is the problem. I am a secular priest. I believe in the separation of Church and State–I mean the State and religion. But what is the problem in the West is that secularism is an anti-religion; and this is what is posing the greatest threat to Christianity even in the West.
PL: Because of the belief in secularism here in replacing it with, replacing Christianity here, Christians now are of a lesser God per se, because you wouldn’t say that about Islam, because then you would be called a racist or bigot or Islamophobe or something like that, but if you do attack Christianity, that’s okay.
Iben: I just think it’s very important to keep in mind that democracy has replaced Christianity; and democracy is sacred, has created a sort of new religion, and is the driving force of this has an anti-Christian agenda, and you see it all over the world. It’s very irrational that the West do not want to help out Christians in the ME and they just display a blind eye to it. It’s irrational, sorry, we need to understand that there is a spiritual perspective here, not only a political and economical, because it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense, the West is very occupied with human rights and people who are arrested and tortured and persecuted everywhere else but not the Christians, because the Christians, I mean the West has sort of a self-hatred. I mean in the West there is this sort of this hatred, this rage against God, the biblical God, not the other gods, the Biblical God, and to me liberal democracy is all about tearing down Christian walls and Christian faith and you see it all over the world.
PL: Jeffrey, you say you see that there is an awareness, you mention the media in Europe here, but you know they are aware of it, but do people understand the causality of it here, because the more the US and its allies destroy these regimes in the ME, the less religious tolerance there is. I mean, bringing democracy to the ME hasn’t done Christians well in the region, I’m sure you would agree with me on that.
JT: I agree completely, I mean the problem is people are still adhering to very strong religious beliefs whether it is no tradition of secularism, and the answer to the problem is: secularism. Unfortunately we overthrew, as I was saying before, Saddam who was a secular regime, and the same situation obtains in Syria where you have a minority Alawite Shiite regime which has an interest in preserving secularism. The same thing was true for Saddam, the Sunni, in a largely Shiite country. So there is awareness of—I’m sure people are aware of, in United States, broadly that Christians have suffered a lot since the Iraq invasion in 2003, but the problem is that there is no, they don’t know that about a million Iraqis have died since then, for one reason or another, related to the war. The flood of humanity is dying.
PL: Jeff, you were completely agreeing there, but my point is, if there is an awareness, agreed, but not, there’s no follow up, there’s nothing people want to do about it. It’s very sad, it’s unfortunate, is that what you are saying?
JT: I don’t think, I don’t say, I don’t see that people want to do anything much about it on a—at least in the capitols of the West—except try to put an end at the moment to the flow of refugees into Europe, which includes Christians of course. But I think there is no more of a plan to save the Christians then there is a plan to save the Muslims who have suffered under the…for the past 13 years.
PL: Reverend if I can go to you, it seems just a change of policy and a lot of people would be saved. First of all, Christians wouldn’t be persecuted, and Muslims wouldn’t want to leave where they have to leave because American and their allies are bombing democracy to them. I mean, it’s Western foreign policy that is agonizing everybody in the region.
RN: In America if you look at the website of the State Department, they say that they dropped Christians as victims of ISIS. We are not victims of ISIS any longer. That was the biggest joke I write online. It was, I am sure it is still on the website in the State Department in Washington. And I want to highlight something–that democracy is a very elastic concept. There is no thing called democracy. Democracy is like water, it takes the shape of the pot that is in it; so you can’t impose democracy on anybody. It has to emerge from the society. It takes the shape of society. Because if you look in Europe: look at Europe; the English democracy is very different from the French democracy or German democracy. Why would Syria or Iraq have to adopt a ready-made, like a mold of democracy. It has to emerge from the society otherwise it becomes a problem.
PL: Reverend, I have to go to a short break….Okay I’d like to go back to Iben in Copenhagen. The Reverend gave us a startling statement at the end of the first part of the program. I’ll give you another. The State Department’s 2015 sex trafficking report devotes 2 paragraphs out of 280 pages to the Islamic State’s situation of sex slavery. That’s really extraordinary. I mean if something like that was happening in California or in France, there would be volumes and volumes written about it. But here, a couple of paragraphs. I mean, that’s just turning a blind eye to the fate of a people that the West is largely responsible.
IT: Yes, but that’s exactly my point. It’s completely irrational. And nobody understands why. If you try to understand it, you read articles about this problem, you won’t get any answer. And that’s why I want to stress there’s a spiritual dimension in this, and I think on the surface, it looks like that the West and IS are on the opposite side in the conflict, but actually spiritually they agree in the war on Christians. And I think they have a kind of unholy but tacit alliance to eliminate Christians, and I think that the world, especially Christians, need to be aware that there is this anti-Christian spirit roaming around in the West. That’s why they’re turning this blind eye to this problem, because I can’t find any other explanations. I mean to understand what’s going on in the world today, you need to address the spiritual dimension, you can’t understand the world today if you only try to look for political explanations, it simply not possible, you won’t get the full picture.
PL: Okay, Reverend and Jeffrey are both disagreeing with you…
JT: It’s sort of difficult to respond to that sort of wild, ludicrous accusation. All is I can say is there is no evidence of any war being waged against Christians or any desire to eliminate Christianity. The problem came about, over through…
PL: Jeffrey but you would agree that essentially the IS has declared war against Christians in the area that they control. Well, that is one declaration of war.
JT: But not the West. I’m sorry, the accusation just made was that the West was complicit with ISIS. That’s ridiculous. In this case there’s absolutely no reason to think that the West is targeting Christians in the same way that IS has targeted them, exterminating them, using them as sex slaves, and what not. The problem is secularism. The absence of secularism that began with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and spread into 2/3 of Syria now.
RN: I think there is no direct war being waged against Christianity neither by IS nor the West. IS is in a state of war with anything which is different from itself. So it’s not about Christianity. The Yazidis are not Christians. And some of the Sunnis are being captured and beheaded because they oppose IS, so let’s not put it in such a dramatic way. But in the West, yes Iben, there is an indifference about religion, and yes there is this atheistic secularism that is very much aggressive against Christianity because there is this saying that the Western societies and cultures are based on Christian thoughts and Christian principles and the people are not very comfortable with that because they want to get away with [from] this background.
RN: Angela Merkel, the Chancellor in Germany, said a couple of years ago, in the Bundestag, she said that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world.
PL: It is.
RN: And the Bundestag was very uncomfortable about it. But she said this is the truth, and I think this is the truth. But I have to state a bold statement here. If Christianity disappears from the Middle East, it will have proven that Islam is a religion that does not live with the Other. And this is dangerous because nobody wants Islam to be in this image, but if the Muslims worldwide allow Christianity to disappear from the ME than they are all, they are all, for me, accused of allowing this Islam that is in this image that is intolerant and it doesn’t live with the Other who is different.
PL: Iben in Copenhagen, you were mentioning democracy and all that, one of the things, unfortunately for the world, I would say, and I’m very curious what Jeff will have to say about this, is that for the United States, democracy is a religion, it is a secular religion for the Americans. It’s sacred here. But for a good part of the world, fortunately, it’s only a process and procedure. It’s not considered sacred, and this is one of the problems which the US has with its view of the world. It has this kind of missionary motivation to save the world, and doing that, which I find really quite remarkable. The more the US promotes democracy in regions like the ME, for example, the more religious tolerance disappears, and the more greater the possibility, as Reverend has pointed out, is that Christianity could completely die out. And that doesn’t say much particular good about that particular branch of Islam here.
JT: I don’t—I disagree that democracy is a religion. If it is, in the United States, if it is it’s a very imperfectly practiced one.
PL: Agreed. [chuckles]
JT: Again the key is secularism. Islam does provide for people of the Book (Christians, Jews, and Muslims) to live together, with Christians and Jews having subservient status, having [secondary] status, paying a tax, which is not what we understand by democracy.
In a secular society you can profess any religion you want including polytheistic religions like Hinduism and not be touched. The point is law, the rule of law, not the rule of myths and fables, or religions. We’ve put that aside. If you want to believe in religion go ahead and do it. Do it on your own time, in your own place.
You can have your church.
The first point of freedom of expression as you know from the First Amendment of the United States is that the state shall not make any laws abridging religion; the state will not establish the religion, that is. So you can definitely practice religion.
It’s another thing entirely whether public opinion is turning against two millennia of abuse from Christians in the West. Now the problem here, what we’re talking about is the ME though and there the problem is that we’ve unleashed this anarchy through invading Iraq, and we almost managed to that with Syria two years ago when President Obama said President Assad has to go. If he had, we would have millions of more refugees now. We would have the IS with a border with Israel, and we might be in a major war at this point.
The point is secularism, which at the moment Bashar Al-Assad is maintaining his part, his 1/3 of Syria which he still controls. The answer here is secularism not wild accusations of war made against Western governments’ complicity with ISIS, that’s nonsense.
PL: But if you live in the ME that’s not the case, you cannot practice your faith in public here. And if you do…
RN: No, it’s not the case. We don’t have secularism. We don’t have secularism in the ME. In the Middle East we breathe religion. We live, it’s invading every single detail of our lives. Before we talk about secularism in the Middle East, we need to talk about the abuse of religion. We need to free religion from being hijacked from sick ideologies and for sick politics. And because of that, don’t talk about secularism in the ME because the people are religious by nature, by DNA. So, when we talk about secularism in the West, please don’t talk about that and implement it in the ME as if it were a fait-accompli. It is not.
PL: One size fits all… That’s what the Reverend says, one size doesn’t fit all…
JT: The root of this problem is the overthrow of secular regimes. Or the overthrow of the Saddam regime which was secular until at least the first Gulf War.
RN: There was no secular regime. They are regimes that are happy to abuse anything to stay in power.
JT: Listen, the point is Shiites and Sunnis were able to live side-by-side, because Sunnis were in the minority. There was a reason for not promoting Sunni-ism, which would have started a sectarian war. After the first Gulf War, Saddam started to change, Saddam became more religious. But the answer to this, I agree that the people live and breathe religion, that’s the problem in the ME. The answer to this is the rule of law in democracy and secularism. Sorry I’m like a broken record here but the truth is very simple. And it exists in some parts of the world and not much in the Middle East.
PL: I understand exactly where you are coming from. But the US is doing exactly that, and its allies, bringing these ideas and institutions to the Middle East, and what it is doing is crushing everybody in their way. And it’s giving fuel, oxygen to some of the most noxious people on the planet like ISIS and Al Qaeda here. This promotion of democracy has had very negative consequences. Iben I am going to give you the last word on the program.
Iben: Yes, I think the biggest problem for the West is it has lost its Christian faith because it needs the moral foundation. And I think in the confrontation with Islam we see that the West is getting weaker and weaker because it has no spiritual foundation. And this is a kind of spiritual war, it’s not only a political war. And I think that it is the first time in history that West has to face Islam without a Christian context. And we can see every day that Europe is getting weaker and weaker and will not win the fight over Islam. And I also have to say to the two gentlemen here that the goal of the Islamic State is actually to conquer Rome, because they want to go to Rome and they want to govern in the place….
PL: On that note, we’ve run out of time…
Youtube, CrossTalk, Endangered Christians, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xREaQanomPA
U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Plans to Lead in Resettling Refugees,” Remarks by Anne C. Richard, December 9, 2014, http://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/remarks/2014/234855.htm