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Makari's Ministry of Misinformation
Exaggerated self-criticism would be a harmless luxury of civilization if there were no enemy at the gate condemning democracy’s very existence. But it becomes dangerous when it portrays its mortal enemy as always being in the right. Extravagant criticism is a good propaganda device in internal politics. But if it is repeated long enough, it is finally believed. And where will the citizens of democratic societies find reasons to resist the enemy outside if they are persuaded from childhood that there civilization is merely an accumulation of failures and a monstrous imposture? -- Francois Revel
Last week I posted an entry on CAMERA’s blog, Snapshots, about the monomaniacal obsession exhibited by the overseas arm of two mainline Protestant churches – the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ.
In the blog entry, I detailed how the newsfeed of the Common Global Ministries of these two churches encourages people to focus intensely on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians while downplaying the mistreatment of Christians in the Middle East. In 2011 and 2012, approximately 35 percent of the links on this newsfeed are to articles that deal with this conflict.
By way of comparison, less than two percent of the articles posted on the newsfeed deal with Syria, where more than 12,000 people have been killed in fighting between rebels and the Assad regime in the past 15 months. And Nigeria, where Christians have been attacked for years by Islamists intent on imposing Shariah, is hardly even mentioned in this newsfeed.[i]
In this newsfeed, reality is inverted. Israel, which sets the gold standard for human rights in the Middle East, is portrayed as a monstrous nation while the palpable misdeeds of its adversaries are ignored.
In light of this, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ has become part of the campaign to de-legitimize Israel in the minds of the American people and to demoralize the supporters of the Jewish state in the United States.[ii] In other words the Global Ministries of the UCC and the Disciples of Christ has been enlisted in a campaign of cognitive warfare against Israel and ultimately, the United States.
As detailed by Stuart Green, Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in his dissertation on cognitive warfare (linked above), Israel’s and America’s adversaries have rightly concluded that they cannot defeat the U.S. or Israel in a straight up military fight. In order to overcome this reality, Islamists have focused their efforts from the battlefield, from the physical world, into the ideological arena.
In this campaign, the institutions we rely on to give us the information, knowledge and spiritual strength and discipline we need to govern ourselves and defend ourselves from outside ideological challenge – our newspapers, our colleges, and yes, even our churches – are used against us. They are enlisted in an effort into getting us to believe that our societies are no good, our history is made up of one episode of oppression and violence after another, and that our belief in ourselves and individual rights and freedom is misplaced and that the civilization we live in is not worthy of a defense against those hate it. We are encouraged to believe that even thinking we have enemies who must be defeated, not appeased, is the hallmark of a disturbed, uncivilized and uncouth mind.
In the story told by these institutions, we are encouraged to believe that the only way we can atone for our sins is to throw Israel under the bus, keep our mouths shut about Islam’s impact on human rights and pretend it’s a religion of peace and tolerance when events in Muslim-majority countries give us good reason to think it is not.
One of the most salient characteristics of the Islamist campaign is that Israel is accused of crimes its adversaries are guilty of. Israel is accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide while the ethnic cleansing of Christians from Iraq has been largely ignored. Israel is condemned for occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip while Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, which lasted for many years, was ignored or downplayed. And the deaths of Palestinian civilians as a result of Israeli attacks on terrorists are condemned and highlighted again and again. The fact that groups like Hamas and Hezbollah attack Israeli civilians while hiding behind civilians, thus guaranteeing civilian casualties, is ignored.
In this campaign, Israeli efforts to defend the Jewish state are ideologically constrained while the violent actions of its adversaries are given free rein. As a result of this campaign we have forgotten a basic fact of life in the modern era: Zionism as a movement and Israel as a state exhibit more regard for the humanity of their adversaries than any other political movement or state in the Middle East. Israel treats its enemies, dissidents and minorities and its own citizens with greater humanity than any other country in the region. And yet it is the country that is the singular target of the BDS campaign on college campuses and churches.
To top it off, some of Israel’s adversaries are promoting a one-state solution as a way to improve the lives of its non-Jewish citizens and the rights of Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
If you really think that dismantling the Jewish state will improve the rights of Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East then why begin (and end) the process with Israel? How about dismantling Syria to save the Alawites (who right now are using the government to oppress the Muslim majority in their country), Egypt to save the Copts from the Arab-Muslim majority, and Iraq and Turkey to save the Kurds?
This cognitive assault on Israel is part of a larger propaganda campaign against the West, in which we are being cowed, bullied and blackmailed into abandoning our heritage, our dignity and our future by people who have no respect for human rights or freedom, and they are using the language of human rights and freedom to achieve this goal. It is really quite astonishing, really.
But as astonishing as it is, we’ve seen campaigns like this before. In his book, How Democracies Perish (Doubleday 1984) Jean-Francois Revel detailed a similar process by which the United States (and the West) was attacked on an ideological level by communists during the Cold War. The Soviets used institutions like the World Council of Churches to attack the legitimacy of Western governments while protecting the USSR from criticism.
Clearly a similar process is taking place today, except this time it’s not the Communists, but Islamists, who exhibit the same contempt for human rights that the Communists did a few decades ago. The main thrust of Revel’s book is that self-critical democracies are at a disadvantage when confronted with totalitarian movements that cannot be held accountable by the people they dominate. “Self-criticism is,” Revel writes, “of course, one of the vital springs of democratic civilization and one of the reasons for its superiority over all other systems. But constant self-condemnation, often with little or no foundation, is a source of weakness and inferiority in dealing with an imperial power that has dispensed with scruples.”[iii]
As it turned out, Communism fell, largely because people didn’t want to live like that. But the collapse didn’t happen until after millions of lives were ruined over the course of several decades. Still, Revel’s book reminds us is that totalitarians can work magic when it comes to spreading propaganda, but for some reason lead the people they govern to physical and moral disaster. And yet totalitarians never lack for people willing to work on their behalf, spreading their message in free societies.
And despite the millions who suffered and died under communism, the people who worked to oppose Communism were depicted as angry, bitter cranks, as if Joseph McCarthy was typical of the entire anti-Communist movement. People like Whittaker Chambers, who risked everything to expose the evils of Communism were assailed in a vicious and cruel manner by their adversaries even after it became clear that indeed, the Communists were monsters, and Alger Hiss was indeed a spy for the Soviets, and that he wasn’t the only one.
And just as the word “anti-Communist” is, in many places, still synonymous with crank, or nutjob, as anyone who opposes Islamist imperialism and expansionism is accused of Islamophobia.
In the current Islamist campaign against the West, our desire for peace, our empathy, our commitment to human rights and our practice of self-criticism are being used as weapons against us just as they were used during the Cold War. The goal is to convince us to abandon the victims of Islamist violence in the name of peace. This is what happened at the UN’s conference on racism that took place in Durban South Africa in 2001 where Israel was demonized and the plight of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East was ignored.
The process goes like this: First we are encouraged to feel empathy for the Palestinians, Palestinian Christians especially, as if they are a true representation of the entire society. Then we are barred from condemning the misdeeds of the Palestinians and their leaders because they have less power than the Israelis.[iv] Then we are encouraged to focus solely on Israel’s misdeeds. This gives us leave to feel contempt for Israel and its supporters (many of them Jews). What starts with empathy for the Palestinians ends with contempt for Israel and Jews.
And once we’ve convinced ourselves that Israel has no right to exist because of its sins, we will have to acknowledge that if Israel has no right to defend itself against Islamism, then how can we justify defending the nations in which we live given the enormity of our sins?[v]
The Global Ministries newsfeed serves as an electronic archive of this campaign.
Peter Makari, Cognitive Warrior
What was really shocking about the newsfeed is the near absence of articles about the plight of the Coptic Christians in Egypt. This is simply incomprehensible that Global Ministries would remain silent about their plight because the organization’s executive, Rev. Dr. Peter Makari is an Egyptian American, whose father, Victor, immigrated to the United States to work for the Presbyterian Church (USA). In the newsfeed, less than 10 percent of the links are to articles dealing with Egypt, where Christians are regularly attacked by violent mobs and where Islamists are poised to take control of the government. Couldn’t Rev. Dr. Peter Makari have posted a few links to highlight the suffering of his fellow Christians in Egypt?
It is not as if he doesn’t know about their suffering. His expertise on this subject is one of the reasons why he serves as executive for Europe and the Middle East for Global Ministries. An Egyptian American, Makari is fluent in Arabic, has a Ph.D. in politics with a concentration in Middle East Studies from New York University. Syracuse University Press published his dissertation on Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt as a book titled Conflict & Cooperation: Christian Muslim Relations in Contemporary Egypt in 2007. According to the book jacket for this text, Makari “has lived in the Middle East, including Egypt and Cyprus, for many years.”
Makari put his expertise on display in his review of Paul Merkley’s book Christian Attitudes towards the State of Israel (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001). In his review which appeared in the Journal of Palestine Studies in 2004, Makari recounts in painstaking detail some the “errors and inconsistencies” in Merkley’s text:
A comprehensive listing is impossible in this space, but a small sampling of the author’s treatment of Arabic words and names gives us a sense. Merkley transliterates the Arabic word for Islamic law variously as “shar’ia (p. 84), “Shar’ia” (p. 91), and “shari’a” (p. 92). Similarly, he uses “Qu’ran” and “Qur’an” (p. 105). Merkley provides an incorrect Arabic transliteration of People of the Book, “ahl al-khatib” (p. 107), instead of “ahl al-kitab.” Later on the same page, he transcribes the Arabic for “protected” as “dhimmii,” and on the next page as “dhimmi” (p. 108). He refers to the bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem as Riad Abu El Assal (pp. 71, 73), when the bishop’s name is Riah. I could go on.
To be fair, Makari, took advantage of an opening Merkley gave to reviewers when he complained in his text about commentators who “simply will not stoop to enter into the thought-world of the adversary, even for purposes of understanding their arguments or learning how to spell them.” Merkley gave his critics an opening and Makari charged right in.
Still, there is something pedantic and evasive about Makari’s takedown. No matter how you spell it, Islamic law regarding non-Muslims represents a serious human rights problem, particularly for Jews and Christians living in Muslim-majority countries.
It is one of the reasons why Jews and their supporters are so adamant about the need for a Jewish state. It’s why Christians and other religious minorities are calling for the creation of an autonomous province in the Ninevah Plains in Iraq. It is why Christians are leaving Egypt and Iraq by the thousands.
Simply put, Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia are open-air gulags for Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East. Under normal circumstances, Christians interested in promoting human rights and well-being would address this problem, but many of them don’t.
This was the point Merkley was trying to get at in his book even if he got his transliteration for “People of the Book” wrong, put his apostrophes in the wrong place and wasn’t consistent with his use of italics.
Makari does not respond to this issue in a substantive way in his review, as if he had nothing more to say in response to Merkley’s concerns other than to point out his misspellings. Again, this is odd because the status of Christians in Muslim-majority environment – at least in Egypt – is of great interest to Makari. As noted above, he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation, and eventually, a book about the subject.
Makari’s text highlights the prospects for peace between the Coptic minority and Muslim majority in Egypt. Makari states “the focus of the book is on examples and incidents of cooperation” in Egypt. Makari does not completely ignore Muslim hostility toward Christians, which has clearly become a problem with the rise of Islamism in the 20th century, and states that despite his book’s emphasis on cooperation, “one should not be lulled into a false sense that the state of affairs is harmonious.”
A close reading of Makari’s text however, reveals a serious problem – a profound tendency to downplay or ignore Islamist hostility toward Jews. In his book Makari describes Sayyd Tantawi, the Grand Mufti of Al Ahzar Univeristy in Cairo, who died of a heart attack on March 10, 2010, as one of several “Egyptian Muslim religious officials who have, since the 1990s, expressed fraternal feelings with Egypt's non-Muslims.”
Makari reports that Tantawi wrote “books on various topics, including Israel in the Holy Qur'an and Sunna” and describes Tantawi as a “moderate Islamic voice” who has spoken of “equality in rights and responsibilities” for Muslims and non-Muslims in Egypt, despite the fact that he supported “the imperative that Copts pay the jizya, a kind of tax paid by non-Muslims in the Muslim community to retain their protect status as ahl adh-dhimma.” (Makari, 2007, pages 98-99). (Remember the name of the book Makari mentions. It’s important.)
On page 100 of his text, Makari writes, Tantawi “has remained steadfast in his call for good relations between Egypt's Muslims and Christians, and among all people generally.”
The sheikh sounds like a good guy, doesn’t he. There’s just one problem. The late sheikh, simply put, was a notorious and inveterate anti-Semite who mined the Koran and the life of Muhammad for passages and teachings that justified Islamic Jew-hatred.
He did this in a 700-page text The Children of Israel in the Qur'an and the Sunna, originally published in Cairo in the 1960s and republished in 1986. (It’s the same book Makari mentioned in his text on Christian-Muslim relations.)
In this text, which has been excerpted in The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: from Sacred Texts to Solemn History edited by Andrew G. Bostom (Prometheus Press, 2008), Tantawi uses passages from the Koran to depict Jews as enemies of God, his prophets and of Islam itself. In one particularly troubling passage Tantawi writes:
Qur'an describes people of the Book in general terms, with negative attributes like their fanaticism in religion, following a false path. It describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e., killing the prophets of God, corrupting his words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people's wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their […] deep rooted lasciviousness.
Later, after quoting some passages from the Koran, Tantawi writes “This means that not all Jews are not the same. The good ones become Muslims; the bad ones do not.” (Legacy, page 394). Elsewhere, Tantawi writes that the Jews “initiated hostilities against the Islamic call in Medina.” He continues: “They took every measure they could to extinguish its fire and vitiate its power.” Later he writes, “we are not exaggerating when we say that the Jews left no stone unturned in the attempt to snuff out the Islamic call, nor was any means considered out of bounds in order to denigrate Islam and its Prophet—they tried everything they could.” (Legacy, 399)
It doesn’t stop there. Matthias Küntzel, author of Jihad and Jew Hatred: Islamism and the Roots of 9/11, writes that “Tantawi, the highest Sunni Muslim theologian, quotes Hitlers remark in Mein Kampf that “in resisting the Jew, I am doing the work of the Lord.” Küntzel continues: “He praises The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, noting without the slightest trace of sympathy that “after the publication of the Protocols in Russia, some 10,000 Jews were killed.”
Tantawi made a number of other troubling statements. For example, in 2002, Tantawi declared that Jews are “the enemies of Allah, descendents of apes and pigs.” The following year, Tantawi issued an edict declaring that Jews should no longer be described in such a manner, apparently under pressure from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
While Tantawi did condemn the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 he later affirmed terrorism against Israelis. In 2002, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), reported that Tantawi “declared that martyrdom (suicide) operations and the killing of civilians are permitted acts and that more such attacks should be carried out. Tantawi's positions were posted on http://www.lailatalqadr.com/, a website associated with AlAzhar.” This is MEMRI's translation of website:
“The great Imam of AlAzhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, demanded that the Palestinian people, of all factions, intensify the martyrdom operations [i.e. suicide attacks] against the Zionist enemy, and described the martyrdom operations as the highest form of Jihad operations. He says that the young people executing them have sold Allah the most precious thing of all."
"[Sheikh Tantawi] emphasized that every martyrdom operation against any Israeli, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment, until the people of Palestine regain their land and cause the cruel Israeli aggression to retreat…"
This same MEMRI report adds that “It should be noted that a March 18, 2002 demonstration at Al Azhar University featured eight students who had been trained to carry out suicide attacks against Israelis.” In other words, terrorist recruiting took place at the university where Tantawi served as Grand Mufti.
How could Makari, who found so many mistakes in Merkley’s book about Christian Zionism, miss these obvious problems with Tantawi’s career and the book he wrote? Did Makari even read Tantawi’s book about the Jews or did he cite it without having read it just to make it look like he had done his research? If Makari did read Tantawi’s book, but missed its obvious anti-Semitism, just how good is his command of Arabic?
Whatever its cause, Makari’s failure to acknowledge Tantawi’s notorious Jew-hatred seems like a pretty substantial error, something a lot more grievous than Merkley’s typographical, spelling and translation errors. Merkley’s errors can be fixed with some copy-editing. Fixing Makari’s omissions would require a complete reworking of the text in question; a reworking that would call into question his credibility. These simply are not the facts an expert would omit.
Talk about straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.
Bystanders to Impending Catastrophe
Makari, for all his expertise on the Middle East is simply not a reliable source of information about Christian-Muslim relations and cannot be trusted to describe the problems faced by religious and ethnic minorities in the region, Egypt especially. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that at their last General Synods that took place in 2011, neither the United Church of Christ nor the Disciples of Christ said a word about the hostility and violence endured by Christians in Egypt, Iraq or Nigeria. They did however, pass resolutions condemning Islamophobia. Clearly, these two denominations have followed Makari’s lead and have failed to respond an impending catastrophe in the Middle East.
This silence is shameful. At a recent event titled “Pluralism, Peace and Prayer,” sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, the American Islamic Congress and the Boston Theological Institute, Elizabeth Prodromou and Samuel Tadros addressed a very troubling question: “Do Coptic Christians have a future in Egypt?” Their testimony was not very encouraging.
Tadros, a research fellow at Hudson Institute’s Center for religious freedom, said that sine the collapse of state power with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last year, there is a growing culture of impunity in Egyptian society. This gives Salafists a much freer hand and as a result attacks against Coptic Christians are increasingly. Christians in Egypt worry about their neighbors attacking them, especially if this culture of impunity gives way to active of encouragement of violence.
Tadros described restrictions imposed on Copts who wanted to renovate a church in Aswan. These restrictions denied congregants the right to install a bell on their church building. They were not allowed use a microphone during church services, place a cross on top of their church and were prohibited from even putting a dome on their church.
In sum, Copts simply cannot visibly live as Christians and must accept the idea of second-class citizenship if they are to remain adherents of their faith in Egypt.
Tadros also described a brutal attack suffered by a Coptic high school student. The attacked was led by the classroom instructor. The other students joined in.
The boy who was attacked had a crucifix around his neck. The teacher asked him to take it off, prompting the student to ask “How am I to take this cross off?” while pointing to a tattoo of a cross on his wrist. The boy was beaten to death.
Tadros also described how Christians are being imprisoned for insulting Islam. One Christian could not even enjoy the right to council because of a mob of Muslim lawyers barred the entrance of his lawyers into the courthouse. In sum, Tadros described an atmosphere of increasing hostility toward Christians that threatens to drive Christians underground, out of the country or into Islam. For poorer Copts, there is no way out.
During her presentation, an audience member asked Prodomou, former Vice Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and professor at Boston University, what will happen in Syria if the Assad regime falls. She didn’t want to predict the future, but did say this: “If Assad stays, it will be bad. If he goes, it will be worse.”
Clearly, there is a human rights catastrophe in the making, unfolding right before our eyes, but for some reason, Peter Makari and the two churches he works for cannot be bothered to respond in a forceful way to events as they happen, unless of course they happen in the West Bank or Gaza and can be blamed on the Jewish state.
[i] It’s not just the volume of articles related to Israel, but the content as well. The overall signal or message that the articles related to the Middle East give to would-be readers is that Israel is the primary source of suffering in the Middle East, its adversaries are innocent sufferers and people who even want to talk about the impact of Islam on human rights are hateful war-mongers.
[ii] For example, the newsfeed links to five articles (one in Spanish) condemning Israel’s attack on the Turkish flotilla on May 31, 2010, but no links to stories reporting that a UN panel that stated Israel’s actions were legal.
[iii] Revel, 9. And let’s face it, Islamism is an imperial power that in addition is working to dispense with minority populations in the Middle East, is working to subjugate people in Nigeria and Sudan.
[iv] One has to wonder exactly what bible these Christian anti-Zionists are reading from. When Isaiah rebuked Ahaz, and then Hezekiah, in the Eighth Century B.C.E, it’s not as if he was correcting the leaders of the most powerful country in the Near East. In fact, he was assailing the leadership of one of most vulnerable city-states in the region. Isaiah rebuked kings who were paying tribute to Assyria. If you read about Isaiah’s interactions with the kings of the Southern Kingdom closely, you’ll see an honest struggle over how Israelite kings should respond to the threats to their well-being posed by Assyrian, an adversary much rougher and inhumane than the modern state of Israel. The other prophets are no different in this respect – they railed at petty kings confronted with empires arrayed against them. If the Palestinians had an Isaiah of their own, a prophet who was principled and courageous, he would likely say that Palestinian leaders, like Israelite kings of yore, have doomed their people to statelessness and exile for some time to come and that if the Palestinian people truly want sovereignty, they need to start behaving much more responsibly than they have been. He would rebuke the Palestinians for the self-pity, blame and irresponsibility that have become the hallmark of their cause on the international scene.
[v] The World Council of Churches recently issued a statement on the doctrine of discovery and its impact on indigenous peoples. This doctrine, reports the WCC, mandated “Christian European countries to attack, enslave and kill the Indigenous Peoples they encountered and to acquire all of their assets.” Eventually, Western Christianity repented of its sins on this score. The question is when and if Islam will do the same, before or after the remainder of Christians in the Middle East are extirpated.