Unholy Choices
April 10, 2014

Christians in the middle east find themselves at a crossroads in a region rocked by war and revolution

Half an ounce of gold. In the 7th century, that’s how much Christians in what is now Syria had to pay for the privilege of living under the protection of the Caliphate. If they didn’t want to pay, they had two other options: they could convert or, as some interpretations of the pact between Muslim rulers and their Christian subjects suggest, “face the sword.”

In February, the 20 or so Christian families still living in the northern Syrian town of Raqqa were given the same choice. The cost of protection is now the equivalent of $650 in Syrian pounds, a large amount for people struggling to make ends meet in a war zone. The other two options remain unchanged. This time the offer came from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), an extremist antigovernment group that seized Raqqa in May 2013 from more-moderate rebel brigades and declared the town the capital of its own Islamic state.

Most of Raqqa’s 3,000 Christians had already fled the fighting, leaving just a few families in a place suddenly run by a group known for its violent tactics in both Iraq and Syria, including beheadings and floggings—tactics so ruthless that even al-Qaeda has disowned the group. The number had fallen even further by the time ISIS commanders promised the Christians that as long as they paid the levy, the one church that had not already been destroyed in the fighting would be left untouched and the Christians would not be physically harmed. They would have the right to practice their religion as long as they didn’t ring bells, evangelize or pray within earshot of a Muslim.

Church leaders urged Raqqa’s Christians to pay the militants. “[ISIS] told me that all I need to do is pay the taxes, and they will protect me,” says George, a 17-year-old Christian music student still living in Raqqa. “I know that under the Caliphate, Christians got a lot of things in return for paying taxes. The Christian community was left in peace.” That hasn’t been the case so far in Syria’s new Caliphate. When ISIS arrived in town, it warned Christians to stay out of sight and hide their crucifixes.

There are no reported instances of ISIS militants physically harassing Christians, but the threat is palpable, says George, who asked to go by a pseudonym out of fear of reprisals. “They don’t need to hit you,” he says, speaking via Skype from his home in Raqqa. “They wound you with their words. It’s how they look at my religion as if it’s not real. With such utter contempt. As if the Bible is all made up.” George says his family, which runs a small car-repair business, can’t afford to leave. Their only hope of survival is to scrape together enough money to pay the twice-yearly tax. But he is not sure they will be able to pull it off, and they may be forced to flee—abandoning everything they have built up over the years.

The choices and compromises faced by the remaining Christians of Raqqa are extreme versions of the choices and compromises Christians have increasingly faced over the past decade across a Middle East roiled by an unprecedented period of war and revolution. Although now defunct regimes like those of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak presided over nightmarish human-rights abuses, they tended to protect Christian minorities and kept much of the region relatively stable. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the upheavals of the Arab Spring, some Arab countries have experimented with democracy, and without exception, Islamist parties have been successful at the polls. In Syria, a bloody civil war has resulted in conflict between many from the Sunni Muslim majority and the minority Christians, who have tended to side with the regime of Bashar Assad, a member of the Alawite Muslim minority. The turmoil in these countries has made many of the Middle East’s Christians feel deeply concerned for their safety.

A New Exodus
When granted the opportunity, many Christians leave, as happened in Iraq. Nearly a million Christians fled the chaos after Saddam’s fall from power in 2003 and a brutal insurgency that saw Islamists attack Christians and their churches, among other targets. Today only about 300,000 Christians remain in Iraq, living under a Shi’ite Islamist government. Other Christian communities in the Middle East have stuck with an old survival strategy, supporting authoritarian regimes in exchange for protection. In Egypt, the Coptic Pope has tacitly supported military dictatorship for decades and recently backed the leader of last year’s coup, former field marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, for May’s presidential election. In Syria, church leaders have tolerated 40 years of Assad family rule for fear of an Islamist alternative. Such self-preservation puts Christian leaders in the camp of strongmen who frequently use violence against their own people. In backing these authoritarian regimes, those leaders and their supporters have failed to help their countries develop into states where justice, the rule of law and tolerance are applied evenly, not just to the ruling sect and its allies.

Some Christians in Syria have defied church leaders and called for Assad’s downfall, in the hope that fighting for the rights of all Syrians will strengthen the place of Syria’s minorities in the future. “If Syria’s Christians had sided with the revolution in the first place, standing, like Jesus, in solidarity with all those oppressed by the regime, I don’t think we would be in this situation today,” says Bassel, a novice Jesuit monk from Syria who recently left his order in part to protest its ongoing support for Assad. Bassel (using a pseudonym to protect family members still in Syria) says the revolution “could have succeeded. And we would be talking now about the right leader for Syria instead of having to choose between the radicals and the regime.”

In the last census of the Ottoman era, conducted in 1914, Christians made up a quarter of the Middle East’s population. Now they are less than 5%. Christians in the Middle East represent less than 1% of the world’s Christians, but their declining numbers are of particular concern to the Vatican, which does not want to see the birthplace of Christianity devoid of the faithful, whether they be Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or members of other denominations. The departure of Christians also has consequences for the societies they leave behind. Tolerance of minorities is a powerful indicator of the future health of viable modern states. “We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians,” Pope Francis told regional Christian leaders in November during a meeting at the Vatican.

But it may already be too late. If current demographic trends continue, the Middle East’s population of 12 million Christians will be halved by 2020. While much of the decline can be attributed to opportunistic emigration and falling birth rates, political turmoil in the wake of the Arab Spring has accelerated the trend, say Christian commentators and analysts. At least 1 in 4 Syrian Christians, who made up 8% of the country’s population in 1992, have left since the war started. An estimated 93,000 Copts left Egypt in the year following the 2011 revolution that toppled Mubarak, a secular-leaning Muslim strongman who made a point of protecting Egypt’s Christians during his 29 years in power as a way to gain legitimacy from the West. If the exodus is to be stanched, Christians will have to astutely navigate a way between extremists and dictators.

Faustian Bargains
On July 3, with his khaki shirt bristling with military insignia, al-Sisi announced on Egyptian television that he had just overthrown the democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, a former senior official of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s two most important religious leaders flanked al-Sisi: Ahmed el-Tayeb, the moderate Grand Sheik of al-Azhar Mosque, and Pope Tawadros II, head of Egypt’s Coptic Church.

For Egypt’s 8 million Christians, many of whom had prayed for God to deliver them from an Islamist government that threatened to write their rights out of the country’s new constitution, the coup seemed little short of a miracle. Some hailed al-Sisi as a messiah. But their public celebration of the coup made other Christians worry that there would soon be a price to pay. It did not take long. Within days, the full brunt of the Islamists’ rage over the coup was directed at Egypt’s Christians in one of the worst spasms of communal violence the country has ever seen. Islamist mobs attacked 63 churches and ransacked Christian orphanages and businesses. In October, unknown gunmen opened fire on a wedding party at a Cairo church, killing four, including an 8-year-old girl. “It felt like we were at war,” says parishioner Nagah Sehata, who was in the church office when he heard the gunshots.

Al-Sisi will almost certainly win the presidential election in Egypt, which is due to take place on May 26 and 27. As Egypt prepares to vote in a man who could easily turn into the country’s next military dictator—recent months have been marked by media suppression and crackdowns on almost all forms of dissent—Christians backing al-Sisi defend their choice. “If Egypt had not been saved by al-Sisi, you would have seen an exodus of all the Christians from Egypt,” says Naguib Sawiris, a Christian and one of the country’s most prominent businessmen. Majority rule in the Arab world leaves minorities at risk, says Sawiris, so better to support a secular-leaning coupmaker than risk annihilation by popularly elected Islamists.

That kind of thinking may preserve Christian interests in the short term, but it risks putting them on the wrong side of history, says Michael Wahid Hanna, a Middle East analyst at the Century Foundation, a New York City–based think tank. “Christians in the region are forced into these Faustian bargains in which they end up supporting authoritarian regimes for fear of what the alternative would look like. But the price is that it can aggravate underlying sectarian tensions and create further animosities and bigotry.” That leaves Christians even more vulnerable and thus more likely to defend the strongmen who abhor democratic change. And as the Arab Spring uprisings showed, even the most entrenched dictatorships can fall within days.

When the revolution of January 2011 gathered momentum, Egypt’s Christians had every reason to be apprehensive. Under Mubarak, Christian leaders could expect patronage and protection from the oft raised threat of Islamic extremism in exchange for votes and political cover. So when, weeks later, tens of thousands of protesters began assembling in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to call for Mubarak’s ouster, the Coptic Church’s head at the time, Pope Shenouda III, ordered Christians to stay home. Father Abdelmessiah Bassit, who leads the congregation at the Church of the Virgin Mary on the outskirts of Cairo, was one of the few priests who defied the directive. He now considers himself to have made an error of judgment. “Shenouda warned me that it would be an Islamic revolution, not an Egyptian revolution, and that it would destroy us,” he says. “Shenouda was right.” Little more than a year later, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was voted into power, led by Morsi, who, in an interview before the 2011 revolution, told Time that a Christian would never be permitted to lead Egypt.

Under Morsi, physical assaults against Christian targets declined, but anti-Christian rhetoric rose in their place. Female Christian students were asked to wear veils on some university campuses, and churchgoers were forced to lower the volume of their services in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. When the Islamist-controlled parliament rammed through a new constitution in December 2012 that effectively enshrined Islamic law above all else, Christians feared for their rights and identity. Bassit, regretting his early support for the revolution, urged his congregation to pray for Morsi’s downfall. Al-Sisi’s coup, he says, was God’s answer.

If anything, Egypt’s Copts are more closely intertwined with the military leadership than ever before, a risky state of affairs, says Christian columnist Theresa Moussa. Allying with strongmen only keeps Christians weak. Instead, she says, Christians need to stop seeking favors and support the rule of law by backing a presidential candidate who shares their values. “Our strength can only come from a state that respects our rights and the rights of everyone else—women, Christians and Muslims—equally.”

Destruction of History

Father Nadim Nassar, an Anglican priest from Syria who now lives in London, stays in regular contact with Syrian Christians as part of his work with an interfaith nongovernmental organization. The stories and rumors he hears from Syria shock him. “For the first time in modern history, we are being persecuted for our faith,” says Nasser, who left Syria more than a decade ago. While YouTube is full of horrific videos purporting to show Christians being beheaded, attacked and, in one gruesome case, even crucified, most have been debunked as regime propaganda passing off Alawite victims as Christians to try to earn Western sympathy. As with most videos and rumors coming out of Syria, little can be verified.

That has not stopped Christians from fleeing in terror. And the exodus may grow in the wake of the killing on April 7 of Father Frans van der Lugt, the Dutch head of a Jesuit monastery and the last foreign religious leader in the western city of Homs. It is not yet clear whether his death was at the hands of the rebels or the regime, which controls most of the area. No one has claimed responsibility, and each side accuses the other, augmenting the Christians’ sense of insecurity.

Although he is no supporter of the regime, Samir, a 29-year-old Syrian Christian trader who splits his time between Damascus and the Gulf, believes that if Assad were to fall, it would prove a catastrophe for the country’s Christians. “They won’t be singled out and slaughtered, at least not in most places,” he says, speaking by phone from Dubai. (He asked to go by a shortened name to protect his identity.) “But if Islamists come to power, Christians are doomed. Islamists will make it unbearable for them to live in Syria, so they will have to look elsewhere. The only thing that will really keep Christians in the Middle East is secular regimes. Of course, it’s better if they have popular backing, but what is worse—a dictator or an Islamic theocracy?”

Christians may simply not survive the Arab revolutions. Backing tyrants may buy them some time, but many Christian commentators believe that the only way these communities can guarantee their continued presence in the region is by pushing for the rights of others as much as for their own. In Egypt, they note, Christians can still help build the kind of society that will protect their numbers down the line—but only as long as al-Sisi doesn’t turn into a dictator or if Christians turn against him if he does.

In Syria, it may be too late. The chasm that has opened there between Christians and Sunni Muslims is vast. “Of course, as believers we should be standing up for the rights of all Syrians, no matter who they are,” says Samir, the trader. “But what if at the end of the day it backfires and our 2,000-year-old presence in this country is destroyed?” To the former Jesuit novice Bassel, the answer can be found in Scripture. He asks, “What is the point of having Christians in the Middle East 100 years from now if we are not acting as Christians in practice—standing up for the oppressed, the downtrodden and the poor?”



< 金半オンス の命>

2月に、今もシリア北部の町ラッカに暮らす20人ほどのキリスト教徒の家族が同じ決断を迫られた。庇護の代償は現在の価値で650ドルに相当するシリア・ポンドで、戦火の下で何とか食いつないでいる人たちにとっては大金だ。残る2つの選択は昔と変わっていない。今回この要求は「イラクとシリアのイスラム国(the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria : ISIS)から提示された。ISISは2013年5月に穏健的反対派からラッカの主導権を奪い、そこを独立イスラム国家の首都と宣言した。






















Belgium’s Lechery Backfire
April 17, 2014

Outlawing sexist comments made in public will only make women look like victims.

As I walked down the street one recent morning, a man exiting a convenience store directed a low noise somewhere between a hiss and a whistle in my direction. Perhaps he was clearing something from his teeth, perhaps not: I did not bother raising my eyes to find out. Instinct quickly kicks in. Keep your head down, swerve across the sidewalk, push it to the back of your mind.

Such incidents are so common for women the world over that it took me a while to even make the connection with the topic on my mind at the time: a bill, expected to be approved by the Belgian Senate this month, that would make Belgium the first country in the world to define and criminalize sexist insults in public spaces.

Studies by groups raising awareness of street harassment show that about 90% of female respondents in most countries have faced insulting, sexually laden behavior in public. It reaches across cultures and income divides, from the businesswoman on the Tokyo subway to the schoolgirl in a Mumbai slum.

In 2012, a Belgian student named Sofie Peeters decided to do something about the comments she faced. She filmed her daily gauntlet through the streets of Brussels, and the resulting documentary, Femme de la Rue, shocked the country when it was shown on Belgian television and at screenings nationwide. Equal Opportunities Minister Joëlle Milquet promised action, and two years later her antisexism bill is on the verge of becoming law.

But will it really help elevate the standing of women in society to suggest that we need legal protection from a noise or lecherous comment in the street? The first problem is defining the offense. I was annoyed by the whistle that morning, but I certainly didn’t feel like the victim of a crime. On occasions I have felt threatened by street comments, other times amused by what are clearly intended as compliments, and I sometimes struggle to define at what point banter becomes something more sinister.

The new bill in Belgium defines sexism as a gesture or act against a man or woman that is “intended to express contempt for a person because of their gender, or that regards them as inferior, or reduces them to their sexual dimension, and which has the effect of violating someone’s dignity.”

This vague language has legal scholars fearing for freedom of speech in the country. Jogchum Vrielink, an expert in discrimination law at Belgium’s University of Leuven, wonders if romance novels in which men are reduced to sexual fodder for voracious women will fall foul of the law. Should hip-hop artists rapping about “hos” and “bitches” really face fines of up to $8,300 and a possible year in prison?

The Belgian bill is also just one among many recent initiatives in Western countries casting women as vulnerable victims in need of the state’s help to decide when they are being exploited or insulted. Other examples include a campaign in Britain to ban photos of topless women from the pages of tabloids and efforts on both sides of the Atlantic to outlaw elements of prostitution. These initiatives are frequently championed by politicians of both sexes with little input from the groups they claim to be protecting, reinforcing the idea that women cannot make informed choices for themselves.

What women do need from their governments are more proactive policies in the fields of child care and shared maternity and paternity leave to help women compete on a more level playing field in the workplace. Laws dealing with discrimination, workplace harassment and sexual assault need to be aggressively enforced, while developing countries lagging behind need to make sure their legislation is comprehensive and police are actively enforcing laws that protect women.

Sexist insults should be tackled like other social ills such as bullying and non-gender-specific taunts—with campaigns in schools and local communities to raise awareness that such behavior is unacceptable.

Women are more than capable of raising their own voices and fighting back, and do so through global initiatives like the Everyday Sexism Project and Hollaback!, websites where people share their retorts to sexist street abuse. Often

Belgium's Lechery Backfire




2012年に、ソフィー・ペーターズというベルギーの学生が、自分の差別経験について何か行動しようと決心した。彼女はブリュッセルの通りでの日々の侮蔑的言辞をフィルムに収め、ドキュメンタリー「Femme de la Rue(通りの女性)」を作成した。ベルギーのTVで放映され、全国の映画館で上映された時、大きな反響を呼んだ。機会平等大臣ジョエル・ミルケットは政策を作ることを約束し、2年後には彼女が立案した反性差別法案が発効するところまできている。







女性たちは自分で声を上げたり反撃もできる。また通りでの性的嫌がらせに対する対処の経験を共有するサイト「Everyday Sexism Project(日常の性差別プロジェクト)」や「Hollaback!(連絡して!)」のような世界的組織を通して実行している。卑猥な言葉への対策は多くの場合、単に無視するとか、相手が期待する反応をしないことが効果的だ。政治家も同じようにすることが賢明だろう。

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