The Politics of Persecution
Middle Eastern Christians in an Age of Empire
Imprint: Baylor University Press
Sales Date: 2021-08-15
215 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- Published: August 2021
Persecution of Christians in the Middle East has been a recurring theme since the middle of the nineteenth century. The topic has experienced a resurgence in the last few years, especially during the Trump era. Middle Eastern Christians are often portrayed as a homogeneous, helpless group ever at the mercy of their Muslim enemies, a situation that only Western powers can remedy. The Politics of Persecution revisits this narrative with a critical eye.
Mitri Raheb charts the plight of Christians in the Middle East from the invasion of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 to the so-called Arab Spring. The book analyzes the diverse socioeconomic and political factors that led to the diminishing role and numbers of Christians in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan during the eras of Ottoman, French, and British Empires, through the eras of independence, Pan-Arabism, and Pan-Islamism, and into the current era of American empire. With an incisive exposé of the politics that lie behind alleged concerns for these persecuted Christians—and how the concept of persecution has been a tool of public diplomacy and international politics—Raheb reveals that Middle Eastern Christians have been repeatedly sacrificed on the altar of Western national interests. The West has been part of the problem for Middle Eastern Christianity and not part of the solution, from the massacre on Mount Lebanon to the rise of ISIS.
The Politics of Persecution, written by a well-known Palestinian Christian theologian, provides an insider perspective on this contested region. Middle Eastern Christians survived successive empires by developing great elasticity in adjusting to changing contexts; they learned how to survive atrocities and how to resist creatively while maintaining a dynamic identity. In this light, Raheb casts the history of Middle Eastern Christians not so much as one of persecution but as one of resilience.
Introduction1 Under Ottoman Rule2 Religious Mobility3 A Massacre on Mount Lebanon4 Agents of Renaissance5 Christian Zionism6 The Road to Genocide7 Minorities in Nation-States8 A Catastrophe9 Arab and Christian10 A Turning Point11 Petrodollars12 Challenging TimesEpilogue
Mitri Raheb's The Politics of Persecution offers a trove of information and analysis for any Christians fascinated by the Holy Land and its neighbors. But beyond this, it will be of great interest to general readers of all kinds, basically for anyone interested in the emergence of the Modern Middle East. Raheb addresses many topics and issues that are presently barely known to nonspecialists, and he does a real service in describing so many of these episodes in lucid and approachable terms. The Politics of Persecution is ambitious in scope, thoroughly researched, and amply deserving a wide readership.~Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History, Baylor University
Rev. Mitri Raheb's book goes deep in our collective historical consciousness. Those who made research on the persecution of Christians and the atrocities, massacres, and confiscation of wealth that they have been through understand better his concerns. Linking persecution to the different dimensions of our existence helps us see the broader scenery that led to what we have been experiencing for centuries and which is being accelerated with the changes that occur in the world order and the game of nations. This book puts before us a challenge by highlighting the reality that preserving our presence and safeguarding our dignity in the cradle of Christianity requires unprecedented approaches and a renewed role which we are called to define. While this book has been 'written by a native Palestinian Christian theologian who has spent his entire life in the region and is committed to continue living here,' this endorsement is written by a native Levantine Christian from Beirut who almost never left the area, who is keen on remaining on his land, and who has been always preaching this to his children as well as to his students. Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb opens, through his book, and without even having met me, a dialogue with my very being.~Michel E. Abs, Secretary General, The Middle East Council of Churches
The Politics of Persecution is an outstanding demystification of the history of Middle East Christians under imperialism. Mitri Raheb offers an erudite study that exposes the pernicious dead ends of Western hegemonic discourses and practices. By employing thoughtful decolonial lenses, he convincingly repositions Middle Eastern Christians in networks of local and regional struggles that open the door for groundbreaking transnational solidarities. This is a must-read by anyone interested in decolonial studies, tiberation theologies, Palestine/Israel, conflict and peace studies, interreligious conversations, and global struggles for justice.~Santiago Slabodsky, Florence and Robert Kaufman Chair in Jewish Studies, Hofstra University–New York
Dr. Mitri Raheb is a pastor, university president, community developer, author, and as this volume demonstrates, he is also a compelling scholar. This book provides a historical analysis of the Palestinian church in response to the relentless political and ecclesiastical agendas in the Middle East. As he convincingly argues, the story of the church in Palestine is a compelling testimony of resilience.~M. Craig Barnes, President, Princeton Theological Seminary
In The Politics of Persecution, Mitri Raheb persuasively demonstrates how the language of 'persecution' has been selectively employed over the past century by Western imperial powers to justify both colonial interventions in the 19th and 20th centuries and contemporary incursions here in the 21st in the MENA region. He argues that both have created vs. mitigated political and social instabilities that are too often simplistically rendered as narrowly sectarian; where 'religious minorities' are 'persecuted' and in need of saving by the very Western powers that created the instability in the first place. His particular focus is Arab Christians, and he counters the portrayal of them as victims with a fulsome and rich representation of Arab Christians as diverse, creative, and resilient. This is a timely, concise, and accessible volume that should be widely read by those concerned with 'religious freedom' in the MENA region.~Diane L. Moore, Faculty Director of Religion and Public Life and Lecturer on Religion, Conflict, and Peace, Harvard Divinity School
Raheb touches upon a critical theme in the geopolitics of the Middle East: the persecution of Christians. While tracing the development of the Christian Community under the Millet system of the Ottoman Empire and chronicling the Massacre at Mount Lebanon and the Armenian Genocide, he argues that this notion is a 'western construct' used as a pretext by colonial powers in Europe and the United States to promote their interest in the region. Sustained by an Orientalist view of the region and its people, this construct has had a nefarious consequence for the Middle East: 'the instrumentalization of religion for socio-political gain.'~Rafael Malpica Padilla, Executive Director, Service and Justice, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Raheb's new book offers a fresh approach to Christianity in the modern Middle East and an urgently needed challenge to portrayals of Middle Eastern Christians as passive victims of religious persecution. In mapping the geopolitical and demographic shifts in the region over the past two centuries, The Politics of Persecution links such simplistic persecution narratives to colonialist agendas. This rich study gives careful attention to the national, ethno-linguistic, denominational, and interreligious contexts within which Middle Eastern Christians have responded to these complex changes. Raheb invites students, researchers, and Christian readers in the West to listen to the voices of Middle Eastern Christians and celebrate their communities' resilience.~Deanna Ferree Womack, Assistant Professor of History of Religions and Multifaith Relations, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian theological master of our era, examines critically and through a timely decolonial lens the predicament of Middle Eastern Christians in the age of empire. Mitri's book is an act of revolutionary love, walking Jesus' path, and navigating the painful, complex resilience of Christian communities in the most difficult period in the region's history and Palestine in particular. The book is a must-read for anyone wanting to delve into the multifaceted history, appreciate the depth of coverage, and engage Middle Eastern Christians dialoguing from within their unique epistemology and lived experiences. Middle Eastern Christians speaking for themselves about themselves and the world is the foundation of Mitri's book, which is more needed in the age of empire than at any other time. A spiritual light and a message of hope from the heart of Bethlehem.~Hatem Bazian, Teaching Professor in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-founder, Zaytuna College
Raheb gives an insider's perspective on Middle Eastern Christians that provides historical context, contemporary analysis, and critical reflection standing in sharp contrast to much of the discourse on Middle Eastern Christians heard in the West. Raheb uncovers the genealogy of much of that discourse, which describes Christians as victims and Muslims as persecutors.... Raheb convincingly demonstrates how European powers used discourse about Christian persecution to further their own interests, a prefiguring of the discourse and practice of right-wing politicians in the United States in our own time.~David Neuhaus, Commonweal
Lutheran pastor and Palestinian civic leader Mitri Raheb has written an important work that counters much of the literature written in the past decades that predicts the disappearance of Middle Eastern Christians, presenting them as a persecuted minority in a hostile Muslim Arab world. Rejecting the category of victimhood, Raheb insists that he and his community are ever-resilient actors in the events that unfold in the Middle East today. Raheb’s insider perspective provides historical context, contemporary analysis and critical reflection in contrast with the discourse of gloom and doom.~David M. Neuhaus SJ, Mission Studies