Postmodern Conservative

Ted Cruz and the Difficulty of Defending Islam-Endangered Christians

Lots of folks are making the controversy about Ted Cruz’s provocatively pro-Israel remarks at the In Defence of Christians Conference (IDC) into the usual sort of dichotomous choice.  There are those saying either you’re with Cruz and Israel, or you’re with the Israel haters, or perhaps, with the specialized conservative-demonizers (these being either the usual liberal hacks or the tendentious smarter-than-thou set of “conservative” critics of political conservatism).  And, there are those saying either you’re totally against what Cruz said, or, you approve of cynical conservative showmanship which we all know that Cruz practices 100% of the time, and specifically, that in this case you’re approving of his bid to win points with American hawks, evangelicals, and Jews, by playing a gotcha game with a uniquely vulnerable group, Middle-Eastern Christians.  

I wish I could tell you it’s a cooked-up controversy that you don’t need to wade into.  The short of it is that Ted Cruz is not sullied by it, if that’s all you care about.  

But if like myself, you think about how American foreign policy, and thus American partisan politics, can do more to protect Christians in the Middle-East and Africa from Islamic oppression and terrorism (how to best protect Christians in China and similar non-Islamic despotisms is a fairly distinct issue), then this little incident cannot but be important to you.

Lacking the time to describe the incident myself, here’s what you should do if you haven’t read about it already:  1) Go the Powerline account, one of the earlier reports on the incident, and which has a full video of Cruz’s speech, 2) read the NRO report of Kathryn Jean Lopez, who was at the conference and sympathizes with some of the criticism of Cruz, and then 3) Rod Dreher’s attempt to sort out the issue, with ample quotes from and links to relevant voices. (I posted a comment in the Lopez piece’s thread, BTW.)

Dreher’s is probably the best of these three accounts in getting you to see what’s at stake, although it errs a bit by accepting too uncritically the idea that most of the Middle-East Christian conference attendees would be themselves be put in danger by applauding pro-Israel statements.  And it also does not adequately consider the mix of motives Cruz may have had.  Dreher’s overall tone–echoing some of the folks he is quoting–is just too harsh on Cruz, which may account for some of the horrid comments his piece elicits; of course the venue, The American Conservative, also accounts for that.

My take is that Cruz should not have spoken quite in the way he did, although I admire his articulation of the key principle that to stand against Islamist oppression and slaughter of Christians, is logically to also stand against it when it comes to the Jews.  I think if Cruz had a Jordanian-American Christian friend, as I do, he would have known that what he was planning to say was inappropriate for that venue.    

So why did he do it?  I think the more charitable position is far more logical:  a combination of being a bit unschooled, like most Americans, in Middle-Eastern Christian ways and their overall predicament, along with his desire to make a principled stand against the toleration of Israel-hatred (and worse) among some Middle-East Christian leaders he just had learned about from reading a Free Beacon article shortly before the conference, led to his making the speech he did.  It was a calculated political ploy, and effort to pull something like Clinton’s Sister Souljah moment, but largely in the service of a good cause as Cruz understood it.  I do not see how we can assume that he knew that his speech would put the hosts of the conference in an undeserved-ly awkward spot, arguably for some attendees even a dangerous spot.  

The larger issue this points to is the following:  I think we do need to move towards a foreign policy that more aggressively seeks to defend Christians from Muslim aggressors.  Nations need to hear more forcefully that they will lose funding, and invite trade sanctions, or even interventions, if they support or permit the killings of Christians.  This applies especially those nations on the Muslim/non-Muslim borderlands: i.e., Nigeria, Kenya, etc.  

 

Sometimes we hear liberals talk-up how tolerant, say, the Ottoman Empire was towards Christians back in the beautiful days before imperialism, anti-Muslim prejudice, and blind-Israel-support made the West so hated in the Middle-East, and thus made life tough for Christians.  John Rawls even made the Ottoman Empire of the 1800s the implicit model of the sort of “Decent Hierarchical People” that the Liberal Peoples of the rest of the world could deal with in his liberal-theory-applied-to-world-affairs book The Law of Peoples.  But the Ottoman Empire was in large part comparatively decent to its Christian minorities only because Christian imperialist nations (I can’t say “Western” here, because Russia was involved) began to pressure it relentlessly on this.  Nor would the Ottoman/Turkish record be very reassuring on these issues if we were to rewind the tape back to before the 1800s, or start it again with the Armenian genocide.  Put Elian Kazan’s tale of his own Greek Christian family’s travails in the Ottoman Empire, America, America! on your Netflix queue to see what that record looks like from personal experience.  

I mention the Ottoman Empire precisely to point to the fact that outside pressure in favor of the rights of Middle-East Christians need not make things worse for those it intends to protect. Obviously, it also can make things worse, and often has in our time.  

Now I don’t know the answers with respect to how the West or the U.S. best defends Christians in our day against Islamic states, mobs, and terrorists. I imagine the issue differs with respect to Egypt, to Lebanon, to “Palestine,” to Algeria, etc.  Nor do I know how best to handle the explosive issues of conversion to Christianity, of Muslim-Christian intermarriage, and the possibility of lapsed Christians using their customarily more-lax community moral law in ways that undermine the laws of Muslims.  (No Glen Reynolds, inviting us all to celebrate the advent of “democracy, whiskey, sexy!” in an America-liberated Iraq did not help anyone with that last issue.)  I do think the apparently more-explosive issue of support or not for Israel might in the future become less dangerous for Middle-East Christians, because it is so apparent by now that the old (Lebanese-Christian-originated) dream of an “Arab Nationalism” that bridges the Christian-Muslim divide is dead.  As such, the need for the common enemy of Israel doesn’t need to live on.

Additionally, Arab Christians by now see that hopes placed in Palestinian independence are likewise fruitless, having become hijacked by Hamas and other no-hopers.  The only hope for Middle-East Christians for remaining in their ancestral homelands, beyond a-not-to-be-expected fading-away of Islam, is a revival of “national nationalism,” i.e, Egyptian nationalism, Jordanian, Tunisian, etc.  (Alas, I have nearly too little hope for Iraqi nationalism to even put it on the list!)  Such nationalism does not so much need Israel as a uniting enemy the way Arab nationalism or Islamism does. Such nationalism perhaps can take pride in economic development, and even a measure of liberalism and democracy. 

Americans who actually care about this, however, do need to listen to and consult with the Islam-threatened Christians around the world.  And that is what Cruz did not take adequate pains to do.  

Not that he is the only one with something to learn from this.  It likely is the case that not a few Middle-Eastern Christian leaders and spokesmen have turned their communities’ self-protecting need to seem opposed to Israel on most issues into an actual creed, and/or have become, Al Sharpton-like, exploitative leaders who thrive in a situation in which certain obvious truths are made taboo.  Middle-East Christians must know, as they cast about for what support they choose to, that there is a limit to how far their potentially most-effective defenders, that is, American conservatives, can tolerate auto-pilot anti-Israelism, regardless of the rationale for it.  It seems to me that for the past two decades, since the demise of Arab nationalism before the tide of resurgent Islamism, the gloves have pretty much been off anyhow with respect to the remaining Christians in Middle-Eastern nations, and in “Palestine” in particular.  No-one’s fooling anyone with rote anti-Israel talk, nor is Israel at the center anymore of the key M.E. issues.  The Islamists know that every Christian wants to live in a state that forbids Islamist governance.  Who can care so much about the West Bank and such anymore when it’s the war for public opinion in places like Cairo that will really decide the fate of Middle-East Christians and of the Islamist parties?  

Easy reasoning for me of course, who doesn’t have to live or die with the consequences of a wrong decision in these matters, and whose heart was never given the charge of treasuring my grandparents’ memories of say, a Beirut, an Antioch, or a Jerusalem that once was, and which never will return in our lifetimes.

But back to what is easier to judge, the case of Ted Cruz.  Now my bottom line, again, is that he was not really sullied by this.  But despite that, despite, you might say, the fact that this episode gives us just about equal reasons to admire and to be disappointed in him, I think he should apologize to the conference organizers.  It should not be an apology that at all suggests that the content of his message was false, or that there weren’t some at that conference who need to hear it, and be called out on it by someone. Rather, it should be one that says he was inadequately aware of how his remarks might put certain attendees into a tight spot, ultimately in terms of their own or their communities safety.  He should confess that that ignorance was of his own making, as was his too-quick instinct to go for the dramatic moral moment, while denying the low motives that his critics have ascribed to his action.  

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