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Important but more descriptive than explanatory
on 28 April 2015
I salute Ed West for drawing attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East, but as a student of history in the area, I have reservations about his approach and handling of the subject. One has the impression of a huge mosaic of press cuttings glued to each other, rather than an attempt to explain the problem in terms of the sociology, legal institutions, and history of the region. On some bits of history, e.g. the Young Turks, I think any specialist would say he is just plain wrong or at least one dimensional--he does not seem to know that the Young Turks came to power as allies of the Armenian Dashing--and he also does not factor the nationalist movements of the Christian minorities in the Middle East into his analysis, with the occasional partial exception. This is no doubt because of the nature of his sources -- Christian accounts of persecution rather than historical analysis--and the dualistic perceptions which arrive from handling it that way. In West's narrative, 'crowds of Muslims' attack Christians. This is much too simplistic. Which Muslims? Organised by whom and for what purpose and how? What were the energising or radicalising factors? Otherwise we simply have the 'bad guy theory of history' which is misleading and dangerous.
Nor does West analyse why the Western powers, which interfered endlessly on behalf of Middle Easter Christians in the 19th century, without it must be said doing them much good, turn their eyes away today? The answer lies in fairly obvious changes in Western society, but they should be spelt out. It is good however that West underscores the fact that the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 produced an Islamist constitution and the eviction of ancient Christian populations. The same is, in some degree, of course also true in Syria.
However as a marker for a terrible episode, and one which everyone, Muslim, Christian, or agnostic, should face up to, this is a timely and useful book. It is a pity that it does not do full justice to the complexities of the situation there.