German Angst & Christian Martyrs

In a series of just published articles not so subtly titled Murderers and Martyrs: The Difficult Struggle of Christians in the Orient, the German newsmagazine Spiegel details the sorry plight of Christians in Egypt and Pakistan.  Although the facts and reporting are unfortunately accurate, this is sure to ratchet up the already considerable levels of hysteria in the West about the nature of “Islam” and “Muslim countries.”

Whether unwittingly or deliberately, the series title immediately brings to mind Edward Said’s Orientalism, in which Said took particular aim at historian Bernard Lewis for essentializing and demonizing all things Muslim:

[Lewis] proclaim[s] that Islam is an irrational herd or mass phenomenon, ruling Muslims by passions, instincts, and unreflecting hatreds. The whole point of this exposition is to frighten his audience, to make it never yield an inch to Islam. According to Lewis, Islam does not develop, and neither do Muslims; they merely are, and they are to be watched, on account of that pure essence of theirs (according to Lewis), which happens to include a long-standing hatred of Christians and Jews.

Ironically, Said was specifically condemning British and American constructions of the Orient and explicitly excluded German Orientalism, which he considered to have a “clean” — or a non-colonial, non-imperial — past.  With the German gaze now firmly fixated on Muslims in their midst and the plight of fellow Christians in the Orient, I wonder whether Said (were he alive) would stand by this assessment today.

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