Ted Cruz and the Friends of Our Enemies

 

Do Christians in the Middle East — specifically in Syria and the surrounding countries — deserve our contempt or our sympathy?

According to Ted Cruz and Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post, “contempt” about sums it up. Levantine Christians have often allied themselves with the likes of the Assads and the Husseins, and oppose Israel, often with flourishes that would quicken the hearts of the worst kind of Anti-semites.  In short, they support bad actors and oppose our friends.

Ross Douthat, however, argues that some restraint and sympathy are in order. Christians in the region are too scattered and too few in number to defend themselves; long faced with the genocidal hatred that ISIS has harnessed, they allied themselves with Baathist strongmen who can offer power and protection in exchange for loyalty. That Baathism is motivated by Arab nationalism (in which the Christians could participate) rather than Muslim hegemony (in which they could not) made the decision all the more obvious.  The Assads, after all, are Alawite and Michel Aflaq was a Christian.

The sad truth may be that both judgements are equally true. Faced with murderous Islamists on one side and Baathist thugs on the other, it’s not hard to see how joining the latter is — objectively — the superior choice for Middle Eastern Christians. On the other hand, the necessity of that choice doesn’t obviate one of responsibility for the actions of the side one joins, even if doing so as a weak minority.

In our contempt for moral relativism — particularly on easy questions — we sometimes act as if all moral calculations are a matter of basic arithmetic. Sometimes, however, it’s vastly more complicated and involves solving for multiple variables at the same time.: That it sometimes doable, but it’s always much harder.

There are 20 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    I vote for sympathetic criticism.

    The Arab Christian audience that booed Ted Cruz would have been risking their families’ lives if they had endorsed his support for Israel.  They already walk a tightrope in the region.  Demanding that they submit wholeheartedly to the pro-Israel position without being able to guarantee their safety from Islamist reprisal is unreasonable. They aren’t like north american Christian leftists who have the luxury of protesting Israel while also enjoying the luxuries of a wealthy, free & democratic society.

    • #1
  2. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    I actually believe there is zero moral culpability with what is essentially Stockholm syndrome. If your only chance at a reasonable existence is to pay lip service to some thugs, well then that’s what you gotta do. You are not responsible for any of their actions.

    • #2
  3. user_75648 Thatcher
    user_75648
    @JohnHendrix

    Misthiocracy:I vote for sympathetic criticism.

    The Arab Christian audience that booed Ted Cruz would have been risking their families’ lives if they had endorsed his support for Israel. They already walk a tightrope in the region. Demanding that they submit wholeheartedly to the pro-Israel position without being able to guarantee their safety from Islamist reprisal is unreasonable. They aren’t like north american Christian leftists who have the luxury of protesting Israel while also enjoying the luxuries of a wealthy, free & democratic society.

    I would agree with you if this conference occurred in Syria. Individuals and countries are capable of doing unsavory things to preserve themselves.  For example, during WWII  America stained her honor forever by becoming an ally of the odious Stalin.

    But this conference was located in the U.S.  The members of the audience had anonymity; no would know who didn’t heckle Cruz.  As far as I can tell the hecklers at that conference weren’t under duress.

    • #3
  4. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    John Hendrix:

    Misthiocracy:I vote for sympathetic criticism.

    The Arab Christian audience that booed Ted Cruz would have been risking their families’ lives if they had endorsed his support for Israel. They already walk a tightrope in the region. Demanding that they submit wholeheartedly to the pro-Israel position without being able to guarantee their safety from Islamist reprisal is unreasonable. They aren’t like north american Christian leftists who have the luxury of protesting Israel while also enjoying the luxuries of a wealthy, free & democratic society.

    I would agree with you if this conference occurred in Syria. Individuals and countries are capable of doing unsavory things to preserve themselves. For example, during WWII America stained her honor forever by becoming an ally of the odious Stalin.

    But this conference was located in the U.S. The members of the audience had anonymity; no would know who didn’t heckle Cruz. As far as I can tell the hecklers at that conference weren’t under duress.

    I agree that they were wrong to heckle. That was simply rude. It would have been better to sit on their hands during the bits they didn’t like, to listen to Cruz’s entire speech, and then to debate the pros and cons of what he said.

    Where I’m less likely to wag my finger is at the positions of ancient Christian communities living under regimes that are far removed from anything I have ever experienced in my privileged Western life.

    • #4
  5. user_1126573 Member
    user_1126573
    @

    I’m in the camp that believes Cruz was deliberately trying to be provocative. He has a point that the hate Israel and the jews face from ISIS and other fundamentalist groups in the region are driven by the same evil ideology that threatens christians in the ME. He also is right to say that jews and christians in the region need to support each other. However, there was no reason to lead off his speech with these points and try to push them so emphatically right at the outset.

    I mean most people invited to address a group that is facing genocide would start by acknowledging how dire the situation is and point to the obstacles that the christians face there. From there it would make sense to discuss ways christians in this country and the US government might help in overcoming those obstacles. Instead Cruz, who had been warned explicitly about the divisions in the crowd over Israeli policies, chose within 90 seconds to start lecturing ME christians that they need to turn to Israel. The christians didn’t come to be told what they should think about Israel, they came to shine a light on their awful plight and find out what support they could get from people in the US. It was a really a cynical and condescending performance.

    I think upon being told about the factions in the room that resented Israel’s actions and treatment of Palestinians Cruz was worried that some may be able to call his support of Israel into question. But rather than withdrawing from the conference, he decided to turn this conference into an opportunity put his pro-Israel bona fides front and center. The existential threat being faced by those in the room took a back seat to Cruz’s strength with an important part of the base and all the monetary support they will be able to give him.

    Typical disgusting, self-serving political theater from Mr. Cruz.

    • #5
  6. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    While it is easy for the one not facing martyrdom to say -there are worse things than death.

    I like to think that when things go to hell here, I won’t throw in with the Fascists just to save my own neck.

    So I can be sympathetic, but unlike MikeH I can’t justify holding them blameless.

    • #6
  7. user_1126573 Member
    user_1126573
    @

    That’s brave talk, and no doubt a lot of people without children would resist. However, choosing martyrdom for yourself is one thing, choosing martyrdom or life as orphans for your children is quite another. There is no fair way to impugn the morality or courage of people facing that choice.

    • #7
  8. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    John Wilson: There is no fair way to impugn the morality or courage of people facing that choice.

    Impugn? Perhaps not. Criticize with sympathy? Perhaps so.

    • #8
  9. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I’ve been sitting on a related subject for a couple years now, because I haven’t figured out how to broach the topic without starting a Mid-East scale conflagration on Ricochet. But, this seems like the appropriate time and place to bring it up. Twice a year my parish has a Christian family visit from Bethlehem to sell their olive wood carvings. And twice a year we hear from one of the men about their mistreatment in Bethlehem by the Israelis.

    Apparently, they’re unable to leave the city (to travel into Jerusalem nearby or anywhere else) without getting their papers in order weeks or months in advance. I think I have some sense of both sides of the issue (Israel can’t risk Palestinian suicide bombers entering, and so restricts even the Christians), but when you hear it from people suffering the consequences of someone else’s crimes, it’s impossible not to feel sympathetic.

    I’m wondering if anyone has another perspective.

    • #9
  10. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Sabrdance:While it is easy for the one not facing martyrdom to say -there are worse things than death.

    I like to think that when things go to hell here, I won’t throw in with the Fascists just to save my own neck.

    So I can be sympathetic, but unlike MikeH I can’t justify holding them blameless.

    If all the anti-fascists are dead, how is there any hope? The key is to bide your time.

    • #10
  11. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    I don’t understand why so many people here are convinced that they know better than Middle Eastern Christians when it comes to identifying Middle Eastern Christian’s allies and friends (and enemies).

    • #11
  12. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Dhimmitude is at best a zero sum game.

    Zafar:I don’t understand why so many people here are convinced that they know better than Middle Eastern Christians when it comes to identifying Middle Eastern Christian’s allies and friends (and enemies).

    You’re conflating two things and ignoring a third. Conflating what MECs have to do to survive in what is at best a zero sum game – here your criticism of those convinced they know better is apt –  and whether it is wise for the US to welcome covert Hezbollah and Iranian proxies (as happened  with Muslim Brotherhood influence operations) or at the very least whether it’s wise to allow IDC to be (or become) and Iranian front without at least calling attention to it.

    Ignoring antisemitism and replacement theology. Again, one can understand. One  need not stand with uncritically.

    Is family at home hostage to MEC behavior in the US? Probably. But if so, whose agenda will IDC serve?

    • #12
  13. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Ontheleftcoast:Dhimmitude is at best a zero sum game.

    True. But is that the only option for ME Christians other than migration?

    When Christians in Northern Iraq were offered Dhimmi status by ISIS they preferred to leave for the (still Muslim majority) Kurdish region – where they were not discriminated against in that way.

    Christians in Iraq (under Saddam Hussain) in Syria (under the Assads) in Jordan (under the Hashemites) and even in Egypt (under Sissi ) do not live as dhimmis. They are not forced to pay jizya or convert.  All of these countries are Muslim majority.

    Insisting that we know better than ME Christians what it means for them to live in the Middle East strikes me as foolish.  Insisting that we know their motivations for disagreeing with us – they have to say what they do or their families at home would suffer – is arrogant.  Perhaps they disagree with us because they think we’re wrong – and since it’s about their lives and lived experiences, perhaps they’re right.

    I’ve no doubt that many Arab Christians are anti-Semitic.  But insisting that Israel is their best ally in the region, even though the Nakba and Naksa affected Palestinian Christians as well as Palestinian Muslims, and the wars with Lebanon affected Christian as well as Muslim Lebanese, seems wilfully blind to reality. They wouldn’t have to be anti-Semitic to find that offensive.

    By speaking and acting as he did, Cruz told them he was interested in them helping him to make a rhetorical point, but he wasn’t really interested in actually helping them at all. No wonder they were angry.

    • #13
  14. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    I think this illustrates Ted Cruz 1st order thinking on these issues. No doubt Cruz is brilliant, but when it comes to ME policy he seems to know nothing beyond Israel Good. That’s a fine position to hold, but I think the audience he was addressing required a bit more nuance than that.

    In the end this was just rank demagoguery and an example of a politician shoring up his base. This will only make him more popular with those that already would vote for him. It will do little to expand his appeal.

    • #14
  15. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    The fire has been turned up under the dhimmi frogs in the Muslim cauldron. Kurdistan is no doubt a cooler eddy… For now, anyway. My Coptic co-worker, whose family fled Mubarak’s Egypt due to Muslim oppression, was beside herself with worry for her relatives and coreligionists when the MB ran things, and relieved when al Sisi took over. She still worries, since being treated OK by an autocrat trying to keep the lid on jihad isn’t a very secure status.

    So long term, you’re probably right about migration.

    Looked at from the outside, Israel IS their best ally in the region. I understand it that for a lot of them it doesn’t look like that from the inside. Most certainly don’t hold Cruz’s theology, which sees God’s covenant with the Jewish people as eternal and very consequential; the leaders of ( at least) the Melkite Church — a core IDC constituency — believe that there is no chosen people these days, and blame the massacre of Christians by Muslims — the very thing IDC states it wants to prevent — on a Zionist conspiracy to discredit Islam. That is either bat(against CoC) crazy, nauseating even if done to ingratiate them with monsters holding their people at home hostage… Or evil. Or some combination therof.

    What would you suggest Cruz the Christian-who-doesn’t-want-to-lend-aid-and-comfort-to-anti-Semites do? Or, if Cruz shares my suspicions (which I base on what I know of Communist front organizations) that IDC looks suspiciously like an Iranian front, what should Cruz-the-patriot or Cruz-the-politician do?

    • #15
  16. user_1126573 Member
    user_1126573
    @

    Ontheleftcoast:Looked at from the outside, Israel IS their best ally in the region.

    Not really. They may offer the best example of tolerance and be the best place for christians to live in the ME. That isn’t the same thing as being an ally. Ross Douthat takes this argument apart in his column today. Here is an excerpt which explains ME christians perspective vis-a-vis Israel’s friendship to ME christians.

    the relationships of most of the people in Cruz’s audience — are of course extremely fraught. Start with Palestinian Christians, who (if they haven’t emigrated) live under Israeli occupation, with all that that experience entails. One can accept the occupation as necessary to Israeli security, surely, without also expecting people who endure it — and its impositionson their faith — to regard their occupier as their greatest ally. Then continue to Lebanese Christians (probably the largest group at the conference), who have allied with Israel in various contexts across the decades, with results that (as Harsanyi concedes) left a lot of bitter feelings among Maronite Christians; indeed, there are many Lebanese Christians who feel like they have to cut deals with Hezbollah today precisely because the Israelis abandoned them following its interventions in Lebanon’s internal conflicts. Maybe this perception is mistaken or unreasonable, but it still exists, often as a raw wound, in which words like Cruz’s would necessarily rub salt … and to what end?

    Then beyond the Palestinians and Lebanese you have Christians from Iraq and Syria and elsewhere, for whom Israel and Israeli policy are often just irrelevant to their everyday situation. Not always or inevitably: I appreciate Seth Mandel’s intervention on this point, arguing that both the Israeli government and Israeli citizens have done more for persecuted Christians behind the scenes than is often appreciated. But if you’re a Christian in the zone of persecution right now, your immediate sources of help are likely to be Kurds or Americans, not Israelis, and the idea that your leaders need to publicly “stand with Israel” or form some kind of united front against terror is at best a non sequitur, at worst an active danger to your position.

    Indeed, that danger exists all over the Middle East, not just in Iraq and eastern Syria: As Rod Dreher notes, Christians in countries like Egypt are regularly denounced as agents of Zionism to whip up persecutions against them, and frequently attacked (as in the example he cites) for incautious words uttered when traveling abroad. So given that reality, asking persecuted Christians to identify as Israel’s allies and applaud Israeli policy is to pile yet another potential peril on their heads.

    A recognition of that point was absent from Cruz’s rhetoric,

    • #16
  17. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    I don’t expect persecuted Christians to identify as Israel’s allies. The can’t afford to. Besides, being slaughtered by fellow Arabs is much more honorable than being killed by Jews. The Palestinians tried to overthrow the Jordanian government, and when Jordan responded in kind, they did things to Palestinians at least as bad as what Israel did, but the old “me against my brother, my brother and I against our cousin, and the whole tribe against the international Zionist conspiracy” comes to mind.

    My two bit theory is that the tribe is the hardwired unit of social organization. Islam capitalized on that, and is still out there looting based on that paradigm. By contrast, Israel is trying to work out how to be a modern country with tribal roots, and how to integrate an ancient religious legal code with modernity.

    The jury is still out on that effort, but just from a demographic standpoint, Israel is doing a heck of a lot better than the European social democracies… (and I think the MECs, too, though I may be wrong about that.) Even secular Israelis are reproducing at above replacement levels. Israel may be the Middle East’s best laboratory for how to do it. Israel’s undereducated and underproductive religious sector is the big problem for the near and medium term, but if Israel can pull it off, it will be good even for those who don’t like Israel.

    The fact that MECs would rather cut their noses off to spite their faces even when they’r not under jihadi guns may be understandable, but it’s not smart. Meanwhile, Israel is a bit better able to stand up to the kind of international pressure that let Arafat off the hook and let Hezbollah build up its army. And what do you know. Back to Iranian proxies, which is where the whole stink about IDC started off.

    • #17
  18. user_1126573 Member
    user_1126573
    @

    Ontheleftcoast:

    being slaughtered by fellow Arabs is much more honorable than being killed by Jews.

    This is just a cheap shot. That you think glib, simplistic snark is a productive way to discuss the plight of people being crucified and slaughter when they’re not caught in the crossfire of muslims vs. jews and muslims vs. muslims baffles me. But it doesn’t lend any moral weight to your criticism of ME christians and their views toward Israel. In fact it pretty much undermines it.

     Israel is trying to work out how to be a modern country with tribal roots, and how to integrate an ancient religious legal code with modernity.

    The jury is still out on that effort, but just from a demographic standpoint, Israel is doing a heck of a lot better than the European social democracies

    Yes, Israel is good country that we should support, that’s not really being disputed. People who are mad at Cruz, aren’t saying that Israel is evil or doing something wrong. We’re pointing out that if we are going to cut Israel slack for the tough, lesser of two (or more) evils choices they have to make to defend themselves, it’s only fair to extend that understanding to ME christians who are on the brink of extinction, without the wherewithal that Israel has.

    The fact that MECs would rather cut their noses off to spite their faces even when they’r not under jihadi guns may be understandable, but it’s not smart.

    Again, this is simply a cheap shot. I think if you want to draw such sweeping and judgmental conclusions you should probably have something to back them up. First of all, ME christians aren’t a monolith, so I think you should focus your denunciations with a bit more precision and at the very least acknowledge that Cruz didn’t just give the finger to the people who were booing him, but ME christians as a whole, giving short shrift to the cause of people who weren’t upset with him just as much as those who were. That’s unjust.

    What’s more of those who may deserve criticism for their attitudes, I think the idea that they should just be more rational about their situation is more than a little presumptuous. ME christians are a diffuse and isolated group with historical memories that go back a lot farther than 70 years. So any assessment as to the rationality or intelligence of their behavior, if it is to be seen as worthwhile, should at the least make a token effort at stipulating precisely choices in the ME christians should regret and layout why that behavior is indefensible and stupid, and ideally it would explore what the realistic, viable options were that they foolishly passed up. Otherwise, presuming you have the background, insight, and wisdom to sit in judgement of their understanding of their plight and what constitutes “smart” behavior on their part is plain old arrogant douchebaggery

    • #18
  19. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Ontheleftcoast:Looked at from the outside, Israel IS their best ally in the region.

    Israel may be your best ally in the region, but that doesn’t automatically make it an ally of Middle Eastern Christians.

    The blind assumption that it should is where Cruz fell down – and where he disappointed his audience. 

    What should Cruz do? Imo manage expectations – both at home and abroad – wrt common interests for Christians in the US and the Middle East.

    • #19
  20. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    IDC met in Washington. It is engaged in the American political arena. Iran is America’s enemy. An organization that promotes Iran’s interests in America is not a good citizen. Calling out Iranian front groups, or factions within a group that seek to turn an organization founded for innocent purposes should not be allowed to stand. It may have been said in a snarky manner, but I stand behind what I said: MECs in America, which is what I meant by “not under jihadi guns” should not indulge their old prejudices and habits which do not serve their current position.

    Antisemites should not be given prestige and influence. They should be marginalized, not featured as speakers on an American platform, let alone a Christian platform in America.* 

    Another thing they can do is is not to promote Iranian interests beyond what they need to for their people back home to survive. Being Iranian agents of influence in the USA should be called out; Cruz was doing that. It would be better if this were done publicly by their brethren if possible.

    While Iran is in IS’ sights, and  it is a tempting thought to let IS and Iran fight it out, for many reasons it is not a desirable outcome. Right now Iran is trying to keep the fighting in the territories of its neighboring proxies while it develops the nuclear arsenal it began to build to commit genocide against Israel, cement the mullah’s rule over a dissatisfied populace and provide a nuclear umbrella for Iran’s regional hegemonic goals. Despite the likely enmity between Iran and IS, when Iran seeks to evade nuclear inspection and weaken sanctions, it should be opposed. Hezbollah is not a force for good. It should be opposed to the extent possible.

    *For example, the leaders of  the Melkite church are vicious antisemites.   Antisemitism should be boycotted and sanctioned.

     The Melkites are connected to the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church works hard to purge its theology from antisemitism, and should engage Melkites and other other antisemitic theologies on theological grounds to antidote the poison they spread.  Clergy who promote antisemitism should be marginalized in the US.. Not because it’s good for the Jews, but because antisemitism is bad for the world.

    • #20

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.