Did You Know that the Radicals of the Middle East Used to Be Christians?

News Abroad

Mr. Jenkins is the author, most recently, of Images of Terror: What We Can And Can't Know About Terrorism (Aldine De Gruyter).

Though Americans may be a little fuzzy about identifying their deadliest enemies in the Middle East, they have few doubts that the chief demon-figures are solidly Muslim. Thirty or so years ago, Palestinian Arab terrorists and hijackers clearly represented the deadliest threat to the West, only to be replaced in the 1980s by Shi'ite groups like Hizbullah, and more recently by the still deadlier al-Qaeda. Behind these frightening names lurk the so-called bandit-states, like Syria, Iran, Libya, and (until recently) Iraq -- all Arab, with the obvious exception of Iran. The names may vary, but at first sight, the story seems to be a straightforward case of radical Islam versus the West. Ever since September 11, a whole academic growth industry has traced the Islamic origins of terrorism and fanaticism, from Quranic calls to jihad through the history of the Assassins - though authors offer the obligatory nod to the peaceful and tolerant nature of Islam as a religion.

Just when the picture starts to become clear, though, we notice some odd features about the Muslim threat, namely that substantial sections of it do not appear Muslim at all. For years after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the public face of that nation's diplomacy was deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, who was born with the distinctly Christian name Michael Yuhanna. Hafiz al-Asad, who made Syria a bastion of Arab radicalism and anti-Israel fervor, was an Alawite, a member of a secretive esoteric sect that has only tenuous Islamic credentials, and Alawites control every organ of the Syrian state. Asad himself was surrounded by non-Muslim counselors. British author William Dalrymple suggests that by the 1990s, five out of Asad's seven closest advisors were Christian.

Until recently, Christians were still more obvious in the ranks of the Palestinian movements challenging Israel. At least until the rise of the Muslim movement Hamas in 1987, most of the notorious terrorist militants were men of Christian origin, like George Habash, Wadi Haddad, and Nayef Hawatmeh. Through the 1970s, a great deal of blood was shed as Palestinians tried to force Israel to release one of its most important captives, Hilarion Capucci, a Melkite Catholic bishop in communion with the Vatican. Bishop Capucci had been arrested for smuggling weapons for the PLO. Today, the suave symbol of the Palestinian cause in the West is yet another Christian, Hanan Ashrawi. In Palestinian history especially, armed Arab militancy looks rather more like a crusade than a jihad.

I stress the word "history," since this Christian role is fading fast. In Palestine today, as across the Middle East generally, non-Muslim populations are experiencing a steep decline in numbers and influence, while radical Islamic movements are in the ascendant. To that extent, the American stereotype of its enemies is accurate, or is becoming so. But if we want to understand the origins of Middle Eastern politics, and especially the region's heritage of extremism and violence, we have to move beyond the clichés about jihad, or indeed, about Islam in general. Often, the sources of Arab militancy, of radicalism and terrorism, lie entirely outside Islam, and should often be located in Europe.

This perspective is all the more important given the recent conflict with the Ba'thist regime of Iraq, a government that in many ways represents a fossil of the older politics of the region. This interpretation does not make the former Iraqi regime any more or less acceptable, but it might begin to explain the hotly debated relationship between Saddam's regime and "Islamism."

The reason non-Muslim minorities are so important in Middle Eastern affairs can be sketched quickly. Through the twentieth century, two key facts shaped Arab politics. The first was that of diversity. At least in mid-century, several of the most significant Arab lands were impressively heterogeneous in terms of ethnicity and religion. Though the mass of the population generally accepted the mainstream tradition of Sunni Islam, there were significant minority groups, such as the Christians. These minorities were often prosperous and educated, and politically active. Their leaders were increasingly alarmed about the rapid growth of Islam, which should be counted as the second critical trend. Looking at the very different birth rates found among the religious minorities and the poor Muslim masses, it was not difficult to predict a time when a politicized Islam would become an overwhelming social and cultural force.

Diversity in the Middle East

Contemplating the juggernaut power of Islam, especially in its Sunni form, Arab Christians and other minorities realized that their position in the Middle East would become intolerable, and they would be forced to emigrate or convert. The worst-case scenario involved a repetition of the horrendous massacres and expulsions that uprooted Christian communities across the Ottoman and Turkish worlds between 1915 and 1925. In responding to this threat, Christians tried to become the leaders of Arab politics, to create secular movements not defined by religion, to ensure that Christians and other minorities would not be overwhelmed by Muslim numbers.

This point about diversity may surprise Americans, who are used to thinking of their own land as the world's most varied, while Middle Eastern countries are seen as monolithically Muslim. Nothing could be further from the truth. By global standards, the United States is religiously quite homogeneous, since barely five percent of Americans follow non-Christian religions, while most "Muslim" countries traditionally include much larger minorities. These include the Christians, of course -- all those Anthonys, Michaels, and Georges who appear so regularly in the region's politics -- but also a variety of sects holding esoteric (batiniya) views that mainstream Muslims find very suspicious. Some, like the Alawites and Druzes, teach a kind of incarnationism, holding that God has appeared in human form. Even more horrifying for orthodox Muslims, some groups teach that God represents a Trinity, which includes the prophet's son-in-law, Ali. Whatever their exact doctrinal views -- and these are not easily revealed to outsiders -- these groups would have as much to fear from a rigid Sunni Muslim regime as would the Christians.

At least until recently, the scale of these minority populations was impressive. Though firm numbers are hard to come by, in the mid-twentieth century, Christians probably made up around 15 or 20 percent of the Palestinian people, 10 percent of Syria, at least 10 percent of Egypt, 5 percent of Iraq. (They comprised a slim majority in Lebanon). Numbers for the batiniya sects are even harder to pin down, since some make it a virtue to conceal one's religion from potentially oppressive governments. Still, Alawites may make up 13 percent of the people of Syria, while some 6 percent of Lebanese are Druzes.

Until the First World War, minority religions had generally coped well under the rule of the Ottoman empire, but that tolerance collapsed in the conditions of wartime. From the 1920s, then, the minorities faced a straightforward problem. How could people who were clearly Arab by ethnicity and language live and flourish in a world that increasingly demanded conformity to Islam, and usually in its Sunni form? Leaving aside the option of emigration, there were basically three possible solutions, two of which are now largely extinct, but the third is very much with us. All these options reflected the cosmopolitan outlook of the minorities, and above all the Christians, who looked to Europe for their political models. Often, then, when we look at the radical politics of the Arab world, we are actually seeing not Islamic patterns, but rather the influence of Christian or secular Europe.

Three Models of Survival

The first possibility was to secede from the Arab world altogether, which was the solution attempted in the new Christian-dominated statelet of Lebanon. Lebanese Christian elites were familiar with contemporary European ideas, and in 1936, the local warlords founded a political party called the Phalange, which explicitly drew on contemporary European fascist examples. (Lebanese leaders had been highly impressed by the Berlin Olympics.) Initially, the Phalange hoped to rule a Lebanon that looked to Europe, but they had to make ever more compromises with growing Muslim populations. By the 1970s, Christian power was overwhelmed by rising Muslim numbers -- in this case, Shi'ite rather than Sunni. The Christian failure ensured that there never would be an Arab-speaking New-France-Over-The-Seas.

Across much of the Arab world, many minorities favored a second model, in which religious differences would be subsumed in a non-sectarian political cause. Arab Communist parties began to be founded in the 1920s, and repeatedly, we find the Christians among their strongest supporters. This explains the otherwise puzzling fact that mapping the centers of Arab Communism also highlights the main Christian cities and towns, from Basra in Iraq to Nazareth and Bethlehem in Palestine. As European colonialism fragmented, Communists hoped for major political advances across the Arab world, but this political dream too faded during the conflicts of the Cold War. By the 1960s, Communists were reduced to insignificance.

The third solution was much more successful, and this is the one that endures today in countries like Syria and Iraq. Like the Communist model, this involved Christians and other minorities leading a secular trans-national movement that transcended religious loyalties. Far from being suspect as non-Muslims, Christians and others would demonstrate their passionate Arab loyalty by becoming the leaders of Arab nationalism and pan-Arabist causes. They would in fact be more enthusiastically and patriotically Arab than their Muslim neighbors. Race would trump religion, allowing Christians to live and lead.

This quest to prove their Arab credentials explains why, throughout the past century, Christians have always been in the front rank of Arab nationalism. Coptic Christians were prominent in the pioneering nationalist Wafd Party of Egypt in the 1920s. From the 1930s, Arab Christians were deeply influenced by the fascist and ultra-nationalist models they could see in Europe, and they formed their own parties in this mold. One of the first was the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, founded by Antun Saadeh in 1932. (As his name "Anthony" indicates, he was of course Christian.) Like the various duces and Führers of contemporary Europe, Saadeh wanted to restore the mythical glories of an ancient homeland, in this case, a pre-Muslim Great Syria that had not existed in thousands of years. Antun Saadeh preached pan-Syrianism, the re-establishment of a Great Syrian empire covering not just modern-day Syria but also Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, and other stretches of the Near East.

Though his party has never held power (and he himself was executed in 1949), Saadeh's pan-Syrianism is still a potent force in Syrian thought, and thus in regional politics. When policy-makers look at the hard-line policies of the Asad family's regime in Syria, they should never forget this other crucial dimension, which has nothing to do with Islam or Jihad. As a cornerstone of its foreign policy, the Syrian government desperately wants not only to expel the Jews from Palestine, but to incorporate the whole territory under its own rule. Daniel Pipes reports that former President Asad was wont to lecture PLO leaders that "You are an integral part of the Syrian people and Palestine is an integral part of Syria." Osama bin Laden may dream of the ancient Islamic empire, but the Syrians want to push matters back more than a millennium further, to the time of the Assyrians.

In 1940, another Christian thinker launched what would be a still more influential variety of pan-Arabism, namely the Movement for Arab Renaissance (Ba'th). The key founder was Michel Aflaq, a Syrian who had been educated at the Sorbonne. Ba'thist parties were founded across the Arab world during the 1940s, as local elites prepared for the imminent end of colonial rule by Britain and France. The Ba'th movement eventually gained power in both Syria (1963) and Iraq (1968). In 1974, Michel Aflaq moved to Baghdad, where he acted as Ba'th elder statesman until his death in 1989.

Though Christians never dominated either Syria or Iraq, they would always be well represented in the movement. As we have seen, the Alawites hold a firm grip on Syria's military and intelligence community. Ba'thism also provided a very firm bastion against Sunni expansion. In Syria, the classic conflict with mainstream Islam occurred in 1982, when the (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood tried to organize a rising against a government they viewed as heretical or blasphemous. The revolt collapsed after Ba'thist forces annihilated the city of Hama, killing perhaps 20,000 residents. The conflict between Islamism and pan-Arabism has never been starker.

In its ideology too, Ba'thism is far removed from any focus of Islam. It preaches the glories of the Arab nation, but not chiefly in its Muslim form. Aflaq always boasted of the Arab achievement ("The Arab Nation is the ideal around which human history ascends") and spoke highly of Islam, but he was just as enthusiastic about the pre-Islamic past, to the time of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. (Compare Antun Saadeh harking back to the Assyrian empire.) And though Aflaq's vision of the Arab nation was apocalyptic, it was not distinctively Muslim, since it drew at least as much on his Orthodox Christian heritage, mystical and messianic. In fact, Aflaq on the Arabs sounds a lot like the Russian Orthodox hymning Tsarist Russia. As David Brooks points out, these exalted ideas deeply influenced Saddam Hussein, with his mystical view of the Arab nation, "the source of all prophets and the cradle of civilization." Time and again, Saddam extolled the Arabs or Iraq, but not until recently did he refer to Islamic precedents. He was after all the prime mover in the attempt literally to rebuild ancient Babylon. Only in the last few years, as international threats mounted, did Saddam find it politically useful to portray himself as a devout Muslim.

Ideology apart, the Ba'th movement also imported into the Arab world critical aspects of contemporary Mediterranean fascism, elements that would have a broad influence on regional politics. Like Italian or German fascism, the new pan-Arab party was to be highly disciplined, its members were to represent a select minority of the elite, and it was fascinated with themes of conspiracy, putsch and coup d'etat. It was also highly suspicious of outsiders, often to the point of blatant paranoia. Most significant for later events, Arab nationalists were deeply influenced by the Italian deployment of international terrorism as a means of destabilizing hostile powers. Through the 1930s, the Italian secret services made systematic use of covert warfare, often through proxies representing disaffected minority groups, including the Palestinian Arabs. The Ba'thists who eventually gained power in Syria and Iraq were heirs to a decades-long tradition of conspiracy, assassination and international terrorism, and needed no lessons either from the Soviet KGB, or from later Islamists. And this tradition owed far more to Benito Mussolini than to the legendary founder of the Assassins, still less to the Quran.

Origins of Arab Terrorism

With this background in mind, we can better understand the origins of "Arab terrorism," a phrase that for many Americans seems like one word rather than two. Some of those origins were definitely Islamic, through revolutionary movements like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. But the modern phase of international terrorism that began in the 1960s has much more to do with Christianity, and the Middle East's other minority faiths. Critical here were the Palestinians, among whom the Christian minority represented a well-informed political elite, who took the lead in political activism. They exactly fit the model suggested here, of minorities proving their ultra-nationalist credentials in a predominantly Muslim society.

The Palestinian militants of the 1960s were often Christians who had been educated in western settings, at French universities, or the American University of Beirut. Here they encountered heady political currents like Communism, Ba'thism, and pan-Syrianism. In the 1960s, these ideas inspired a new wave of militant organizations that would experiment with novel military tactics, especially attacks on airliners and airports. The most important group was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, led by Arabs of Christian stock, like George Habash and Wadi Haddad. The PFLP had a strongly Christian and Orthodox component, to the extent that Orthodox priests reputedly blessed hijack teams before they set out on attacks. The PFLP split into a number of other groups, including the PFLP-General Command, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but throughout, we find this Christian presence. Through the years of most intense international terrorism during the 1970s and 1980s, the key Palestinian groups were most conspicuous by their lack of connection to Islam or to Muslim movements. They were often Christian-led, like the PFLP "family", or they worked for and with the regimes of Iraq and Syria.

Just how Arab radical politics acquired the Muslim coloring they undoubtedly have today is a complex story, but we should stress how recently all this has happened. The crucial decade was the 1980s, which marked a drastic shift to religious militancy. In those years, the older Palestinian groups were discredited by repeated failures, while the movement was galvanized by new Islamist organizations like Hamas. At the same time, the most successful armed organizations were clearly religious-oriented, like the Lebanese Hizbullah, with its devastatingly successful methods of suicide-bombing. The Islamic revolution in Iran likewise inspired many would-be imitators. Over the past decade, all the major Middle Eastern terrorist groups have been Muslim and, in most cases, strictly orthodox Sunnis, who have no sympathy for older radicals - though they enthusiastically borrowed their tactics, like airline hijacking. Even when calling on Muslims to defend Iraq, new radical leaders like Osama bin Laden have nothing but contempt for its "Communist" and secular leaders. In response, leaders like Saddam Hussein got religion, or affected to do so. As a supreme irony, in their obituaries for arch-secularist Michel Aflaq, the Iraqi media declared that he had experienced a deathbed conversion to Islam.

Meanwhile, mass emigration meant that Christian populations were collapsing across the region. Christians now make up barely half a percent of the Arabs of Israel and Palestine, and there was little protest when a recent draft constitution for a state of Palestine stated unashamedly that the new state would be Muslim in character, and presumably Sunni. Without much of a popular base for non-sectarian politics - at least outside Syria - there are no obvious alternatives to Islam as the dominant social and cultural force in the Arab world. To that extent, the ancient fears have come true: the Sunni Muslim juggernaut really has prevailed.

Though Americans were deeply divided over the Iraq war, virtually nobody regrets the passing of the Saddam Hussein regime, which was a worthy descendant of the bloodiest traditions of European totalitarianism. But it is a sad irony that when the U.S. did crush this regime, it was erasing the last dim traces of what was once a worthwhile idea, namely the attempt to create a secular order in which the Middle East's religious minorities could survive and flourish. That idea deserves a far better monument than Saddam Hussein.

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Dima Feinhaus - 8/17/2004

It's sad that most of the commentators are trying to project the article concerning Christian-Moslem relationship on Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I find it to be a pathetic example of closed-mindedness.

But what concerns me even more is the article itself. I believe I have a unique perspective to judge it being raised as a minority in a totalitarian country.

Basically, this article is trying to put an onus of blame for Arab nationalism and extremism on Arab Christian. It's being done by selectively picking up a few names from history of various nations. This method is fradulent and bias in its nature. Through the history of Europe and Middle East we can observe that some minority groups were playing pivotal roles in history of varios nations. These were Germans in Chechia or Estonia, Gougenots (spelling) in France, Jews in Russia, Armenians in Turkey or Azerbajan, Indians in Fiji, Lebanese in Zanzibar, etc

What's the most characteristic is that these minorities were politically active in all shades of political spectrum. So if we decide to assign the blame, we always can.

The strongest exception I have to Prof's closing statements. It's a sad irony that professor finds its acceptable to suppress people by governing force to such an extent that they have no ability to exercise their likes and dislikes in religious or other areas as it was done in Iraq. He never mentions democratic Turkey which hosts significan Christian and Kurdish minorities as well as over ten million Alawites.

a pupil of mr jenkins - 7/19/2004

i think that all of schools r.m lessons are a load of bullocks and u need a new life altogether and leaves us alone.

Kevin - 11/21/2003

Great article by Professor Jenkins! As usual, his historical/religious insights are fascinating and suprising. Keep it up Professor!

George Treheles - 8/27/2003

I hope I'm not too late to join this discussion.

I was wondering if Mr. Jenkins researched any political impact or influence the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople had in the Mid-east. I think ignoring or marginalizing the Patriarchy would be doing a great disservice to Mr. Jenkins discourse.

Gus Moner - 8/25/2003

Point to ponder. However, many of these figures were in the dark, under cover and perhaps out of Soviet range.

Gus Moner - 8/25/2003

I suppose it's good God.fearing religious policy to settle and take over people's lands.

Jerry West - 8/23/2003

Derek wrote:

What "war of aggression" are you talking about?


Could be any war of agression. Corevan wrote "Land taken in war is not stolen." This implies that war is an acceptable method of acquiring real estate. Comes from the same philosophical bag as might makes right and the end justifies the means.

As for the case of Israel/Palestine starting the clock in 1967 is very convenient for one side, but not the other. It skips over a lot of history, but the I/P situation is not the focus of my point in this case.

Derek Catsam - 8/23/2003

What "war of aggression" are you talking about? Clearly it can't be 1967, the one that led to Israel controlling the West Bank? Unless by war of aggression you mean Israel responded when Nassar said that Iwsrael would be wiped off the face of the planet even as troops amassed on Israel's borders. If someone has their fist cocked and moving forward, you are not the aggressor if you happen to land your punch first.

Crow Magnaman - 8/22/2003

It is a little known fact that in the year 900 million BC a crustacean from Ephraim gouged out an eye and a tooth of another crustacean from Gibbethon who had insulted him. And so it continued unto the nth generation, by which time descendants of both crustaceans learned to stick John Q. U.S. Taxpayer with the bill for periodic eye and tooth removal.

Jerry West - 8/22/2003

Corevan wrote:

If you read back into history in the international community handed the State of Israel 1948 to Jewish refugees and inhabitance of Palestine. They declared a desire to live in peace with their neighbors;....


Perhaps 1948 is the wrong place to start the clock. What does the picture look like if we go back another 30 years or more?

I am not a student of the mess in Palestine (or whatever label one wants to put on the region), but I seem to recall that prior to 1948 there were Jewish terrorist groups attacking Palestinians and the British, even while the Brits were fighting the Nazis!

Might we suppose that the offer of peace in 1948 was made to consolidate gains made by terrorists in the years before?

If so, would that put a different light on the situation?

One might also ask what right outsiders have to hand over land to other outsiders without the permission of the current occupants.

Corevan - 8/22/2003


If you read back into history in the international community handed the State of Israel 1948 to Jewish refugees and inhabitance of Palestine. They declared a desire to live in peace with their neighbors; the answer from their neighbors was war. Since then Israel has stated publicly numerous times its willingness negotiate a peace with its neighbors, the answer is always war, and war on civilians. Their neighbors have never declared a willingness to live in peace, and when forced to the negotiation table they back out at the last minute. Witness the Oslo debacle.

While Israel is by no means blameless in this situation, the escalation of violence and meaningless deaths of civilians on both sides belongs in direction.

Alan Meadows - 8/22/2003


Your latest comment I think strikes a reasonable balance, a lack of which, in the original piece by Jenkins, was the complaint that touched off all these comments in the first place.

I do tend to agree with you about the wall, but with two qualifications: 1. The wall could just as justifiably have been built many years and lives ago. 2. It will only be effective militarily and acceptable internationally if most of the "settlements" are closed down, as indeed, they could and should have been years ago.

The important question of what causes terrorism generally is probably best left for another time.

Derek Catsam - 8/22/2003

I still find it odd that one could discern from my writings, even my most ardent pro-Israel ones, that I might be a Likud spoeksman-type. Israelis across the political spectrum believe in their own right to exist in israel. Were I Israeli, my place on the political spectrum would likely be on the left side of labor in many respects, certainly not with Likud. But that does not mean that Likud can never do good things -- let's keep in mind that Sharon's actions of late have been very un-Likud. Hell, they have been very un-Sharon. I oppose terrorism. Thus I am a hardliner on that particular question. On the whole, I think Israel is more right than wrong, but certainly state policies are not beyond criticism. Israelis themselves are constantly self critical, as I am certain you know from all that you have written here.
In general, I think that the wall may be the only solution. The irony is that uninformed Americans have portrayed the wall as another in a line of ghastly right-wing Israeli missteps. Their ognorance is appalling. The wall is an idea of much of the left, and the right, which blindly and provocatively continues to support the right to settlement, are among the most ardent opponents of its contruction. Those who make the Berlin Wall analogy are simply being facile. This is a complex question. No one denies that. But as I have said, I am a believer in Israel and its right to exist, I hope it continues to maintain its secular democracy, and I certainly hope it can curb its ugliest excesses, many of which it has been forced into. Stop the terrorism, and then there is a basis on which to ask the Israeli government to stop doing all that it can to protect its people.
I think we are also seeing what most of us have known -- negotiating with Mazen has been a bit silly, as he does not have the power to do the one thing necessary to keep things on track -- to stop the terror, or at least the huge and sponsored brunt of it. Yet we know Arafat is utterly untrustworthy. It is a hell of a conundrum. I might have a piece on this coming up soon, adjusted from a newspaper op-ed that wasd published recently.

Manny Alou - 8/22/2003

Negotiations are not the issue here, and no one has been talking about them. But since "Corevan" brings the matter up, I would hope "we can all agree that" negotiating with hardened fanatics, whether they are Hamas adherents or settlers is -absent stronger pressures- futile. More pertinent to this thread is the steadfast insistence of some commenters that all the blame for the lack of peace in the Mideast be shoved in one direction only.

Alan Meadows - 8/22/2003

My comments to the post "reading comprehension" were sent several lines below, under the title "Clarifications".


Alan Meadows - 8/22/2003

I think we've been addressing somewhat different questions, Derek.

I have no interest in defending and have made no reference Piper's unsupported charge of Philip Jenkins being a "zealot". Your first post rebutted that conclusively.

My remarks were in the larger context of Jenkins talking only about Christian and Muslim extremism and terrorism and saying nothing about Jewish versions of the same. This is the point made by Piper in his second post, and which provides the context for most of the subsequent discussion:

"Claiming a fair and balanced overview but completely omitting one major group is implicit evidence of bias."

You've said nothing about what you think causes terrorism, and that is why I only tentatively characterized your causal model as "apparently" monolithic. If you are now, finally, willing to admit that terrorism is a likely possibility whenever there is a fanatical group without state power giving that fanaticism what it wants without need to resort to terrorism, then, of course, I would revise my initial hypothesis of you having monolithic views. Your willingness to seize just one recent terrorist event, and dismiss a discussion of broader trends does not encourage such a revision so far (in the "peculiar" absence of any explicit comment from you about underlying causes) but the more you sound like a historian generally and the less like a Likud spokesman, the less monolithic it makes you appear. Hope that clarifies things a bit.

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/22/2003

There's a little merit here, but I wouldn't exactly agree that bin Laden was an unknown quantity before 9/11. He was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list after the African embassy bombings, and his role in the Kenya and Tanzania attacks was very well-publicized, even at the time. At any rate, the question still remains: how big of a player was bin Laden in the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan?

It's a shame Mr. Borovik isn't still around to answer this question.

Corevan - 8/22/2003


You are correct in reading my words; let me re-vise my words to clarify my thoughts.

The IDF does not go into Palestinian territory with the intent to kill women and children, unlike their terrorist counterparts.

Neither do settlers go into these lands with the intent to kill civilians, unlike their terrorist counterparts.

While SOME of the settlements are a barrier to peace I think we can all agree that there is no justification for killing woman and children, or innocent male civilians.

If anyone reading this thinks that there is a chance negotiations will settle this situation must read the Hamas charter, which states that negotiations are necessary to appease the rest of the world, but there is no negotiation for peace. Would give you the link for a web site with the charter on it but I don’t have it a work.

Try the righttoexist.org for information and insight to this issue.

Derek Catsam - 8/22/2003

Alan --
It took me five posts to "acknowledge" israeli wrong doing for at least three good reasons. 1) My earlier posts were not about either side's wrongdoing. They were about a very specific point, which is Piper' inclinatoion to call anyone who supports Israel a Christian Zealot or Israeli Patriot. That was the purpose of my post -- to ask Piper for evidence of the author's zealotry, especially when he was writing to condemn Christian zealotry, so your point is utterly irrelevent.
I am especially surious as to wehat foundation you have for calling my views on the causes of terrorismn "monolithis," especially given that I have cited my exp[eriences in Northern Ireland and Africa, clearly utterly different circumstances. So again -- one scintilla of evidence as to my view of "monolithic" terrorism. Just one, please. If you can't do it, shall I get an apology, or just more irrelevent accusations?
I also must wonder about your reading skills -- I never denied that there was a possibility of right wing violence. I denied that it has shown any sign of rising to the level of the Palestinian terrorism. I denied the premise of the NYT article. Use that as a sly excuse to condemn my credentials if you will, but also note that while you claim that it took me "five posts" (Five whole posts? Wow -- five whole posts on HNN. I really must be a slacker -- not answering questions that were never asked. Funny how silent you have been about the Orthodox Jews murdered on the bus the other day) you might also note actual full articles on Israel that I have written on HNN.
My own interest in this area is broad. My main area of work is US Civil Rights and South African Apartheid, but my work on the ground and attempts to broaden myself, plus interest as a citizen, has brought me into the question of terrorism. I am not Jewish, nor am I a Christian Zealot. Ima simply an historian and a person with ideas and a writer and someone who pays attention and someone who has been on the ground where these terrible things happen. This was my whole purpose of posting to Mr. Piper -- reread this entire conversation yourself, Mr. Meadows, before accusing me of ignoring questions that simply were not central to the strain of the debate as it was playing out.

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/22/2003

"There is plenty of terrorism to go round on all sides of this and many other issues. Whether any of it is justified or not is another question."

Finally, someone who has the decency not to treat the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy like a sporting event, where they "root" for one side or the other.

One Israeli bus blown up, one Israeli murdered by a suicide bomb is one too many. One Palestinian olive grove bulldozed, one Palestinian murdered- yes, murdered- by IDF gunfire is one too many. Instead of indulging in our prejudices, we should remember this. I know these are platitudes, but they're still better than the sickening back-and-forth I'm seeing on this site, and everywhere else this conflict is discussed.

Jerry West - 8/22/2003

Corevan wrote:

Land taken in war is not stolen.


In other words wars of agression and conquest are justified?

One could argue that land taken without fair compensation, whether in war or not, is stolen.

If it is terrorism to attack civilians is it not likewise terrrorism to take away their land?

There is plenty of terrorism to go round on all sides of this and many other issues. Whether any of it is justified or not is another question.

Manny Alou - 8/21/2003

Corevan queries:

“Where did I ever state the settlements were set up to prevent bombings or reduce violence against Israelis?”

Answer: in your second to last comment

If your back button is broken, here is the essence of the thread, reprised from the top:

1. Roberta Seid:
“Comparing "settlers" to terrorist and imperialist groups is ludicrous. Since when is building homes and communities the equivalent of blowing people up or imperialist moves to control, coerce and oppress others?”

2. Frank Lee:
“According to Roberta's feeble propaganda, when Israeli fanatics invade Palestine, kill locals (and aid workers, Red Cross, Americans or anyone else in their way) and then steal the land, they are just peaceable neighborly settlers.”

3. Corevan:
“Israelis do not go into Palestinian territory to kill innocents, they go into to prevent bus bombings.”

4. Frank Lee:
“I doubt you could document a "settlement" (a) founded for the purpose of preventing bus bombings or (b) helping in any way shape or form to reduce violence against Israelis.”

P.S. Early treatment can be effective against Alzheimers

COrevan - 8/21/2003

If you think I am extreme, you are a clueless young pup.

Neither do you understand English. Where did I ever state the settlements were set up to prevent bombings or reduce violence against Israelis? They do just the opposite. But I get the feeling you like the fact that innocent Jewish and American children are blown up.

Geoff Ericson - 8/21/2003

Just a hunch, Jess, 'cause I haven't read Borovik's book, but it came out in early 2001, at a time when Osama bin Laden (despite the failed cruise missile attacks on him in 1998) was relatively unknown. Probably even Russian reporters who had worked in Afghanistan, like Borovik, were unfamiliar with Osama until after September 11, 2001.

I doubt many journalists knew of Yasir Arafat before the 1970 hijackings, or Yigal Amir (the Israeli settler who assassinated prime minister Rabin) before 1995. These sort of people don't often send out advance press releases.

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/21/2003

I recently read "The Hidden War", Arytom Borovik's account of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, and although there is a good deal of space in the book devoted to Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance commander assassinated just before 9/11, there is no such mention of bin Laden.

How significant of a player was bin Laden in the Soviet war in Afghanistan? Has his role in the conflict been overblown?

Wesley Smart - 8/21/2003

I have no comment on Mr. Bolino's post, or the subsequent thread, except to note the point that bin Laden was during the period of the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, not an agent or a direct recipient of funding from the United States. I have done so, and have no reason to debate what Mr. Bolino meant or did not mean by his reference to bin Laden. Accuracy is key at the inception of any discussion.

As for the discussion about the French embassy, I have no time for pointless quibbling. The story about the French embassy being attacked in Kuwait and its role in shaping French policy towards Iraq in 1990 is widely known and not a matter of dispute. I identified two standard works on the subject which mention the incident, and identified links as well as a method for searching through google for finding out what is already well known. Have you pursued these leads yet?

John (Duke) Weigh In - 8/21/2003

I think the point about Osama was that he didn't need to use terrorist tactics when he and his Mujahadeen and future Taliban buddies were getting loads of money and firepower from the United States. Moral of the story being: be careful which fanatics you support in the Mideast, and don't turn a blind eye just because some fanatics are neither Arab nor Christian (e.g. non-orthodox "settlers").

By the way, Wesley, I'm still waiting for your page numbers on the French Embassy seizure AND how it changed the course of history.

Mark Wall - 8/21/2003

Its the unthinking critics of an article meant to inform that display bias. The tendency to require any thoughtful discourse to contain an automatic denunciation of one group can only be considered bias against that group and worthy only of contempt.

Keep it up. This type of anti intelelctual response to thoughtfulness only validates the intelelctual honesty of the original writer and displays the tendency towards fascism of the critic.

Wesley Smart - 8/20/2003

OBL was never an agent of the United States. He may have had contact with people who were working as agents of the United States, but he was not on the payroll of the CIA or other groups working there, nor did he carry out actions on behalf of the United States in Afghanistan. His time there coincided with that of the CIA agents, and the two groups worked in parallel towards the same goal, namely the removal of the Soviets from the country. This is not a disputed fact, and the clarity is important.

Frank Lee - 8/20/2003

Israel has a parliamentary system with many small parties. And the "majority" (actually a very heterogeneous coalition) "supporting" Sharon, is much smaller than the coalition that supported Barak. While Barak was not exactly a godsend for the region, again, to ignore the difference between him and Sharon is exactly what the Likud apologists in the U.S. (and all over this website) want you to do.

R. Piper - 8/20/2003

True, not all Israelis support the current criminal regime but, obviously, the majority does (otherwise they wouldn't be in power).

And that's the only thing that counts -- those opposed to violence against Palestinians can only lament the majority approved bombings, killings, maimings and destruction.

Alan Meadows - 8/20/2003

In reply to Derek Catsam:

The lack of "open-mindedness" is suggested by it taking you five posts to finally, grudgingly, admit, for the first time, that the Israeli government might be capable of doing "something wrong". But you are at least aware of your bias now, so perhaps we are making some progress.

I do still find it "peculiar" (to use your word) that, given your evident interest in and study of both terrorism and history, you have such an apparently monolithic view of what causes terrorism. Osama was not an active terrorist when he had the U.S. government behind him. Begin was not born a terrorist in Poland. Circumstances do matter.

There are plenty of good reasons to believe that if the Israeli "settlers" (a pretty weird and extreme bunch as you must know if you really spent time in Israel) did not have their prime minister behind them, lock, stock and barrel, and Bush further in the background giving Sharon pretty much carte blanche on that point so far, that quite a number of these "settlers" would not turn violent as they have often in the past. To dismiss this possibility out of hand as nothing more than "speculation" does not give the impression of having solid "anti-terrorist" credentials. Unless, that is, you only care about terrorists of particular ethnic or religious backgrounds, but not other backgrounds.

Frank Lee - 8/20/2003


Your bias is the most extreme yet, but congratulations on cleaning up your act so your latest message did not get washed out with soap.

I doubt you could document a "settlement" (a) founded for the purpose of preventing bus bombings or (b) helping in any way shape or form to reduce violence against Israelis.

Derek Catsam - 8/20/2003

I think you missed my point, Mr. Meadows. First off, comparing 9-11 in the US to the situation in Israel is a pretty silly analogy -- the Israelis are far better prepared for terrorism than we are orr were, and they are well aware of these challenges.
What about my posts has not been open minded -- I am curious. I simply pointed out, to begin with, that Mr. Piper called the author a "Christian Zealot," an odd choice of words for an article critical of Christian zealotry.
As for reading the NYT article, no one has denied that there have been acts by israeli rightists that qualify as terrorism, buyt the hypothesis of the article is speculative -- that terrorism by that factor is going to rise. As such, it is speculative. The fact that there are past incidents of such attacks (and that the Israelis have almost always ferreted out their perpetrators) does not mean that they either rise to the level of what the Palestinians have brought to the Israeli citizenry or that they portend a trend -- the incidents you cite (three, I believe?) all come over a decade. this is hardly a trend at this point.
I dispute the characterization of the Israeli government as terrorists -- they have done things wrong, to be sure, but every time a government does something wrong, even when violence is involved, does not involve violence. To claim as much is intellectually sloppy.
Finally, I doubt highly that I need to defend my credentials on the terror issue to you, but let it be known for the record that earlier this summer I was in Israel on a fellowship doing antiterrorism work. I've also been on the ground in Northern Ireland, and have done a good deal of work in Africa where "terror," broadly defined, was at the heart of my work. My disputing an argument in the New York Times is probably not the best sign that I, who lived in DC on 9-11, am lax on this issue. Unless simply disagreeing with you is a sign of laxness. It seems a pretty banal litmus test.

Corevan - 8/20/2003


Your opinion is uniformed. Israelis do not go into Palestinian territory to kill innocents, they go into to prevent bus bombings.

And those children killed on the bus yesterday, their crime was what?

Land taken in war is not stolen.

Frank Lee - 8/20/2003

Careful, Mr. Piper.

Ariel Sharon and the war criminal element of the Likud party are NOT the same as "Israel". You fall into one of the favorite ploys of the propaganda network of the former, if you conflate it with the latter.

Frank Lee - 8/20/2003

..in the most pitiful version yet seen here.

According to Roberta's feeble propaganda, when Israeli fanatics invade Palestine, kill locals (and aid workers, Red Cross, Americans or anyone else in their way) and then steal the land,
they are just peaceable neighborly settlers.

Surely Ariel Sharon and his lobbyists in America can do much better than this.

Alan Meadows - 8/20/2003

The blowing up of the King David hotel, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and the murder of the Tamaizi family by militant settlers (discussed in the NY Times article which Catsam appears not to have read) are NOT “hypothetical” events.

Scoffing at “hypothetical” possibilities sounds like the same attitude taken by the FBI when warned, in advance of Sept 11, that Saudi and Egyptian terrorists (who had already exploded a car bomb in the World Trade Center in 1993) were attending flight schools in order to learn only how to "land" planes, but not take off in them.

Your criticism of Piper makes him appear almost tolerant and open-minded in comparison.

By the way, after four posts by Catsam, this whole thread is becoming a convenient way of deflecting the "sad irony" of America encouraging terrorism, which was a key point in Jenkins' original column.

Corevan - 8/20/2003

WOW, Imagine what would have happened if I really expressed my opinion.

Thanks Big Bro...

Derek Catsam - 8/20/2003

Yes -- interesting. You parallel an actual attack -- 18 dead more than 100 wounded -- with fears that some Israelis, finally fed up, will respond with their own terror campaigns. You parallel a hypothesis with actual murder. Peculiar.

Derek Catsam - 8/20/2003

Mr. Pipers --
When have I denied Israeli mistakes? But the Israeli killing more Palestinians in a war that has been declared on them is not exactly a very solid argument. The Palestinians declared the intifada, not the other way around. The Israelis have responded. Killing more people is tragic, and it would stop if Abu Mazen and SArafat before him would stop the terrorist killings of innocents.
As for my work as an historian, I do not need to justify the quality of my work to you or to anyone. It stands on its own and it stands well.
You calling someone a shrill partisan is like a dwarf making fun of a midget's height.


Roberta Seid - 8/20/2003

Comparing "settlers" to terrorist and imperialist groups is ludicrous. Since when is building homes and communities the equivalent of blowing people up or imperialist moves to control, coerce and oppress others? The settlers hardly are demanding that all Arab Muslims and Christians become Jews. The Israeli army, the pass roads etc are there because Palestinian Arabs don't want Jews as neighbors or in their future state and they try to kill them and have desecrated or claimed ancient Jewish holy sites in the area. It's okay to respect Muslim religious beliefs but not Jewish religious beliefs?

The great tragedy is that the emerging vision of a future Palestinian is not one of democracy, pluralism and tolerance, but one free of Jews and Christians--a replica of the worst states that already make up the region.

R. Piper - 8/20/2003

Thanks for acknowledging the obvious omission.
As your work (intentionally or not) mentions almost every group in the ME, noting the presence, actions and interactions of Jews is unavoidable.

As for the overwrought article title: welcome to HNN, the Israeli Propaganda Network.

R. Piper - 8/20/2003

If you truly were a historian you would have noticed that Israelis, with bombs strapped on tanks and helicopters, have killed three times as many Palestinians.

If you truly were a historian you would place each event in context, make note of root causes, historical and current circumstances, and so on.

In short, if you truly were a historian you wouldn't sound like a shrill partisan that you are.

Alan Meadows - 8/20/2003

Check the rest of the paper too, Derek.

Front page of yesterday's New York Times:
"Israelis worrying about Terrorism by Jews"

Derek Catsam - 8/20/2003

But I am not criticizing you for calling him biased -- we are all biased, you more than most anyone who ever posts on HNN. What I did criticize you for is for labelling him a "Christian Zealot." That is an ad hominem. But again, even there your argument falls on its face -- he is being critical of Christian Zealotry. What about this is so tough?

Derek Catsam - 8/20/2003

Meanwhile in this morning's papers one can see that a Palestinian suicide bomber strapped himself up, got on a bus full of orthodox Jews returning from prayer at the Western Wall, and took himself and 18 innocent people out, wounding more than 100 others. I'm sure Mr. Piper has something to say about that.

Philip Jenkins - 8/20/2003

In fairness, I did not choose the title of the article. I'm not complaining about it, but I agree that it does not entirely cover the substance. My original working title was "The Sunni Juggernaut".

Corevan - 8/20/2003



Ralph E. Luker - 8/20/2003

Mr. Bensen, _Almost_ you rescue Mr. Piper from his anti-semitism by suggesting that I failed to read the article. But your argument fails because _if you read it_ you will recall that its subject is only anti-Israeli or certainly non-Israeli religious and ideological minorities in the Middle East. Piper might legitimately complain that Jenkins does not attend to Jewish anti-Zionist groups in the Middle East. Perhaps there's a flaw or an omission there, but it ain't high cotton.

Josh Greenland - 8/20/2003

"While settlers are an irritant, they don’t blow up civilians or kill children intentionally."

Right. The Israeli army that does those things, in support of the settlers.

Jonathon Bensen - 8/20/2003

The TITLE implies that it is about "Christian Arabs" as Ralph Luker suggests. In fact, when one reads the ARTICLE itself, one discovers that

a) it is about Sunnis, Shias, Alawites, Druze, communists, pan-Arabists, Baathists, in addition to the various Christian sects. Practically every important spiritual or secular category anywhere in the Mideast is covered, with one exception.

b) although it includes critical examinations of these groups and their varying associations with extremism and terrorism, it is not a set of "attacks" on them

c) it concludes with the unfortunate "irony" that U.S. policies are having the inadvertent negative effect of disrupting a
"secular order in which the Middle East's religious minorities could survive and flourish".

To pick up on Ralph's analogy, it is as if, in an economic history of ante-bellum slavery, one were to discuss Liverpool slave traders, abolitionism in the northern states of America, the Missouri Compromise, and the Fugitive Slave Act, but make absolutely no mention of cotton.

Ralph E. Luker - 8/20/2003

Your first argument is self-evidently wrong. If I am writing _about_ Christian Arabs, that is the subject of the piece I am writing and it would be out of place for me to include an attack on Jews in the piece simply to satisfy those who like to see attacks on Jews. If I am writing a piece about African Americans in the ante-bellum South who owned slaves, it would be inappropriate for me to include criticism of white Northerners who did not own slaves simply to satisfy those like to see criticism of white Northern non-slaverowners. If you want Jews to be the subject of a piece on HNN, why don't you write one and submit it for consideration?

R. Piper - 8/20/2003

Claiming a more fair and balanced (TM) overview but completely omitting one major group is the implicit evidence of bias.

(Just like your odes to Israeli terrorists are the implicit evidence of your bias.)

As for your whines about "ad hominems":
When writings of some author repeatedly exhibit bias, it is fair and natural to use the shorthand of calling the author biased, rather than citing and exposing each and every statement each time the author is mentioned.
When you retract your numerous biased statements or produce some unbiased works, you may become entitled to the courtesy of separating your personality from your statments.

aaron frucher - 8/19/2003

I’m interested as too where the author would place the present Egyptian government in the dichotomy of pan-Arab nationalism versus Islamism, with it’s institutional echo’s of Nassarism, and the historical influence of the murderers of Sadat, The Muslim Brotherhood, being pandered too in the state controlled media?

Jonathan Dresner - 8/19/2003

The Israeli settler movement in the West Bank and Gaza, etc, is well beyond an "irritant": settlers are heavily armed and protected by the Israeli army, and Palestinians, sometimes children, have been killed. More importantly, the settlers hog resources which make Palestinian life untenable both in the present and, if they are not withdrawn, in the foreseeable future: water, good land, travel routes.

The settlements are a potent and aggressive signal that the Israeli government is not committed to Palestinian life or development.

Derek Catsam - 8/19/2003

Mr. Pipers --
How about one scintilla of evidence that the author is either an Israeli patriot or Christian zealot? Or are you incabable of rising above the ad hominem? And if he is a christian zealot, then is it not admirable for him to focus on Christian extremism in his article? In other words, is he not in fact criticizing exactly those you accuse him of affiliating with? Do you read these articles, or is your mind just so narrow and your righteousness just so strong that you need not be bothered? I saw the level of your vitriol after my own Israel piece. I do not expect much from you, but I still think a little bit of civility toward those who actually do the work to write and publish is warranted.

Geoff Ericson - 8/19/2003

Strictly speaking, Jenkins (despite repeatedly talking about the "Mideast") is actually focused on the ARAB Mideast. Thus, a discussion of the Israeli settler movement falls outside a comparison of the relative influence of Christian and Muslim ideology on Arab extremist organizations.

Nonetheless, the history of the settler groups, their U.S.connections, their influence on the assassin of former prime minister Rabin, and their antecedents in the 1940s Jewish terrorist cells is an important subject, and one that seems to have been neglected so far by HNN. I would have to agree that it is a "sad irony", to quote Jenkins, that the current administration in Washington has done relatively little to counteract this truly obvious, and obviously religiously-related, obstacle to stability and security in the Mideast.

Corevan - 8/19/2003

A seemingly well researched and focused article. The way History should be recorded.

While it should inspire debate and discussion, few who post to this board have that kind of mental capacity. And the ones who do probably don want to spare with some of the mental midgets who pipe up here.

I cant wait to hear from Don or Kriz…….

Corevan - 8/19/2003

"their illegal destruction of secular diversity, tolerance, and peace in Palestine"

You are kidding me aren’t you? Please detail for me examples of Diversity and Tolerance in Palestine.

While I fully disagree with the growth and advancement of settlement to compare them with terrorist is like comparing Hamas to freedom fighters. While settlers are an irritant, they don’t blow up civilians or kill children intentionally.

John Kipper - 8/19/2003

It is articles such as this that cause me to return to HNN. It is replies like the first two that send me away.

Ralph E. Luker - 8/18/2003

As Instapundit would put it: Heh! Philip Jenkins has produced a stunning piece of research and writing here which tells a side of the Middle Eastern conflict which, I dare say, none of us has been attuned to prior to reading his essay. It is a poor commentary on the quality of discussion here that the first two posters respond to _nothing_ that he has said, but merely assert the previously held biases of their allegiances. Get over yourselves. Learn from Jenkins something that you did not previously know.

R. Piper - 8/18/2003

A discussion of history of terrorism which does not even mention the earliest known and most virulent terror tribe?

Could it be because they were Jews and the author is an Israeli Patriot / Christian Zealot?

Methinks so.

Bart Bolino - 8/18/2003

In this otherwise comprehensive and insightful piece of writing, Philip Jenkins neglects one of the most successful instances of religious extremism in the Mideast: the so-called "settler movement" in the West Bank.

Normally, of course, these fanatics are not considered terrorists. Neither were Menachem Begin or Yasir Arafat...once they settled down into semi-respectable political roles, were invited to Oslo for their Nobel peace prizes, etc.. Nor, for that matter, was Osama bin Laden regarded as a terrorist, back when he was a U.S. agent in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, the "settlers" have the unthinking de-facto support of the United States government. A "sad irony" indeed, that America should so needlessly endorse their illegal destruction of secular diversity, tolerance, and peace in Palestine.