A vocal truth

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In addition to the convenient facts—news that fits effortlessly into a writer’s view of the world—he should deal also with the inconvenient facts. This is more than a question of honour. It is also a question of strengthening the argument. Indeed, one of my constant complaints about the “politically correct,” is that they don’t argue. When not merely ignoring “inconvenient” facts and arguments, their controversial efforts are too often directed to suppressing and demonizing the sources of them.

So let me begin today’s column by telling my reader something I don’t want him to know. It is a followup to my Wednesday column from last week, which was about the Islamist massacre in a Baghdad cathedral. Since that time, according to several media reports, the Melkite Patriarch, Gregorios III, had this to say about the murder of so many of his faithful:

“All this behaviour has nothing to do with Islam. … It is actually a conspiracy planned by Zionism and some Christians with Zionist orientations and it aims at undermining and giving a bad image of Islam.”

There are further quotes that would pass in the East as anti-Zionist, and in the West as anti-Semitic. It should be needless to say, that it is odd to blame Jews, long exiled from Iraq, for a massacre which an Islamist cell has openly claimed and boasted about.

“Interesting if true,” was my standard journalistic response to the first reader who brought this mad statement to my attention. In my attempts to get behind the reports, I could do no better than find another statement, from the same Patriarch, in English, posted on an official-looking Internet site, with an entirely different flavour. It said, in part:

“We know that this criminal act is not the work of authentic Islam, and cannot be based on it. Despite that, we hold Muslims in Iraq and in all Arab countries to be responsible for Christian security, since they have power, and control the army and police force. … The real enemies of Islam and Muslims are neither ‘Islamophobia’ nor ‘Christian Europe,’ but rather these fundamentalist organizations and trends. They are also the enemies of Christianity and of every Christian and Muslim social and human value, whether Arab or not. Christians … are not sheep, designed to be slaughtered by fundamentalists. Christians are builders of values, nations and cultures, including Islamic culture itself.”

This latter statement is clear, bold, sane, and courageous. The former was lying, cowardly, gratuitously vicious, and completely insane. The second also directly contradicts the first. Can the same man have made both statements? As someone who is not entirely unfamiliar with the Middle East, I would like to say no. I cannot, however, say no with full assurance; nor in the nature of the case can I, or anyone, get quite to the bottom of it.

For the truth is, I have heard such contradictory statements come from the same mouths in several Middle Eastern countries. And those who doubt me, can read for themselves the very different statements made by Middle Eastern leaders when speaking to Western diplomats privately, or speaking to their people publicly. Quite a few of these may be found in the WikiLeaks documents, and Daniel Pipes provides a good analysis of them.

In particular, I had the experience, when writing for this newspaper from Egypt more than a decade ago, of dealing with many Egyptian Copts. Again and again I would be told in private about all kinds of persecutions, in plausible and checkable detail. And then I would be told that I must never write about this, or my informants would be made to pay for it. I also noticed several public statements, made by the very same people, in which the fate of Copts was casually glossed over, and instead, implausible allegations were made against Israel and Jews. Nota bene: against Jews who had been driven from Egypt two generations before.

This is a kind of “Stockholm Syndrome” that I attribute to centuries of real oppression. It is a part of human psychology that is not incomprehensible. You say what your oppressor wants to hear; you even identify with his imagined interests. You assimilate your oppressor’s world view, which necessarily involves suppressing your own. And you hope, in return, he will stop hurting you.

Now, oddly enough there is hope in this; for there is always hope. Even among Palestinian Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, driven by circumstances into some of the most extraordinary contortions of “world view,” and uttering statements that could easily pass for paranoid schizophrenic, there is hope. Privately, they will tell you things that are completely sane and reasonable. So long as you promise not to repeat them.

Our task is to create a world in which people can be sane, out loud.

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