This Saturday on the Catholic Weekend show over on SQPN, we will be talking with guests Fawaz and Ehab Yasi, a rap duo originally from Iraq and now living in California. I suspect the twist for many of the listeners will be the fact that these twin brothers just so happen to have been born and raised Catholics, and perform pieces whose lyrics are rooted in Christian spirituality. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, good. For it is about time that some of us start to feel more uncomfortable about what we are being told, or rather not being told, about the people who happen to hail from this troubled part of the world.
Over the past year or more of the Arab Spring, many Americans have been somewhat rudely awakened to the fact that the Middle East is not an exclusively Muslim bloc with Israel sandwiched in the middle. Without question, Islam has been the predominant religion in the region for centuries, but students of history know that this was not always the case.
Even today, there are significant Christian populations in this part of the world which, thanks to the alleged mainstream media, you may have been blissfully unaware of until comparatively recently. In this case, new media has forced old media to reluctantly shine a light on the fact that Christians are suffering in these places at the hands of radical Islamists. This is one more reason, among many, why we ought to be grateful for the power that new media has to bring forward stories which might otherwise go untold.
And here is where things get a little messy, as international affairs often do, and much to the chagrin of those whose charge is to report the news to us. Once we become aware of the existence of Christian populations in places like Syria, Lebanon, or Libya, we have to reconsider some of our fundamental assumptions about those countries. One imagines that it makes liberals just as uncomfortable to learn that the Muslim Brotherhood is sacking and looting museums in order to destroy art and antiquities, as it does conservatives to learn that some of those Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli troops are in fact Christians, not Muslims.
When Pope Francis called for a day of prayer and fasting this coming Saturday on behalf of peace in Syria, he did so not simply to be nice. Rather he first and foremost recognized the power of prayer, in turning to the Almighty with our pleadings and petitions. Secondly, he is very much aware that Syrian Christians are particularly in need of help and ministry, but are incapable in many instances of receiving it. As minorities, even if in some areas substantial minorities, they often do not have the resources which would protect them from reprisals on the part of those who seek to do them harm for simply existing. By bringing awareness to the fact that there in fact are many Christians in Syria, the Holy Father is challenging many people’s assumptions about what Syria, and indeed the entire Middle East, happens to be.
Our nature being what it is, i.e. fallen and imperfect, we know that human beings have a regrettable tendency to pick on those weaker than themselves. History is replete with examples of man’s inhumanity to man in this regard. We can think of the treatment of the early Christians in ancient Rome, the Jews in medieval Granada, Catholics in 1970’s Belfast, or Copts in Cairo today. Without wallowing in a scab-picking celebration of perpetual victimhood, which of course is the prerogative of the left, we can reasonably acknowledge that we do not always treat each other well.
However when we challenge our assumptions about the “other”, we realize they are actually more like ourselves than we might at first have believed. Remaining ignorant of history allows the media, and by extension us as their audience, to stuff entire populations of human beings into convenient, one-size-fits-all categories. This is not only inaccurate but intellectually dishonest.
In the end, by constantly seeking to educate yourself, and questioning what you are being told, you will come to a far greater awareness of the truth behind the broadly-brused headlines, whether in Syria, Egypt, or even in your own community.
War damage to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace