Persecution of Christians in the Middle East has been a recurring theme since the middle of the nineteenth century. The topic has experienced a resurgence in the last few years, especially during the Trump era. Middle Eastern Christians are often portrayed as a homogeneous, helpless group ever at the mercy of their Muslim enemies, a situation that only Western powers can remedy.
The Politics of Persecution: Middle Eastern Christians in an Age of Empire (Baylor UP, 2021) revisits this narrative with a critical eye. Mitri Raheb charts the plight of Christians in the Middle East from the invasion of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 to the so-called Arab Spring. The book analyzes the diverse socioeconomic and political factors that led to the diminishing role and numbers of Christians in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan during the eras of Ottoman, French, and British Empires, through the eras of independence, Pan-Arabism, and Pan-Islamism, and into the current era of American empire. With an incisive exposé of the politics that lie behind alleged concerns for these persecuted Christians--and how the concept of persecution has been a tool of public diplomacy and international politics--Raheb reveals that Middle Eastern Christians have been repeatedly sacrificed on the altar of Western national interests. The West has been part of the problem for Middle Eastern Christianity and not part of the solution, from the massacre on Mount Lebanon to the rise of ISIS.
The Politics of Persecution, written by a well-known Palestinian Christian theologian, provides an insider perspective on this contested region. Middle Eastern Christians survived successive empires by developing great elasticity in adjusting to changing contexts; they learned how to survive atrocities and how to resist creatively while maintaining a dynamic identity. In this light, Raheb casts the history of Middle Eastern Christians not so much as one of persecution but as one of resilience.
Byung Ho Choi is a Ph.D. candidate in the History and Ecumenics program at Princeton Theological Seminary, concentrating in World Christianity and history of religions. His research focuses on the indigenous expressions of Christianities found in Southeast Asia, particularly Christianity that is practiced in the Muslim-dominant archipelagic nation of Indonesia. More broadly, he is interested in history and the anthropology of Christianity, complexities of religious conversion and social identity, inter-religious dialogue, ecumenism, and World Christianity.
Tala Raheb is a doctoral candidate in Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Religions (AAMER) at Emory University. Her dissertation examines how Palestinian American Christians interact with Christian Zionism at the intersection of American religion and politics. In addition to her work in AAMER, Tala is pursuing a concentration in World Christianity.
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