On the night of April 24, 1915, as Constantinople’s Armenian community was deep in slumber following Easter celebrations, Turkish gendarmes, following the orders of the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP), made their way through the ancient Byzantine capital to the homes of 250 Armenian cultural leaders. As Peter Balakian wrote in The Burning Tigris, Constantinople’s Armenian community had been “the center of Armenian cultural and intellectual life” since the nineteenth century. The Armenians were a minority community that excelled in the arts, academia, and the professional classes; successful, intelligent, and very much “the other” in a Turkey whose young rulers were influenced by the racialist ideologies then prominent in Europe. Continue Reading »
Earlier this year, as conflict raged in northern Syria, two professors, one Lebanese and the other American, both from elite universities in the Washington, D.C. area, passed the long night at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan, drinking tea. They pondered the weighty issues of the region: whether the nation-state paradigm was the residue of colonialism or a reality to which nations of the Middle East must conform; American military engagement and its consequences; and, of course, the sources of violent extremism. At one point, the Lebanese professor lamented, “These extremists are the worst thing ever to happen to Islam.” The American professor casually observed that they wished to reject modernity and return to the Middle Ages. “But the Islamists are themselves modern,” the Lebanese professor responded. “The violence against ideas and freedom and the dignity of the personthis is all modern, not medieval. Islam’s Golden Age was actually fairly free and tolerant of diverse thought.” The American professor arched a skeptical brow.
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No serious person is without contradictions. The test lies in the willingness or ability to recognize and confront them. So wrote the late Christopher Hitchens in 2003, on the centennial of the birth of his fellow countryman Malcolm Muggeridge. The two had much in common. Both were middle class products of the English public school system and elite universities; both were journalist-adventurers, disillusioned socialists, contrarians, and iconoclasts. They were not quite contemporariesMuggeridge died in 1990, just over forty years after Hitchens was bornbut Muggeridges life offers a lens through which to remember Hitchens, who died two years ago this December. . . . Continue Reading »
In the early spring of 1953, a sickly Russian novelist, covered with ice, out of the dark and the cold, staggered forth from the Soviet Gulag, the constellation of Communist prison camps that stretched from Siberia to South Asia. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, ill with cancer, had once been a proponent of the system that condemned him to forced labor. Now he saw his nations deep suffering, like his own, as redemptive… . Continue Reading »
In 1095, in a carefully crafted speech before prelates and nobles in Claremont, France, Pope Urban II called Europe to action: A Crusade to aid the Christian empire of Byzantium. Emissaries of the emperor in Constantinople had come to Urban to ask for aid against the advancing Muslim Turks, who were mistreating conquered Christians, desecrating shrines, and pressing on toward Constantinople… . Continue Reading »
In the fall of 2010, a few months before revolution swept the Muslim world, I happened to be in Yemen for work. The trip coincided with the start of the Eid holiday, which provided ample free time to see much of the capital, Sanaa. One afternoon, en route to the hotel from the historic Old City, the driver pointed out the window at a group of men standing on a vacant corner. Look! he said with the excitement of happening upon a rarity. Those are Jews. … Continue Reading »
Oscar Wilde once observed that the Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone. For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do. Newt Gingrich would have made a pitiable Anglican“or Mormon, for that matter. As a Catholic, however, he fits right in. Catholics are all too familiar with frailty, and in fact the central Christian idea of redemption by Christ presupposes a need for such redemption… . Continue Reading »