Tag Archives: Christianity

Christmas propaganda from Palestine

It’s this time of year again when Palestinians and their supporters gear up to use Christianity’s most popular holy day for their own ugly political purposes. Elsewhere it may be the season of goodwill to all, but for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), it’s just another welcome opportunity to stir up ill will towards Israel and the Jews.

For this purpose, the PLO has just released a short animated clip, which the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department (PLO-NAD) helpfully tweeted with the hashtag #ChristmasUnderOccupation.

PLO Xmas propaganda

The clip shows Santa passing all the usual symbols of Palestinian victimization: the evil kippa-wearing Israeli settler, armed and accompanied by a fearsome dog; a checkpoint guarded by an armed Israeli soldier; a sad girl with her teddy bear in front of a ruined house, and of course the security barrier built in response to the terrorist carnage of the Al-Aqsa intifada. But the best part of the clip is arguably the short text that accompanies it, which explains that on Christmas, “Palestine celebrates the birth of one of its own, Jesus Christ.”

Perhaps one should view this as a huge improvement over some of the other “Jesus was a Palestinian”-fantasies that are part of the annual Palestinian Christmas propaganda routine – last year, for example, an op-ed in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida proclaimed:

“Jesus is a Palestinian; the self-sacrificing Yasser Arafat is a Palestinian; Mahmoud Abbas, the messenger of peace on earth, is a Palestinian. How great is this nation of the holy Trinity!”

Given that Palestinians are used to being indulged by the world, there is indeed no reason why they should care that elsewhere, practicing Christians acknowledge history and think that it is important to remember

“that the first Christmas was first and foremost a Jewish event. Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, the shepherds, the baby: they were all Jewish. And as the baby Jesus moved toward adolescence and adulthood, it was Jewish religion, Jewish literature, Jewish culture and Jewish history that shaped his personality and his mind.”

The fact that the historic Jesus was a Jew is of course also reflected in the concept of shared Judeo-Christian values. But all this is merrily ignored by Palestinians and their supporters, who don’t seem the least bit embarrassed to press Jesus into the service of Palestinian nationalism – never mind the fact that the declared goal of this nationalism is a state with Islam as “the official religion” and the “principles of Islamic Shari’a” as “the main source of legislation.”

In this context, it is rather interesting to ponder the popular Palestinian propaganda fantasies about the terrible hardships that would be inflicted by cruel Israeli soldiers on a present-day Joseph and the pregnant Mary on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  For this Christmas season, the PLO-NAD chose to retweet a tweet by the virulently anti-Israel (not to say antisemitic) website “If Americans knew,” which apparently sponsored a billboard in Atlanta depicting Joseph and Mary being blocked from reaching Bethlehem by the security barrier.

PLO Xmas propaganda2

That Palestinian propagandists would choose such an image is a perfect illustration of their confidence that when it comes to maligning Israel, neither facts nor Christian beliefs matter. After all, the historical Joseph and Mary were Jews, and according to the Christian Bible, they travelled “out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he [Joseph] was of the house and lineage of David); To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”

Can you imagine what would happen nowadays to a Jew from Nazareth who claims to be of the lineage of David and goes to Bethlehem because he regards it as the “city of David” and therefore his hometown?

I’m afraid the best case scenario is that the international media would denounce him and his pregnant wife Mary as extremist settlers who have only themselves to blame if anything happened to them and their newborn baby. And one thing is for sure: if this present-day Joseph tried to buy any property in Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem, any Palestinian willing to sell to him would risk being either lynched or sentenced to death for the crime of selling property to a Jew.

But the arguably most distasteful aspect of the annual Palestinian Christmas propaganda is the implicit belittling of the desperate situation of Christians all over the Muslim Middle East. To be sure, the West’s politically correct elites also don’t like to dwell on the fact that Christians nowadays suffer more persecution than any other religious group, and of course it counts for little that Christianity was born in the Middle East long before the region was conquered by Islam. By now it seems that the millennia-old native Christian communities may be facing the same fate suffered by the ancient Jewish communities of the Muslim Middle East. As Robin Harris put it in a Spectator column: “The ‘Sunday’ people are now following the ‘Saturday’ people out of the Middle East.”

Well, as a matter of fact, the “Saturday people” are still clinging to a tiny patch of the Middle East – and Palestinian propagandists work not just on Christmas, but all year round to create the impression that this is what ails the region.

* * *

First published at my JPost blog.

Just a thought: Jesus, Arafat and Abbas

In a few days, the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas will end with the Feast of the Epiphany that is celebrated on January 6. Unfortunately, ever since the “little town of Bethlehem” came under Palestinian control in December 1995, the holiday time also means that there is intense Palestinian propaganda of the most distasteful kind. I have often wondered how this goes down with some of the Christian organizations that are ardent supporters of the “Palestinian cause” – which all too often might be better described as an anti-Israel cause.

While we are already used to the ridiculous claims that “Jesus was a Palestinian,” this year a new twist was added when an op-ed in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida asserted:

“Jesus is a Palestinian; the self-sacrificing Yasser Arafat is a Palestinian; Mahmoud Abbas, the messenger of peace on earth, is a Palestinian. How great is this nation of the holy Trinity!”

I was reminded of this when I just now read one of Walter Russell Mead’s Yule Blog posts – a venerable Via Meadia tradition to mark the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Under the title “One For All”, Mead writes:

“In contemplating Christmas, we should never forget that the first Christmas was first and foremost a Jewish event. Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, the shepherds, the baby: they were all Jewish. And as the baby Jesus moved toward adolescence and adulthood, it was Jewish religion, Jewish literature, Jewish culture and Jewish history that shaped his personality and his mind.”

Mead goes on to offer many interesting thoughts; and he also touches on antisemitism, quoting the well-known expression:

“How odd of God
To choose the Jews.”

Noting that there were many responses to this couplet, Mead presents his personal favorite:

“It’s not so odd

 As those who choose

 A Jewish God

 And spurn the Jews.”

The progressive quest for comparative consolations

The folks who expected that the “Arab Spring” would lead to a Tweeples-government in Egypt are understandably disappointed by the landslide victory of the Muslim Brothers and the Salafists.

But progressives were quick to find a formula that offers comparative consolation: the basic recipe is to simply claim that Egypt’s Islamists are really no worse – and maybe even better!!! – than disagreeable political figures or forces in your own country.

Following this recipe, Lisa Goldman, writing for the Israeli left-wing blog +972, claims:

citizens of the democratic state of Israel […] freely elected, as the largest faction in its governing coalition after the Likud, the quasi-fascist Yisrael Beitenu party. […] In our Knesset, we also have Kahanists and a large contingent from Shas, which is quite similar to the [Salafist] Nour party.

Unsurprisingly, Goldman’s comment was promptly quoted by The Arabist, where Issandr El Amrani added that “Israelis might mind their own business about Egypt and other post-uprising countries” because “they won’t be doing much business with them at all for some time to come.” Since the post was entitled “Israel and the new Egypt”, I can’t resist the temptation to take Amrani’s comment as a validation of the point I made when I wrote some two months ago that it would be the “Same old story in the new Middle East” because “when it comes to anti-Western and ‘anti-Zionist’ sentiments, the new rulers of the Middle East will be at least as eager as their predecessors to put them to demagogic use.” And as Amrani’s comment illustrates, even supposed Arab liberals seem happy to hold on to the “anti-Zionism” that provided Arab dictators for decades with a useful tool to distract the masses.

But naturally, Goldman was very pleased to be quoted by The Arabist, and tweeted:

.arabist linked to my +972 piece, ‘Egypt’s election results are none of Israel’s business.’ I can die happy now. http://tinyurl.com/6u58lzs

Another example of the quest for comparative consolations was provided by “Informed Comment” blogger and Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, Juan Cole. Under the promising headline “South Carolina & Gingrich, Egypt & the Muslim Brotherhood,” Cole argued that the media unfairly emphasized the religious motivations of Egyptian voters, while downplaying similar sentiments when it came to American voters [emphasis Cole’s]:

The result of this difference in approach is that it is implicitly deemed illegitimate for Egyptians to be religious or vote for a religious party. But it is legitimate for South Carolinians to be religious, to vote on a religious basis, to seek to impose their religious laws on all Americans.

But what if Egyptians voted for the religious parties because they saw them as uncorrupt and despite their religious platforms, not because of them? [...]

It is therefore probable that religious motivations actually played a larger role in the primary in South Carolina than in the election in Egypt! Likewise, an MB leader like Essam El-Erian is the voice of reason compared to Gingrich and is no worse in his own way than Gingrich’s sugar daddy, Sheldon Adelson.

Since Cole claims to be an expert on the Middle East and the Muslim world, it seems fair to assume that he knows full well that there is plenty of reason to conclude that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is a totalitarian movement espousing vile Jew-hatred and that the MB is likely to pursue a theocratic domestic policy and a confrontational foreign policy.

But if Professor Cole thinks it makes for “Informed Comment” to equate the MB with Newt Gingrich, I can only conclude that I have a different idea of informed comment…

In their rather desperate quest for comparative consolations, progressives like Cole and Goldman also ignore the importance of democratic institutions and a well-developed civil society. To simply dismiss America’s historical record as a democracy and pretend that the consequences of a landslide victory for religious parties in Egypt are somehow comparable to a Gingrich victory in the Republican primaries in South Carolina is utterly bizarre. Perhaps Professor Cole should read Professor Mead’s truly informed comment on the left’s enduring obsession with the “Christianist” threat?

It is similarly ridiculous to dismiss Israel’s record as a democracy, because even if Israel’s democracy may not be perfect, it presents truly a record: Israel’s democracy was established when the country had to fight for its very survival, and Israel’s democracy was maintained in the most challenging circumstances, which included not only hostile neighbors threatening war, but also the need to absorb large numbers of destitute refugees.

The Canadian-born Lisa Goldman, who found life in Israel so “unbearable” that she returned to Canada after 14 years here, may feel that Yisrael Beitenu – which is strongly dominated by immigrants from the former Soviet Union – is best described as “quasi-fascist”, and that Shas – traditionally associated with religious Mizrahi and Sephardi voters – is “quite similar to the [Salafist] Nour party,” but democracy is a process, and in a country like Israel, where waves of immigration have brought together groups with very different outlooks, it is not necessarily a simple process. Perhaps Lisa Goldman would have found life in Israel less “unbearable” if the country was still dominated by left-wing Ashkenazi elites that follow the Schocken line – but then it would be a less vibrant democracy.

And while Goldman may be happy that her scathing view of Israel’s democracy was quoted by The Arabist, it has always been real easy to get scathing views of Israel published in the Arab press – and this is just one of the things that the Arab Spring hasn’t changed.

Why Islamists are not like Christian Democrats

A week ago, Ikhwanweb, the official English-language website of the Muslim Brotherhood, featured the translation of an article by Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. It’s easy to see why the Muslim Brothers would like what Westerwelle wrote, because he urged his readers to carefully distinguish between moderate and fundamentalist Islamist forces, arguing:

The decisive issue for us has to be the attitude of Islamic political parties towards democracy. Are these Islamic democratic parties, in the sense in which the European political spectrum naturally includes Christian democratic parties? I am confident that an Islamic orientation can be linked with democratic convictions, that Islam can be compatible with democracy.

Unfortunately, there is little justification for viewing the Brotherhood as the Muslim equivalent of Europe’s Christian Democrats.

For starters, it should not be forgotten that – as Ayaan Hirsi Ali emphasized in a Wall Street op-ed a year ago – the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood remains what it has always been:

Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.

For all I can tell, most of Europe’s Christian Democrats would shudder at the thought of a similar motto for their own parties. Let’s try it:

God is our objective; Jesus is our leader; the Bible is our law; crusading is our way; dying in the way of God is our highest hope.

One thing is for sure: if Germany’s Christian Democrats had such a motto, there would be no article with the headline: “Germany Has a Gay Minister — Yäwn! Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s new vice-chancellor and foreign minister, is very popular and openly gay. And nobody in Germany cares.”

Furthermore, the attempt to understand the Brotherhood as the Muslim version of Christian Democrats also ignores the fact that the Bible and the Koran are viewed very differently by believers. A recent issue of The Economist featured a relevant article that included the somewhat misleading lede: “Muslims revere the Koran. But its study is not taboo—and is in some quarters increasingly daring.” However, as the article acknowledges:

But when it comes to parsing holy writ, there is one big difference between Islam and most other text-based faiths. Barring a brief interlude in the ninth and tenth centuries, and a few modern liberals, Muslims have mostly believed that the Koran is distinct from every other communication. As God’s final revelation to man, it belongs not to earthly, created things but to an eternal realm. That is a bigger claim than other faiths usually make for their holy writings.

The Koran may be interpreted but from a believer’s viewpoint, nothing in it can be set aside. Yet, at least in the calm, superficially courteous world of Western academia, debating the precise text of the Koran is increasingly common.

Indeed, in the West, there are scholars – mostly non-Muslims – “who study the text as they would any other written material—as prose whose evolution can be traced by comparing versions.” Yet, as The Economist acknowledges: “What can be debated in most Muslim countries differs hugely from what is discussed in the West.”

This subject was also tackled in a recent post by Peter Berger, who blogs at The American Interest. Under the title “Islamic Philosophy and the Future of the Arab Spring,” Berger surveyed last year’s developments and concluded that there was little prospect for the emergence of “secular regimes with some liberal credentials.” Therefore, he argued, “if one is to have hopes for liberal democracy in the Muslim world, one will have to pin these hopes on individuals and movements who define themselves within a decidedly Islamic discourse.”

But Berger then turned to the argument that “Muslims and others like to point out that the Bible contains enough bloodthirsty teachings to compete with any Salafist ideology.” In no uncertain terms, he responded to this point arguing [emphasis original]:

It is misleading to compare the Quran with the Bible. For most Muslims, the Quran is “inerrant” to a degree far beyond the understanding of this term by even very conservative Christians or Jews. It has been suggested that Christians, rather than comparing the Quran with the Bible, should compare the Quran with Christ […]The debates as to whether the Quran was eternal or created began at some time in the first century after Muhammad’s death. I think that the majority view ever since has favored the eternity of the Quran—it was with God from the beginning […] If the Quran is co-eternal with God, it has a higher degree of literal infallibility (“inerrancy”) than if it is a creation of God.

While Berger ultimately concludes that it “is important to understand that those who wish to combine their Muslim faith with aspirations toward liberal democracy have decidedly Islamic ideas to support their agenda,” his discussion also makes it very clear that it is only a tiny minority of Muslims that would regard these ideas as “decidedly Islamic.” In other words, it is a fringe phenomenon that is extremely unlikely to go mainstream any time soon – and that is another major reason why Islamists like the Muslim Brothers should not be mistaken for Christian Democrats.

Niall Ferguson’s ‘Civilization’

Guest post by Nathan West*

Civilization: the West and the rest, by Niall Ferguson is a fascinating book, which I wholeheartedly recommend because it offers an original take on the West’s rise to global dominance and an interesting view about what constitutes the biggest threat to Western civilization.

As Professor Ferguson sees things, it was not at all obvious some five hundred years ago that the West – meaning, roughly, the European countries (and now the US and Canada) – would dominate the planet. In fact, China and the Muslim Ottoman Empire were, for a considerable time, both more advanced and more prosperous than Europe. With that in mind, Ferguson sets out to explain how it is that the West came to dominate the world and, having done so, he examines the question whether it can maintain its dominance.

To illustrate China’s impressive achievements, Ferguson discusses, among other factors, Chinese exploration. We learn that in the early 15th century, China built a massive treasure ship, nearly 5 times the size of Columbus’ ship, the Santa María. It was part of a fleet “of more than 300 huge ocean-going junks [...which] were far larger than anything being built in fifteenth-century Europe,” with 28,000 man combined crew, thus making China’s navy the largest in the world until the time of World War I. (p. 54). The fleet sailed far and wide “to Thailand, Sumatra, Java and the once-great port of Calicut (today’s Kozhikode in Kerala); to Temasek (later Singapore), Malacca and Ceylon; to Cuttack in Orissa; to Hormuz, Aden and up the Red Sea to Jeddah.” However, when Emperor Yongle died, the voyages were suspended and exploration effectively came to an end. “From 1500, anyone in China found building a ship with more than two masts was liable to the death penalty; in 1551 it became a crime even to go to sea in such a ship.” (p. 54).

China’s technological prowess was not limited to sea exploration. China brought the world printing, among many other useful inventions:

It was the Chinese who first revolutionized textile production with innovations like the spinning wheel and the silk reeling frame, imported to Italy in the thirteenth century. […] Other Chinese innovations include chemical insecticide, the fishing reel, matches, the magnetic compass, playing cards, the toothbrush and the wheelbarrow. […] Jiao Yu and Liu Ji’s book Huolongjing, published in the late fourteenth century, describes land and sea mines, rockets and hollow cannonballs filled with explosives. Even as late as 1788,  British iron-production levels were still lower than those achieved in China in 1078. (p. 52).

Notwithstanding these impressive achievements, China lacked the qualities which, according to Ferguson, allowed the West to eventually dominate China. Since the book is about Europe and the West, China and the Muslim Empires serve mainly as the foil for showing what allowed the West to gain its advantage.

Ferguson’s explanation of the decline of China and the Ottoman Empire highlights the fact that in both countries, society turned inward. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, the clerical class came to dominate, and, in the name of religion, precluded even the use of such inventions as the printing press. By the time the Ottoman Empire came to understand its looming demise, it was too late to salvage the Empire, which collapsed after the Ottoman defeat in WWI.

The role that religion played in the demise of the Ottoman Empire can also be seen in the fact that, while Muslims were not permitted to use the printing press, non-Muslims were permitted to do so – a point Ferguson does not mention. In fact, non-Muslims had been using the printing press from early on, as noted by Bernard Lewis in his brilliant study The Muslim Discovery Of Europe. This innovation was denied to Muslims because the sacred language of Islam, Arabic, used the same characters as the language spoken by Muslims including those we now call Turks. It is also to be noted that the printing press did not spread to the Arab regions – at least for its Muslim population – until the 19th century. For the Arabs, Arabic was the written language and it was the religion’s sacred language. Hence, it was not to be desecrated by the printed page.

To the extent that Ferguson appears to place the bulk of the blame for the decline of the Ottoman Empire (and, to some extent, China) on religion, I think he is surely mistaken, although religion’s impact ought not be underestimated either. As Professor Lewis notes with reference to Islamic civilization, curiosity about the unknown has not been a trait of very many societies throughout history; rather, inward directed societies are the norm in history. Thus, investigation of the unknown is one thing that sets European societies apart from other societies. It is therefore the “normal” lack of curiosity in the Muslim regions, not Islam, that should be regarded as a major reason for the failure of the Islamic world to keep up with the West.

Ferguson, in pointing to internal causes, hopes to undercut the argument that imperialism was the dominant cause for the West’s rise. Obviously, the Ottoman Empire was also an imperial power, as Lewis rightly notes.  Ottoman policy brought their empire to the outskirts of Vienna as late as the 1680s only to be turned back, once and for good, in 1683. After that, it was one humiliating defeat after the next. Importantly, however, the decline of both China and the Ottoman Empire preceded imperial dominance by the West.

Most of Civilization focuses on answering Ferguson’s central question why the West came to dominate the world, and on pages 308 – 309, he presents a short summary of his answers:

Why did the West dominate the Rest and not vice versa? I have argued that it was because the West developed six killer applications that the Rest lacked. These were:

1. Competition, in that Europe itself was politically fragmented and that within each monarchy or republic there were multiple competing corporate entities

2. The Scientific Revolution, in that all the major seventeenth-century breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology happened in Western Europe

3. The rule of law and representative government, in that an optimal system of social and political order emerged in the English-speaking world, based on private property rights and the representation of property-owners in elected legislatures

4. Modern medicine, in that nearly all the major nineteenth- and twentieth-century breakthroughs in healthcare, including the control of tropical diseases, were made by Western Europeans and North Americans

5. The consumer society, in that the Industrial Revolution took place where there was both a supply of productivity-enhancing technologies and a demand for more, better and cheaper goods, beginning with cotton garments

6. The work ethic, in that Westerners were the first people in the world to combine more extensive and intensive labour with higher savings rates, permitting sustained capital accumulation. Continue reading

Quote of the day

If Arabs and Muslims want to understand popular American support for Israel, rather than fantasizing about elaborate Jewish conspiracies manipulating clueless American Christians, they should reflect on how the persecution of Christians and wild hate-spewing rhetoric about Jews shapes American perceptions of the conflict. Americans generally would like the Israelis to work out some kind of a peace deal that would give Palestinians a state, but think of Hamas as a terrorist organization against which the Israelis must defend themselves however they can.

The contrast between Bethlehem and Gaza on Christmas night reinforces those views. It may be blinkered and culturally insensitive of them, but most Americans tend not to trust people who hate Christmas and Christians — and this isn’t because of the Jews.

Walter Russell Mead in a post where he also comments on a Guardian report about the plight of Gaza’s Christians:

The situation is so bad that even the generally pro-Palestinian Guardian newspaper can’t put a good face on the religious bigotry and foolishness on display in Hamas-run Gaza.

I would argue that this is also a good indication that the popular argument that Hamas — or other Islamists, for that matter — will turn out to be pragmatic “moderates” once they are in power is just wishful thinking: Hamas is ruling Gaza since 2007, and they are clever enough to know that the oppression of the few Christians living under their rule doesn’t make them look good in the West; yet, their “pragmatism” plays out very differently than Western pundits would hope, because from the standpoint of Hamas, pragmatism means subordinating the rights of a tiny minority to the loud and popular calls for the strictest enforcement of “Islamic values.”

The Islamists who stole Christmas

It’s certainly not one of the endearing Christmas traditions, but exploiting Christmas for political purposes is unfortunately becoming a sort of Christmas ritual for activists who regard themselves as pro-Palestinian – and who are, in any case, fiercely against Israel. But as so often, the relentless focus on blaming Israel reflects a cynical approach that cares little about any kind of abuse or persecution that can’t be blamed on the Jewish state.

As I’ve noted in a previous post, even though Christianity is doing very well globally, the picture in the region where it originated looks rather grim: today’s Middle East has the lowest concentration of Christians (just 4% of the population) and the smallest number of Christians (some 13 million) of any major geographic region.

Contrary to what pro-Palestinian activists like to insinuate, Palestinian Christians under Palestinian rule in Gaza and the West Bank are affected by the very same dynamics that have diminished the ancient Christian communities all over the Middle East – and before they came for the Christians, they came for the Jews.

Focusing on minorities in the Middle East, Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, notes in a recent op-ed:

Nearly a century after they rose on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, the Arab states have failed to cause the mosaic of ethnic, national and religious communities which form them to coalesce into nations with common goals and aspirations. Those societies have been torn by ceaseless internal and external squabbles, political and economic discrimination, revolts, civil wars and military coups – resulting in an estimated five million dead and countless wounded as well as a growing number of refugees.

But if the Arab Middle East was often hostile to its minorities while secular Arab nationalism held sway, the now emerging Islamist-ruled Middle East is already threatening even Egypt’s ancient Coptic community whose roots go back centuries before the establishment of Islam and whose very name is associated with ancient Egypt. A depressing report in the Wall Street Journal notes that “[for] decades Copts have suffered attacks by Islamists who view them as ‘kafir’—Arabic for nonbelievers. [...] This year, mobs have looted and attacked Coptic churches, homes and shops throughout Egypt. Churches have been burned down, and one Copt had his ear cut off by a Muslim cleric invoking Islamic law.”

One woman quoted in the report says that she faced harassment because she did not go out veiled, and that she was openly told by a fellow-Egyptian: “We want to clean our country of you.” Hardly less alarming was her experience when a doctor who checked her 12-year-old daughter for a fever suggested that the girl should have her genitals mutilated.

Estimates by human rights groups indicate that as many as 100,000 Copts may have already fled Egypt in the wake of the “Arab Spring.”

But for Egypt’s Copts, the year had already begun with sorrow and anguish when the bombing of a church in Alexandria killed 21 and wounded nearly 100 people leaving a New Year’s Mass. One of the victims was a young woman named Mariouma Fekry who, just before attending the mass, had written on her Facebook page: “I have so many wishes in 2011 … hope they come true … plz god stay beside me & help make it all true.”

The Egyptian government eventually blamed the Gaza-based “Army of Islam” for the bombing; according to press reports, the group denied responsibility, but expressed praise for the perpetrators. This praise is hardly surprising given that also Gaza’s tiny Christian community faced violence and threats by Islamists already shortly after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. Ever since, Gaza’s Christians have been aware that they can’t celebrate Christmas publicly. Moderate Islamism in action.

Christmas news for Christians

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar once promised his audience during a mass rally in Gaza that “Islam will enter every house and will spread over the entire world;” more recently, the mufti of the Jordan-based Palestine Liberation Army seems to have entertained similar hopes.

Maybe it’s people like Zahar and the militant mufti that Walter Russell Mead has in mind when he notes that a new report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life “will make a lot of people unhappy.” Mhm, and Mead’s headline won’t be much of a consolation for those unhappy people, either: “The Missionaries Win: Christianity Becomes Global Religious Superpower.”

Mead highlights some of the most important findings of the report:

Christianity in the last one hundred years grew to become the world’s most widespread and diverse religion as well as the largest.  Roughly one third of the world’s almost seven billion people are (or at least say they are) Christian.  The second largest religion, Islam, claims about one fourth of the world’s population.

The most dramatic change in the last 100 years is Christianity’s global surge.  In 1910, there were about 9 million Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, the Pew survey reports.  Today there are more than half a billion.  This fact is of interest to geopoliticians as much as to believers: sub-Saharan Africa remains the scene of intense Christian-Muslim competition, a competition that frequently breaks out into violence.  The Christians appear to be winning the “race for Africa” at least for now as more than 60 percent of sub-Saharan Africans look to the Cross rather than to the Crescent.  As the US increases its presence in Africa, the common religious orientation will likely make for better and deeper ties.

In another major development, Christianity has achieved a significant presence on the mainland of Asia. […] the future of Christianity as a global faith will likely depend on what happens in countries in East, South and Southeast Asia. […]

As Mead points out, religious demography is a problematic field, but the Pew report provides the most reliable information available – and, so says the professor, because “familiarity with religious history, religious culture and religious demography is essential for anybody who aspires to be a serious student of world affairs; this Pew report is not to be missed.”

To add just one observation from the report’s executive summary – which explains why Zahar and the militant mufti are so upbeat about the ultimate victory of Islam:

Though Christianity began in the Middle East-North Africa, today that region has both the lowest concentration of Christians (about 4% of the region’s population) and the smallest number of Christians (about 13 million) of any major geographic region.

Particularly in the Christmas season, it’s popular in some quarters to blame one of the Middle East’s tiniest countries for the plight of the region’s Christian population…

Perhaps less known is the fact that due to an influx of Christian workers and refugees, some think that there are “enough newcomers now for a Catholic cathedral in every major Israeli city.”

Another piece of rather surprising news can be found at the website of the National Catholic Reporter, where a lengthy post under the hopeful title “Liberating the Christian voice in the Arab Spring” claims that

Israel is not the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population is experiencing growth. Statistics provided at last October’s Synod for the Middle East show that of the sixteen nations that make up the Middle East, seven have seen spikes in their Christian population since 1980: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Yemen. All are part of the Arabian Peninsula.

No doubt in all these places – and particularly in Saudi Arabia – construction workers are frantically building cathedrals and churches to provide the “spiking” Christian population with adequate places for worship…

And sadly, as far as the (equally unrealistic) hopes about the “Arab Spring” are concerned, it seems that almost 100 000 Egyptian Copts have already given up any such hopes and left their country.