Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Juan Cole on "the flowering of Christianity" in the Middle East

Juan Cole, who is certainly interesting most of the time, argues that "arguments you see for Christian decline in the region are mostly wrong." (He is perhaps answering this.) Here is a paragraph about Lebanon:
The argument for decline is usually made from Lebanon, where Christians were a bare majority in 1931, but are now something like 22%. But Lebanon’s population was about 800,000 in 1931, so Christians were 408,000. Lebanon’s population is now 5 million, and Christians inside the country are about 1.1 million. So with all the vast Christian Lebanese emigration abroad, to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, the United States, Mexico, etc. (with perhaps 6 million Lebanese-descended people in the New World), there are still twice as many Christians in Lebanon in absolute terms now as there were in 1931. And although it is consequential politically that Lebanese Christians are now less than a third of the adult electorate, they are hardly powerless. They dominate the presidency, the officer corps, and the business world, and they are split between allying with the Sunni Muslims and allying with the Shiites, which gives them influence as a swing vote.
Yes, I guess if the total population increases six-fold in 80 years, you can lose a lot of ground percentage-wise and still have larger absolute numbers. I didn't say it was convincing, just interesting. Here is a sentence about Egypt, making a similar argument: "So in absolute terms, Egypt alone now has more than 11 times as many Christians as lived in the central lands of the Middle East 162 years ago. How is that a decline?" Don't know about that, Juan. 162 years sure is an awful long time. Aren't we talking about whether there has been a recent decline?

Juan also includes South Sudan and Eritrea in the Middle East. He also admits the decline in the Christian population in the West Bank in Israel because, I assume, he can blame Israel for it, while neglecting the fact that the Christian population has increased in not only absolute but percentage terms inside green-line Israel. He may be desperate to depict Christians as "flowering" in the "Middle East," but he isn't going to violate any of his Israel-bashing imperatives. There's more, of course. Reading it is the only way to see if I'm being fair here.

Update: Somehow I'm reminded of this:

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