The Last Supper: The Plight of Christians in Arab Lands

May 2, 2016

There are 7.5 million Christians in the Middle East, who live under constant threat of death and humiliation. Danish journalist Klaus Wivel (not a Christian himself) asks: What is the story on the ground and why are so few journalists covering it? Why aren't we in the West doing more to defend the human rights of this beleaguered minority?


JOANNE MYERS : Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Joanne Myers and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to thank you all for spending this part of your evening with us.

We are very pleased to welcome Klaus Wivel, author of The Last Supper: The Plight of Christians in Arab Lands, and Jamie Kirchick, who is a fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative, to this Public Affairs program. For the discussion today, Jamie will be engaging Klaus in a conversation about his book The Last Supper, which will be available at the end of the program for you to purchase.

I wonder how many of you have ever thought about what it is that draws a journalist to choose a particular topic to write about. In this case, and from what I've read, the catalyst for The Last Supper was somewhat unusual, and this is how it all began. In 2011, Klaus, who is a Danish citizen, wrote a letter to the Danish foreign minister asking him what the newly elected government planned to do about the mistreatment of Christians in the Arab Middle East. When no one from the Danish government responded, he decided he would go there himself and see why the governments of Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories had not done more to protect those of the Christian faith.

So off Klaus went, looking for the answers to such questions as: Why was discrimination against Christians running rampant in these countries? Why were there churches being shut down? Why were Christians abandoning their homes at such a rapid rate, fleeing to Europe and to North and South America? And, in the end, why were those in the West, who profess a belief in such universal values as freedom of religion and equality, not doing more to defend the human rights of this beleaguered minority?

In the next 25 or 30 minutes, Klaus, with Jamie's guidance, will help us to try and understand why in the daily drumbeat of Middle East news the story of the growing persecution and systematic destruction of the world's oldest Christian communities goes nearly unreported and why this is being allowed to take place. Following their discussion and in the time remaining, we will open the floor so that you can ask any questions that were not addressed during their conversation.

At this time please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our guests today. Klaus and Jamie, thank you so much for being here.


JAMES KIRCHICK: Thank you, Joanne. Thank you to the Carnegie Council for having us for what is really a phenomenal book—I just finished it today on my train ride up here—and a very important topic that does not get enough attention, and I'm delighted that we are discussing it here.

I guess the first question I have for you, Klaus, is the most basic one. Why did you write this book? What was it that happened that provoked you to do it? Was it a particular event? Was it your work as a journalist that led you to see something that wasn't being covered? What was it that inspired this?

KLAUS WIVEL: There is a short answer and a very long answer. The short answer is I thought the book was lacking. I couldn't find it.

I have been interested in the Middle East for many years. I used to study for a couple of years in Jerusalem at the Hebrew University from 1996-1998, and that was where I began as a journalist.

It really struck me during the so-called Second Intifada that I saw the Palestinian Christians were leaving the territories in numbers, especially Bethlehem and some of the other cities. And I spoke with them, and they said, "We are caught here between the Israelis on the one side and the Palestinian militants on the other side, and we are more and more seen as strangers in our own country." And they told me, "If we leave in these numbers, if this continues, there will be no more Christians, beside a few priests and nuns and monks, in a couple of decades." And I thought, "This is amazing, this is a huge story. Why are we not covering it?" But it wasn't really being covered.

The next thing I heard was, after the Iraq War began in 2003, Christians were being attacked, churches were being bombed, priests were being assassinated, whole neighborhoods in Baghdad and Mosul were being ethnically cleansed of Christians. I think about 2006 or 2007 there was a number that came out and said that two-thirds of the Christian community in Iraq had left. The Christian community in Iraq is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. I thought, "This is a major story. We are losing one of our ancient Christian communities. Why is nobody really writing about this?" I thought about that then.

And then came the Arab Spring in 2011. Many Christians in Egypt—we call them Copts—they were among those who tried to oust Mubarak. But when he fell, they lost the security that they had. They were being attacked as well in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, mostly Salafis, who would burn down churches as well and attack whole neighborhoods of Christians. And many, many Christians left Egypt and emigrated at that point.

An especially horrible event happened in the autumn of 2011, where the Christians were demonstrating in the streets of Cairo against what was happening to them, because churches were being burned, and they demanded of the government that they be protected. What they felt was, when they were being attacked, the security forces just stood by idle and they didn't interfere at all while they were being attacked. And after the attack, even though all of them knew who the perpetrators were, they were not being arrested and they were not being charged with anything. In every sense, they had lost the protection, and the Christians were furious about it, of course, and many left.

So at a big demonstration in autumn 2011, it ended in something called Maspero Square in the middle of Cairo. They were attacked there by the security forces who drove cars, armored vehicles, right into the demonstrators and killed around 29 or 30 demonstrators, most of them Christians. That was such a big shock for the Copts that many left. And that was when I wrote the open letter to my foreign minister asking him what to do.

JAMES KIRCHICK: You yourself are not a Christian, or even a believer, I think you say in the book; is that correct?

KLAUS WIVEL: Yes; I am not a Christian.

JAMES KIRCHICK: So you don't come to this with any—people couldn't say you're biased in favor of this. I mean you're not even a religious person yourself. So was it difficult or was it hard to connect, with the people that you are writing about, if you didn't have much personal knowledge of Christianity?

KLAUS WIVEL: One of the reasons why I felt it was necessary to write that I'm not a Christian was because, when I started this project, I would be met by people mostly in academia and journalism, Middle East researchers, and they would tell me, "Well you are only interested in this because you are a Christian." When I heard that many times, I said, "Now I need to make a point of this." I'm not a Christian. I was never baptized. I consider myself an atheist. But this is a human rights issue, and this is how I think it should be treated, as a human rights issue.

This is not a book about the different congregations and the liturgy and all that. It's really a book about human beings, about Christians, and about their predicament. So it is not difficult, I think, to connect with people in that sense.

JAMES KIRCHICK: You seem to spend most of your time writing about the last 10 years, really when the Iraq War started. Could you put into context the oppression and the violence and the exodus of Christians now, the past decade, 12 years, put that into context with the history before that? Was it really the Iraq War that unleashed this series of events or was it part of a broader, long-term story?

KLAUS WIVEL: It is a part of a broader, long-term story. Christians have been leaving the Middle East for the last 150 years, and many of them have left for South America and North America. They have been leaving for numerous reasons, also of course for economic reasons, like a lot of other immigrants.

But something happened in the 19th century, and this was because many of the ideas came from Europe, came from the French Revolution, of equality between the different groups. They also came to the Arab countries. Until then, Christians and Jews had been discriminated against in the sense that they didn't have the same rights as the Muslims. They were not allowed to do the same things.

For instance, one of the things that Christians could not do, and still can't do, is a Christian man cannot marry a Muslim woman, while a Muslim man can marry a Christian woman and their children become Muslim. This is a basic fundamental form of discrimination that kind of tips the whole society and makes the Christians be treated as secondary citizens.

But there were ideas then in the 19th century, and Christians and Jews in the Arab countries demanded equality with the Muslim population. That caused a backlash. That is when we began to see pogroms against both Jews and Christians, from the 18th century and on, and it tipped during the Armenian Genocide 100 years ago.

So, we have seen these kinds of attacks for many, many years.

JAMES KIRCHICK: On that subject, I think one of the reasons why this topic is so sensitive and why your book is so provocative, even though it shouldn't be, is because the main force that is driving Christians out is a form of Islamic supremacism. Is that fair to say?


JAMES KIRCHICK: Could you talk a little bit more about that?

KLAUS WIVEL: Yes. What we are seeing in these years, and have been seeing for quite a long time, is a shift in what it means to be an Arab. I think I just want to talk a little bit about that.

There are two big ideologies in the Arab world. One is the Arab nationalism, which became very big after the Second World War. The second is Islamism, of course. These two ideologies have been competing, and now Islamism is gaining the upper hand.

But it is interesting to note here that Arab nationalism is really based on ideas that Christians formulated during the 1930s. They did that because, being a minority, Christians wanted to reach a consensus with the Muslim population, a consensus which, of course, wasn't religious. So Arab nationalism is not based on religion. It is based on the history, tradition, language, and food, and all these things where Christians and Muslims could meet. This was a very forceful movement. And from that movement, we have seen, of course, Nasser in Egypt, we've seen the Assad family in Syria, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, these horrible regimes. But this was the Arab nationalist idea, and this was something that the Christians were a part of.

But something happened when the Islamists came: that was that to be an Arab was more aligned with being Muslim. This was exactly what happened also in the Palestinian territories and why the Palestinian Christians felt more and more like strangers in their own country, because they were not seen as being real genuine Arabs anymore.

JAMES KIRCHICK: This is a question that obviously applies to different countries, but what has the role been in terms of the relationship between the authoritarian state as a protector of minorities, so to speak, Christians in particular, versus, you could say, the Islamist movements? Have Christians been forced into these uncomfortable positions where they have felt the need to ally themselves with leaders like Mubarak in some cases, in Syria with the Assad family? Can you talk a little bit more about how that has played out across the region?

KLAUS WIVEL: Yes. This is a very big problem for them now, of course, because they have been allied with the leaders, with the Arab nationalist leaders. I don't know if they have been forced to do it or if it is simply just pragmatism, that "These are the leaders; we need to be on good terms with the ones who are leading the country."

But it is hugely problematic in a place like Syria, because they are considered to be allied with Assad. That is why they have been targeted to a large degree in Syria.

It is a huge problem in Egypt as well. They were being attacked because they were allied first with Mubarak and now with President el-Sisi. This causes the problem now that they will be attacked again if this president in Egypt for some reason falls, because he cannot protect them in the sense if he is not there, of course.

JAMES KIRCHICK: I noticed a similarity, I think, between the way the Jews have been the victims of this Islamist violence. Whenever there is a flare-up in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians, you see Jews in Europe being attacked by Muslims. It seems that there is a similarity also in how, in the Middle East, Christians often become the target of violence when the pope says something that is critical of Islam. Is there a similarity in the ways that these sorts of episodes of violence and reactions play out?

KLAUS WIVEL: Certainly, there is. Christians have become scapegoats.

For instance, you mention the pope. When the pope said, I think in 2006—this was the former pope—he had a speech in Regensburg in Germany where he sort of implied that Christianity was being spread throughout the world by the word while Islam was being spread by the sword. That infuriated many people in the Muslim world, and Christians became the target, because of that, of attacks and kidnapping and all that. So, that is true.

In my own country, we printed, as some of you might know, 10 years ago, caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, and that also led to violence against Christians in the Muslim countries.

JAMES KIRCHICK: There has been a debate in this country over the past couple of months about Syrian refugees and taking refugees from the Muslim world and the Arab world. Some American political leaders said that there should be preference given to Christians. That was met with some real strong criticism from people here. What do you think about that? Should there be preference given to Christian refugees?

KLAUS WIVEL: Not because they are Christians. There should only be preference if these are the people who are most vulnerable and are most attacked. And Christians are some of the people who are most attacked and most vulnerable, alongside Yazidis for instance, also in Iraq, who are even more attacked and suppressed than the Christians are.

If you look upon it from a human rights perspective, there is a case to make. But I don't think there is a case to make if you only look at it from a religious point of view. "Because we are Christians, we should also take in Christians," I don't think that is a valid argument.

But there is another point here. That is, if we open the doors for Christians just to come—"You can come here and be protected"—then they will come and then there will be no more Christians in these areas. That's for sure. So this is something we need to consider. Many of the priests, for instance, in Iraq, and the bishops, they would say, "Do not do this. Don't open the doors, because that will really mean then that it's over."

JAMES KIRCHICK: We are supposed to talk about ethics here because it is, after all, the Carnegie Council. From the media and the political point of view, do you think that our politicians and journalists have been unethical in their coverage of this? Have they ignored this problem? And if they have, why have they ignored it?

KLAUS WIVEL: I think to a large degree it has been ignored, and I think it has something to do with how we view the Arab world. To be frank, I think we don't expect—this is very broadly put—but often we don't expect the Arab world to behave very well. Many people consider them, "They have lower values than we have. We can't expect them to be like we are." We set higher standards for ourselves than we do for the Arab world. I think, in principle, we should set the same standards for everyone. This is what human rights is all about. So that is one of the reasons.

And when it comes to, for instance, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, even though I've lived in Israel, I have always thought that we are covering Israel far too much and the Palestinian and the Arab world far too little. Let me explain what I mean here.

A critical press and critical human rights organizations are good for society. That is a service to society, to have a critical press. And Israel really has a critical press, and that is good for the country because it helps the country.

Now, the Arab countries—this is the flip side of this argument—haven't had a critical press, and I think that is bad for them. We have betrayed the Arab population by not giving them the kind of press that they need.

JAMES KIRCHICK: It seems certainly in the past couple of years, since the Arab Spring at least, and certainly what has been happening in Syria, has absolutely nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and yet we focus so much time on that, thinking that that was the most important conflict in the world. All this upheaval from Tunisia to Egypt to Syria really has nothing to do with it.

KLAUS WIVEL: No. It is as if, "If we only solve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, everything would be hunky–dory."

JAMES KIRCHICK: Which I think, as we've seen, it has been pretty silly to say that the past couple of years.

KLAUS WIVEL: Completely silly.

JAMES KIRCHICK: I live in Washington, but everyone would have told you, "This is the central problem and once you solve this, then everything becomes easier from Pakistan to Kashmir." Why did everyone think this for so long?

KLAUS WIVEL: I really don't have any good answer for that. It has been baffling me too. We focus so much on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. That goes for every country. In my country, every newspaper has a correspondent living in Jerusalem, and they write about this. We know more about what goes on in Israel than we know about what goes on in Sweden, which is our neighboring country, which is completely very, very strange. I have no good answer to this.

But one thing I find particularly weird is that, even though we focus so much on this area, we know so little about it. For instance, how does the Palestinian society work? There is so little coverage about that.

I think one of the reasons is that for some journalists it is easy to be a journalist in Israel. It's a very nice country to live in. You can live in Jerusalem and have a good time and live almost as you live at home.

JAMES KIRCHICK: It's not very dangerous.

KLAUS WIVEL: It's not dangerous. It is much more uncomfortable to live in Amman or in Baghdad or in Damascus now. So it is just easier. I think that plays a role.

And another thing, it is also easier to work with Israelis because it is an open society, it's not difficult to get information. Whereas, when you work in Arab countries, these are closed societies. You need to work in another way.

I experienced this very clearly working with this book. When I spoke with many priests and vicars throughout this and asked them, "How are you being treated by the Muslim society?" They would say, "We have been treated very well. They consider us as brothers."

I really experienced it going to Gaza, for instance, and talking to the archbishop there, the Greek Orthodox archbishop in Gaza. Christians are only 0.2 percent of the population in Gaza, and Gaza is being ruled by Hamas. He would say that, "They are brothers. There are a few problems here and there, but nothing that the government doesn't solve." Then I spoke with some people from the congregation anonymously. They said, "If you don't give my name, I'll tell you exactly how it is." And then all the stories came out of persecution and forced conversions and all that.

This is how you have to work in societies that are closed. I think journalists, maybe, haven't made enough of an effort to explain to the readers that that's how it is. You can't ask a question to the man on the street in an Arab country and expect an honest answer.


QUESTION: Thank you. James Starkman.

The Coptic Christian community in Northern Egypt around Alexandria coexisted with Muslims for centuries. Even under the Arab dictators who were Muslims, they coexisted as well. How much of the friction that arose, and the violence which arose, and the burning of churches, was political, with the overthrow of Mubarak, as opposed to a religious discrimination against the Christian community?

KLAUS WIVEL: I think that's a difficult question, because they were attacked often by Salafist groups, and they would shout religious slogans while doing it. So is this political or is it religious? They were attacked, of course, also because they had been aligned with Mubarak. So I think it was a mix of the two. You can't really distinguish the one from the other, I would say.

QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.

Why don't the very powerful Christian organizations throw greater light on what is going on and find ways to help the Christians in the Arab countries, beginning, of course, with the Vatican, but the World Council of Churches, the Anglican Church, and the churches in this country, and the fundamentalists, and everybody else? Why aren't they doing more?

KLAUS WIVEL: I think there are two questions to that. The Christian congregations in the Middle East are very diverse and they are very split up, and these are divisions that go 1,500 years back in time. So the animosity between some of the Christian groups is very strong. So they don't speak with one voice; they speak with several voices. When there are so few now, it is not a very good idea to speak with several voices. You need to speak with one voice. That is one question.

The Catholic Church, for instance, they know exactly what is going on. But they are afraid that if they put too much emphasis on this, it will backfire. That is one of the reasons, I think—and it is a very valid reason—why, for instance, they are a little cautious in being too forceful in their response to this.

JAMES KIRCHICK: Do you think there is an apprehension about talking about Islam in the same way that in Europe we don't like to approach this issue honestly, we like to tiptoe around it, because we're afraid? Is there a similar fear, do you think, in Christian communities about talking about Islam?

KLAUS WIVEL: I think there has been a fear for many years about talking about Islam. This is certainly a fear in Europe. I think maybe here too.

JAMES KIRCHICK: Less so here, I think.

KLAUS WIVEL: Okay. Well, there has been a fear. I think I can sort of appreciate that. In Europe we have had Muslim immigrants for the last 20 or 30 years, and they constitute the most vulnerable of our society. They are at the bottom of the society. So many people think that if we start criticizing what goes on in the Middle East with Christians, it will be an attack on Islam, and it will be just another attack on Muslims who are very weak. They are weak. There is a right wing in Europe, a rising xenophobic right wing. Also, in Germany you see attacks on refugee camps, and even in Sweden, too. So, this is a valid point.

But I don't think we are doing Muslims any favors by not discussing the problems that are real. We should do that for ethical reasons, as well as for tactical reasons.

If voters—I don't know if this is one of the reasons why we see the ascent of Ted Cruz here and Donald Trump—if there is a sense among voters that something is being swept under the carpet, that we cannot mention the word "Islam," the government doesn't want to mention it, then I think many voters will be angry and feel that they are being manipulated, and then they will react by voting for people.

JAMES KIRCHICK: I think we saw that in the Austrian elections over the weekend, where the leading candidate for the first time is not from one of the mainstream parties but from a far-right party that has some sort of neo-Nazi connections to it. So, certainly.

KLAUS WIVEL: Right, exactly.

JOANNE MYERS: Do you feel that there is a difference in the way that the Christian refugees are welcomed, as opposed to Muslim refugees, in your country, for example?

KLAUS WIVEL: No, I actually don't. This is because there is a big ignorance about who is Christian, who is Muslim. We don't know. We really don't know.

It might change because it is becoming a topic. And we have seen in refugee camps in Europe, including in my own country, that Christians are being harassed by Muslim groups in some of the refugee camps. Especially Muslims who have converted to Christianity, they are really being attacked. There is a focus on that, and that might lead to Christians becoming more—we are getting more sympathetic with the Christians.

QUESTION: My name is Marina Belessis. I am chairman of the benefit for the International Orthodox Christian Charities on May 24 at the Greek church here on 74th Street.

The Armenian Genocide, you mentioned that earlier. And I'm wondering if there is a Christian genocide, because I know certain elected officials have made the stance against the Armenian Genocide, and U.S. foreign policy is actually stating that there is a Christian genocide. Would you call it a genocide?

KLAUS WIVEL: Well, yes. John Kerry has called it a genocide, what is going on in Iraq and Syria towards not only the Christians but also the Yazidis and the Shia Muslims. This is genocide. John Kerry said that, used the word. The European Parliament has used the word "genocide." The United Nations even has used the word. So this is plain genocide, yes.

QUESTIONER: Can I just ask a follow-up question? The role of the Ottoman Empire with forced conversions—being Greek Orthodox, I am very aware of what happened to Greece during the Ottoman Empire—and these forced conversions and discrimination were what we endured. I am wondering if you see any connection to the Islamists and to the Ottomanism in Turkey?

KLAUS WIVEL: That's a difficult question. Many Christians will say that the Ottoman Empire was maybe sort of tolerant towards the Christians, except when it broke down. The Young Turks were not religiously motivated. This was a nationalist movement. So I don't know if you can see a link here. I think political Islamism is a rather new phenomenon as the way we see it now.

QUESTIONER: Ambassador Morgenthau, who was the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, documented the Armenian Genocide during the Ottoman Empire, and he actually was the first to bring that genocide to our awareness during the Turkish period. I'm wondering if the Turkish influence is actually part of this new Islamism.

KLAUS WIVEL: No. I think the influence comes from Saudi Arabia foremost. Saudi Arabia has been spreading their own view of Islam for many, many years, and this is an extremely intolerant view of Islam. They have done it in Egypt, they have done it actually all over the Middle East, and now also in European cities. So that is the main problem.

QUESTION: Don Simmons.

On average, are the Christian minority populations in these Muslim-majority countries more successful economically than the Muslim majorities, higher per capita income? And, if so, why would you say that is?

KLAUS WIVEL: Yes, I think the Christians have in many places been the upper class or have been good merchants. Also, because many Christians have had a link to the Western world, it has been through the Christians that the new ideas from the Western world have been introduced into the Arab society. That has also meant something economically, that they have been able to trade with the Western world. So I think that plays a part.

But there is another aspect to it. The Christians are also really the underclass, the complete bottom of society. You see that in Egypt—the garbage men, who I write about in the book, are Christians. They live in the so-called "garbage city," which is really a garbage place. So it is both the wealthy and the poor.

You see that in Pakistan, too. Also some of the poorest in Pakistan are Christians.

QUESTION: Eamon Moynihan.

In your book, you talk about some of the human rights groups and how they have been, to some degree, MIA (missing in action). Do you want to elaborate on that a little bit? And has that changed with the rise of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or do you still feel that they are not carrying their weight?

KLAUS WIVEL: I think the human rights groups have not focused on this enough, for sure. There was a very strange statement in the winter of 2013 by the director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth. This was when the Muslim Brotherhood was in power in Egypt. He wrote that "accepting political Islam does not mean rejecting human rights." For me, and also for the Christians, this is a completely absurd point of view, because political Islam is all the opposite of what human rights is. And he was the director of a human rights organization. So that just showed me that they were not taking this seriously.

I have been thinking about this—this is pure speculation—but I think one of the points is that human rights groups are secular and, especially in Europe, the secular movement has been a fight against the church. And this has created the society we have in Europe today. But for 200-300 years, it has been a fight against the church. This is especially a European phenomenon. You don't see this much here.

This is one of the reasons why it is very difficult for human rights organizations to view Christians as victims, because they used to be the perpetrators. I think this is just a mental block that is very difficult to overcome.

JOANNE MYERS: How do you think you can change the dynamics and make them focus more on the abuses that these Christians have been suffering and exposed to?

KLAUS WIVEL: I think it is changing now. It is very important that John Kerry came out and called this a genocide. That will open the debate. So I think it is changing now. There is a beginning of an awareness of what is going on. But it is rather late, I would say, because there are no more Christians left in the areas that the Islamic State have conquered in Iraq. There are simply no Christians left.

Even if the Islamic State is defeated—and hopefully they will be—Christians are very, very wary of ever going back. And this is because when the Islamic State conquered the big city of Mosul, these fighters were not local. They were fighters coming from Pakistan or Afghanistan or from many European countries. They didn't know Mosul. So they had help pointing out where the Christians and Yazidis lived so they could be expelled. This betrayal of the Christians and Yazidis is very prominent with them, that there is no trust anymore with their neighbors and with the ones they used to live with.

JAMES KIRCHICK: What other policy recommendations would you make? You mentioned John Kerry coming out very forcefully and saying, "This is a genocide." But actually doing something, what can Western governments do to alleviate this crisis?

KLAUS WIVEL: First of all, I think Western governments should be much more generous in giving relief aid to these groups. They lack money and they lack aid. Just before coming here, I had spoken with Christians who know what is going on in the Christian refugee camps in Erbil, and they simply are lacking the most essential needs.

This goes for the Yazidis, too. You remember the Yazidis were trapped on top of Mount Sinjar and were almost killed there. They still lack the most essential needs.

So give money to charity organizations that help these people. I think that's very important. That will help.

But what do you do politically? You defeat the Islamic State, I guess, as a good start.

QUESTION: Hello. Thank you so much for this discussion. I think it is fascinating, and as you pointed out, not discussed enough for some reason.

If I may, I am going to ask two questions. You spoke about the Saudis spreading their religion, the Wahhabi religion. But they are not just spreading it locally and in Europe. They have, as you know, funded madrassas all over the Muslim world, in Indonesia, Pakistan. That was one of the reasons for the rise of the Taliban, because of these madrassas. What they are teaching, of course, and these are millions of children—they are stopped now because they don't have the funds with the less oil that is being produced. But many rich Saudis now continue subsidizing these madrassas. And there are tens of thousands of these madrassas with, I would suggest, millions of little boys who have been educated in this primarily to kill Jews, but also infidels. Now the Christians, of course, are infidels as well.

How can you possibly counter this kind of—well, I wouldn't call it an education, but brainwashing? That is my first question. It seems to me that it is insurmountable. But maybe you have another thought.

KLAUS WIVEL: Can I just say one thing? Alternative energy I think is good. Wind energy, let's support that. [Laughter]

QUESTIONER: The second question I have: I recently read a biography written by a Jewish woman who was brought up in Egypt. Her family had been there for generations. It was called The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. It was fascinating because it described the life of the Jews in Egypt. They were completely assimilated in Egypt. Although they had their Jewish identity and their Jewish religion and so forth, they were totally, totally accepted in all aspects of social life in Egypt.

Almost immediately after the state of Israel was declared, Nasser started persecuting the Jews—I mean almost instantly. And I wondered whether that also exacerbated anti-Christian feelings as well, even though there was no connection between the Christians and the Israelis at that time. But the anti- the non-Muslim, was that one of the causes for the increased anti-Christianity in Egypt?

KLAUS WIVEL: No. The Christians at that point favored Nasser and they were in agreement with Nasser on this point of throwing out the Jews, unfortunately. So this wasn't what started the anti-Christian feeling. This was really the Islamic movement.

There is a very interesting point I would like to make. You talked about the education from the Saudis. A very important point is that in Egypt teachers went in the 1970s to teach in Saudi Arabia—this was a very normal thing to do—and they brought home with them the Wahhabi religion. The founders of the Muslim Brotherhood, they were teachers, too. They knew that if you want to influence society you start with the children. So they really did a large effort on influencing the educational system, and they managed to do that very well.

One of the huge problems now is in places like Egypt, and also in Iraq, is that children in schools, they don't learn about the Christians. They never hear that the Christians were there before the Muslims were, that they are even older, that the Copts actually originated from the ancient Egyptians. They never hear about that. The history books are really like this: Did you hear about ancient Egypt? Sure. It stops around the year zero. Then, in the next chapter, Islam conquers the Arab world. So you never really hear about the Christians.

That has enormous implications for the Christians. Many Muslims believe that the Christians were sent to Egypt from the West. It is us who are trying to colonize the society. And coming from the West, they are rich, they are going to be wealthy, and that's why it is okay to rob them all or kidnap them and these things. It's a huge problem, and it's the same problem in Iraq.

QUESTIONER: Of course, there were the Crusades too, which did exacerbate very bad feelings towards Christians at that time.

QUESTION: My name is Edith Everett.

You spoke about Human Rights Watch. For the very reason that you spoke about Ken Roth, I quit the board.


QUESTIONER: They weren't even interested in anti-Semitism at that time. It was several years ago. But their claim is that they only concern themselves with government activity, not with what people are doing. I mean it's a sham in a way.

JAMES KIRCHICK: The founder of Human Rights Watch, Robert Bernstein, he quit for the same reason.

KLAUS WIVEL: Yes, he did.

QUESTIONER: He's a friend of mine.

JOANNE MYERS: If there are no more questions, I think we will just adjourn for the moment. I want to thank you very much for bringing this to our attention.

KLAUS WIVEL: Thank you.

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