Sunday, March 05, 2006

Christians cower in fear in the New Palestine

Jerusalem Post | Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World

Palestinian educator Dr. Maria Khoury geared up for the winter chill with what was at the time a meaningless purchase: a black silk scarf with silver stripes to drape around her neck.

But now, on her daily excursions from the West Bank's Taiba to nearby Ramallah, the scarf serves as a political symbol of the changing times.

"Since Hamas took over, I cover my head in Ramallah," she says. "I don't feel comfortable."

In the largely cosmopolitan Ramallah, though they comprise some 10 percent of the population, Christians are becoming less and less visible.

The first time that Khoury ran into her local parish priest there with her head covered, he raised his eyebrows and laughed.

"I see more and more women covered up," Khoury says, explaining that for now, it's preferable to play it safe and assimilate on the street, even if she would never choose to cover her head otherwise.

"Years ago I even used to go in short sleeves," she says. "You'd have to put a gun to my head to get me to wear short sleeves now."

With fear of government-supported religious coercion on the rise since Hamas's unexpected win in January's Palestinian elections, Christians across the West Bank and Gaza Strip are keeping a low profile, with eyes wide open.

It's not unusual that a minority population live in fear of ostracision for holding religious beliefs which are atypical in their society. But it does seem strange that minorities would make such statements as "You'd have to put a gun to my head to get me to wear short sleeves now."

This is beyond religious belief: it's a matter of a culture which rewards idiosyncratic dress with intimidation. Fear of degradation, rape, assault, death and dismemberment is becoming typical of Palestinian society.

This is an entirely negative reflection on the Islamist influence on government in this region, and we here in what we so cheerfully call "a civilized society" just can't quite get our minds around the concept.

When we condemn a judge for posting the Ten commandments in his courtroom, we act as if we are stopping this kind of extremism before it can be properly started.

But really, we have no idea.

We may be outraged that someone would suggest that they have religious priorities.

We may be quick to step on any hint of absolute morality, because it undermines our inherent of moral relativism.

We feel that our concept of atheism is consistent with avoiding acceptance of ANY religious beliefs in a secular society.

But looking at the extremes in which this antagonism to SPECIFIC religious beliefs (or more accurately, a disinclination to accept the religious beliefs of the majority) may be taken, it seems clear that any society which physically threatens mild deviations from the norm of the local culture is not only counter-productive, it is downright evil in that it causes a significant portion of its population to live in fear for their safety.

I don't know if the Palestinians have a good case to make for the return of land which they claim as their own, by historic right.

But I do know that the issue goes far beyond land. It encroaches upon the right of any people, or any culture which differes from that of its neighbors, to survive.

The right of free people to co-exist is central to civilized society. Any culture or society which alienates its neighbor from free practice of a legitimate religion is not only not endemic to a civilized society, it is a plague upon the earth and deserves no support regardless of the wrongs it believes to have been visited upon it.

On a personal note, I suppose I must know some Jewish people, and I might even know a Palestinian ... it just doesn't occur to me, in most circumstances, to wonder or worry about the religious or cultural antecedents of my friends or acquantances. However, if I had to choose between a pair of people from these two societies, I would be more inclined to support the one who was not committed to the total elimination of the other.

The Palestinian radicals who consider the finest act of their short life is to spill the blood of their proclaimed 'enemy' have already branded themselves as outsiders.

I much prefer a people who want nothing more than to live their life in celebration of their God, without actively seeking the elimination from this earth of a people who don't happen to believe in God in the same way.

No comments: