Sunday, March 28, 2004

Shenouda III and Jews

In the post referred to below, Tacitus links to evidence of anti-Semitism on the part of Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III. He uses this as evidence of Copts seeking to remain in the good graces of Muslims. However, I find this interpretation somewhat unwarranted. It's not as if Christianity has no history of its own anti-Semitism; in fact, the Muslim conquests were quite good for the Jews, because they were treated far better under Muslim rule than they were in Christian Europe.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think Christianity is inherently anti-Semitic, just like I don't think Islam is. In fact, I think that whole way of phrasing the issue is problematic. When one talks about "Islam," one talks about 14 centuries of history and over a billion Muslims. With Christianity, there is even more history, and consequently far more believers. Anyone can pull examples of doctrines drawn up and applied in different times and places, but that doesn't mean they are inherent characteristics of the religion in question. One can look at religious discourse as a conversation about values using particular sets of symbolism. (If I just plagiarized that from someone, let me know and I'll cite them.) Both Qur'an and Bible, and certainly the centuries of commentary, have provided ample ammunition for a number of views. The real questions are what views are rising to the surface and why in a given time and place, issues which often have little to do with the religion itself. Many Western commentators intuitively grasp this about Christianity, but don't when it comes to Islam.


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