Biblical Scholars and the Middle East Conflict: Taking Both Seriously   1 comment

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Critical Eye

In the field of religious studies, biblical scholars are known to be a very hardworking people; we learn ancient languages as well as modern ones beside our vast interdisciplinary readings, particularly in history and literary criticism. You need to be a smart and committed person to decide to put yourself in such a challenging situation and aim to find yourself a place in this field.

Consequently, it is perfectly natural to develop a very critical eye, scrutinising the data coming to you … verse by verse or even word by word. You follow the traces of different contributions to the same text and strata of traditions behind it. When you feel ready to make a statement, you expect a strong challenge that would make you think twice before you commit yourself to this statement or that opinion.

But do we take this critical eye and strong sense of skepticism with us outside the department or do we just leave them there on our desks before we switch the lights off and leave?

We cannot simply get rid of the skills we intuited through the years. I am sure the answer is yes in some cases, it is also no in some other cases. Leaving the “yes” cases aside for you to decide, the “no” cases include one that I have been intrigued to observe, in particular throughout 2016: it is the Middle East conflict as a case study.

The Middle East

My university campus is in central Holborn in London, where I also used to work, some time ago before my PhD, as a desk editor in the biggest Middle Eastern news agency, owned by an Arab Gulf royal family.  Being an Egyptian (native Arab speaker), my job was to edit the materials coming to my desk and publish a weekly report on the situation.  When I was practically asked to write something that supports the rise of political Islam in Egypt (the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in 2011) I refused. The prince who was running this business urged me to do that because I’m Christian, which gives the article more credibility. I refused and resigned.. he later became a minister in his oil-rich country and I struggled financially until I got another job.

Through this time I saw how the news coming from the Middle East  countries that were “stormed” by the Arab “Spring” are being fabricated and then fed, in English, to newspapers that will later influence the public opinion in the interest of states that are able to pay.

Upon my frequent visits back to Egypt, I saw how the manifesto of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (Hassan el-Banna) is being followed to the letter… the biggest fear that haunted Egypt since 1928 is becoming a reality. By mid 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood seized power in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and were about to in Syria.  El-Banna’s dream of consuming democracy until they reach the appointment of the Caliph “Allah’s shadow on Earth” became so close that Islamists themselves started to spread rumours about miracles and angelic visions preparing the way for apocalyptic victory over Christians and secularists from Egypt to the rest of the region!

The “doom and gloom” was basically the best description of the situation. Travelling back to the UK after this nightmare, I saw how successful the same Islamists are in giving an entirely different image to the western world, supported by the enormous fund coming from KSA in particular.

But that was not the most concerning issue… before then I already wrote an article expecting exactly what the army is going to do with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt later.[1] The concerning part is the careful shaping of the western public opinion by the so-called “moderate Islamist” voices that are backed by infinitely rich states like Qatar. By the time the Egyptian army defused El-Banna’s dream in Egypt, the western public opinion was ready to be fed almost solely by news sources coming from places like al-Jazeera, and agencies like the one I worked for here in London.

Even worse, many of those in our academic realm dealt with the news coming from MENA with no sense of criticism. The Muslim Brotherhood’s media arm Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the so-called White Helmets and other groups of the same political and financial affiliation have become the sole source of news on Syria for the BBC, Sky News and other western outlets. Yet, a good number of those who are ready to use Wellhausen’s four sources hypothesis or the complicated charts of the Synoptic problem are left to be carried away with the news that are written in passive form, or coming from that single source.

It seems to me that by sponsoring newspapers, rescuing institutions of the size of Deutsche Bank , buying more stakes in London and donating to the Clinton Foundation, countries  like Qatar have managed to shape the awareness of many biblical scholars on the Middle East in a way that Bultmann and all his generation failed to do in the New Testament. The certainty and commitment I see in the voices of some bright and established scholars in the field towards condemning Assad and supporting “the ones” in Aleppo is unparalleled in their area of expertise.

I am not in the place to defend a political group over the other, but these words are addressed to those who are intrigued like me about the phenomenon of limiting our critical approach within the walls of our university halls.

[1] http://www.fairobserver.com/region/middle_east_north_africa/inevitable-clash-muslim-brotherhood-and-armed-forces/

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Posted December 1, 2016 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized

One response to “Biblical Scholars and the Middle East Conflict: Taking Both Seriously

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  1. Minas,

    Well yes you should use your skills to raise your critical voice outside of your University walls. But I have to ask, in what way do you use your voice? Do you need to be patient because there are no quick solutions. Could you take a long term view, so long term may be, that you will not see a solution in your lifetime?

    Geoff

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