Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Will Helsinki Summit Affect the Syrian Conflict?


By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript 
 
This past Monday, all eyes were turned towards Helsinki, where Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin held their long-anticipated summit.

A serious bone of contention between the two countries has been the Syrian Civil War, where Russia has been aiding Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while the United States has supported Kurdish rebels and other anti-government forces. The two superpowers have come perilously close to blows at times.

The conference was also hyped in its possible implications for Israel, a key American ally in the Middle East.

But in the end, maybe too much has been made of this meeting -- certainly as far as Israel is concerned. Russia might be offering Israel a grand bargain that Putin believes will meet the interests of the parties involved, without much American input.

Its cornerstone involves keeping Iran at bay in Syria until a total settlement, which would include the withdrawal of the United States (and Turkey), is reached. After that, Moscow will make sure the Iranians -- and Hezbollah -- leave Syria as well.

In Helsinki, Trump stated that Putin “is helping Israel.” He added that “creating safety for Israel is something that both President Putin and I would like to see very much.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to agree. On July 11, he made his third visit to Russia this year to see Putin. 

The talks revolved around the possibility of an Iranian departure from the country in exchange for Israel not interfering in Assad’s forces in the south of the country, near Israeli territory. 

Netanyahu has been pressing Moscow to curb Iranian influence in Syria and has repeatedly warned that Israel will not tolerate a permanent Iranian presence there.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel “has no problem with the Assad regime,” but the main issue includes the presence in Syria of fighters from Hezbollah, the remnant of the Islamic State and Iran.
Russian diplomats have emphasized that there should be no “non-Syrian forces” in the southwest of Syria, near the Israeli border. 

Russia has apparently promised to keep Iran within 100 kilometres from the boundary and has already been partially delivering on this commitment. 

Moscow still gives Israel needed leeway on Syrian territory, as long as they strike Syrian positions only in retaliation to Syria’s own offenses or when they attack non-Syrian forces. 

The very day Netanyahu arrived in Moscow, Ali Akbar Velayati, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s foreign policy adviser, delivered what Iran’s foreign ministry called a “very important” message regarding Syria from Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.

A few short years ago hardly anyone could imagine that Russia would become the most influential external actor in the region, with everyone now expecting something from Moscow.

Russia is taking into account the security interests of the key players --Turkey, Israel and Iran, contends Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.  

Does the road to ending Iran and Hezbollah’s presence in Syria run through Moscow rather than Washington? Netanyahu thinks so, and Helsinki hasn’t changed his mind.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Does Being Smaller Make a Country More European?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

At 2,586 square kilometres, it is the smallest but one of the 28 European Union states. You could drive its length (88 kilometres) or its width (56 kilometers miles) in no time.

The capital, with the same name, has barely 100,000 souls.

The country is the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Small as it is, this grand duchy is a founding member of the European Union and NATO and hosts the European Court of Justice, the Secretariat of the European Parliament and other supranational institutions. Luxembourg expects to be listened to and taken seriously by its European peers. 

With roots stretching back to the 10th century, Luxembourg’s history is closely intertwined with that of its more powerful neighbours, especially Germany. Many of its 600,000 inhabitants are trilingual in French, German and Luxembourgish.

The state’s roots go back to 963 AD, when Siegfried, count of the Ardennes, acquired Lucilinburhuc, an old Roman fort with a Frankish name.

Over the next few centuries, it would grow to encompass an area four times the size of the present grand duchy. It even managed to produce three Holy Roman emperors and several kings of Bohemia. But it would eventually suffer three partitions, resulting in the small nation of today.

The three countries surrounding present-day Luxembourg all own territory that once belonged to Luxembourg, and they all at one point or another demanded its total annexation into their own territory.

In 1659, by the Treaty of the Pyrenees, France gained 1,060 square kilometres, 10 per cent of Luxembourg’s size at the time. Luxembourg later became part of Napoleon’s European empire.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, after his defeat, Luxembourg re-emerged, but smaller again. This time it was Prussia that gained territory -- 2,280 square kilometres, 24 more per cent of the grand duchy.

But the worst loss occurred in 1839, when the Netherlands accepted the Treaty of London, formally recognising Belgian independence. As a result, the country lost its western, French-speaking half to Belgium, which still has a province also called Luxembourg.

The territory ceded to Belgium was 4,730 square kilometres, or 65 per cent of the territory of the grand duchy at the time. The population of this territory was 175,000, then half of Luxembourg’s total.

Together, the three partitions reduced the territory of Luxembourg from 10,700 square kilometres to the present-day area of 2,586.

Even after all that, King William III of the Netherlands remained the head of state, as the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, maintaining a personal union between the two countries until 1890.

And of course the country didn’t avoid the horrors of 20th century Europe, either: in the first half of the 20th century, Germany brutally occupied Luxembourg twice, with Hitler annexing it outright the second time.

Luxembourg was liberated in September 1944, and became a founding member of the United Nations a year later.

Yet Luxembourg, instead of harboring irredentist designs to recover its lost territories, has become a poster child for the pan-European model we call the European Union. It was one of the six founding members in 1951 of what would become the EU.

With an advanced economy and one of the world'’ highest GDPs per capita, it is part of a greater economic region alongside the Walloon part of Belgium (including its German-speaking area), the French region of Lorraine, and the German states of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate.

A global financial centre, the country is a major banking hub. ArcelorMittal SA, headquartered in Luxembourg City, is the world’s largest steel producer.

Many radio and television services for pan-European audiences, including those in France, Germany and Great Britain, are headquartered Luxembourg. Generations of British listeners grew up with Radio Luxembourg, which beamed pop music programs into the country.

Xavier Bettel formed a government in December 2013 after elections held in October at which his Democratic Party, the Socialists and Greens emerged with a small majority over the largest overall group, the conservative Christian Social Party.

The vote was called after Jean-Claude Juncker of the Christian Social Party, who had been prime minister since 1995, lost his majority in parliament when the Socialists quit his coalition over a phone-tapping scandal. The Christian Social Party had been in government since 1979.

Bettel, the mayor of Luxembourg City between 2011 and 2013, is the country’s first openly gay prime minister.

July in Alaska: a Pleasant Reunion

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

I once heard a speaker refer to “remote” Alaska. That it certainly is – it’s five times zones west of Prince Edward Island.

Earlier this month, we travelled to Juneau, the capital, to attend the 50th year reunion of my wife Pat’s high school.

Alaska belonged to tsarist Russia until sold to the United States in 1867, and remnants of that past are visible in onion-domed Russian Orthodox churches and aboriginal Alaskans with Russian surnames.

The St, Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, built in the 19th century, contains icons brought from Russia, and sits on a steep hill overlooking the downtown. It was built by Tlingit natives who were Orthodox.

One of the saints of the church is St. Peter the Aleut, a native Alaskan.

Today, indigenous Alaskans comprise some 15 per cent of the state’s 740,000 people. Most others are people whose families came from the “lower 48.”

Alaska became the 49th American state – and, at 1,717,856 square kilometres,  by far the largest -- in 1959.

Juneau is in the Alaska panhandle, located on the Inland Passage of the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by mountain ranges.

Founded in 1880 as a gold mining town -- you can take tours of the old mines -- the mountains loom over the city making for dramatic and spectacular views.

The city of 32,000 people, above the 58th parallel, sits at the base of Mount Roberts and can only be reached by boat or airplane.

The absence of a road network is due to the extremely rugged terrain surrounding the city. This makes Juneau in effect an island in terms of transportation, in spite of the city being located on the mainland.

A good starting point for learning about the city is the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, which also offers walking tours of Juneau's historic buildings.

Juneau has become a major destination for cruise ships. In summer, as many as five huge boats dock in the cruise ship harbour, and the  city is overrun with tourists.

The downtown begins to resemble a virtual theme park; indeed, most shops sell souvenirs and trinkets.

A tramway, opened in 1996, carries visitors 550 metres up Mount Roberts, elevation 1,164 metres, through the rain forest to an alpine area.

There are hiking trails, wildflowers and views of Gastineau Channel separating the mainland from Douglas Island.

The Mendenhall Glacier, some 22 kilometres long, is located in Mendenhall Valley, about 19 kilometres from downtown Juneau, and is also a tourist destination.

The glacier has recently come to the forefront of the international debate on global warming, because it is retreating and shrinking. A lake has now formed at its base from the melting ice.

On the fourth of July, America’s Independence Day, we watched Juneau’s annual parade, on a day when the temperature actually reached 28C. Not bad for a place this far north.

There were parades, races, music, sand sculpting, food vendors, and barbeques. We went to the one at Douglas United Methodist Church on Douglas Island. It was indeed a very spirited event.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Israel Boasts Robust Demographic Strength

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Israel’s birthrates have seen a sustained rise in fertility. They present a stark contrast to the picture in other developed societies, where the fertility rate has been steadily sinking to or below replacement level.

New demographic data have revealed that the fertility rate in the United States, which had been relatively robust until recently, and was still holding its own as late as 2008, has just plunged to a historic low of 1.76, far below the replacement level of 2.1 children per family.

That is because, in the view of Sarah Rindner, who teaches English literature at Lander College in New York, the democratic West is ‘undergoing a deep cultural or spiritual crisis of which the demographic crisis is less a cause than a particularly severe symptom.”

Ofir Haivry, an Israeli historian and political theorist who is vice-president of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem, attributes this to the situation in affluent cultures, where “the material and even the spiritual well-being of individuals is connected to the limit they place on the number of their children,” whereas the situation in more traditional societies large numbers of offspring are regarded “as the single best measure of success and status.”

While the individualism now dominant in the West, a product of liberalism, is one that lauds the autonomous, rational individual, Israel’s mix of collectivism and individualism, as Haviv Rettig Gur, the senior analyst for the Times of Israel newspaper, points out, allows for a more robust demographic strength.

Its culture of camaraderie and self-sacrifice, he notes, stems from “a collectivist ethos deployed in defence of individualism, a lionizing of family and tradition alongside an underlying liberalism that ensures these traditionalist and collectivist choices are entered upon by free individuals.”

Thirty years ago, in 1988, Israel’s population was at 4.4 million; it is now at about 8.8 million. In other words, the country’s population has doubled in three decades.

With 399 people per square kilometre, Israel is certainly densely populated. Has this led to the very small country feeling “overcrowded,” with a corresponding increase in economic problems, and a decline in services and quality of life? Not at all.

As the population doubled between those years, the GDP went from $43.9 billion to $318.7 billion, a seven-fold increase; per-capita GDP has more than tripled, from just under $10,000 to just over $37,000.

Israel is now among world leaders in the percentage of people with post-secondary degrees. At 46 per cent of the population, it is far above the average of 32 per cent in the developed world, as measured by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In 1988, life expectancy for an Israeli was 74.4 years; it is now about 82.5 years, at number eight in the world, above Canada, Denmark, France, and the United States. Not bad for a people sweating out an “aggressive, stress-filled existence.”

Now home to the majority of the world’s Jews, at almost 6.5 million, Israel’s resilience and demographic strength will probably increase that percentage, especially as in the Jewish diaspora a declining birth rate and growing assimilationist pressures may make for far smaller Jewish communities in the future.

An Organization Helping Egyptian Christians

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The mission of Coptic Solidarity, located in the Washington DC region, is to increase awareness of the situation of Copts in Egypt and to solicit the support of international public opinion and policy makers.

The Copts are over 10 million strong and have lived in Egypt for two millennia. They are the largest Christian and largest non-Muslim community in the Middle East.

Discriminatory state policies and political violence have historically marginalized Copts, particularly in many cities of Upper Egypt and in the Nile Delta area.

Though they are descended from the aboriginal Pharaonic civilization, many Egyptian Muslims think of them as “foreigners.”

Attempts to address this are usually met with denial by Egyptian media and government are under-reported. 

Sometimes Copts drawing attention to these injustices are portrayed as agitators out to tarnish Egypt’s image. 

I attended Coptic Solidarity’s ninth annual conference, held in Washington June 21-22, which addressed the theme of “Egypt’s Copts: Faces of Persecution,” and presented a paper on Nazi anti-Semitism.

I was on a panel with Edward Clancy, the New York-based Director of Outreach, Aid to the Church in Need, a papal-sponsored charity; and Father Philemon Patitsas, of the Holy Metropolis of Atlanta, and St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Naples, Florida.

A host of other academics, social activists, and American and Canadian politicians and bureaucrats, addressed the meetings.

As well, two Hungarian officials, Dr. Laszlo Szabo, the Hungarian ambassador to the United States, and Tristan Azbej, Hungary’s Deputy State Secretary for Aiding Persecuted Christians, a government department now located within the Prime Minister’s office, provided views on how Christians in the Middle East might be helped.

The consensus that emerged from the conference is that the situation for Copts in Egypt is dire.

Raymond Ibrahim, author of The Sword and the Scimitar, maintained that the Egyptian government and media deny there is a problem. They insist Copts are considered part of the country’s social fabric and thus are not discriminated against because of their faith.

So violence and terrorism directed at Copts are considered an “aberration.” The government, he suggested, engages in deception and denial, “because they don’t want the status quo shaken.”

In fact sometimes Copts acting in self-defence against mobs are portrayed as perpetrators rather than victims. And it is claimed they exaggerate their plight.

Dr. Robert Herman, Senior Advisor for Policy at Washington-based Freedom House, agreed.

Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in office since 2014, independent media have been shut down, and some 40,000 opponents of the regime languish in prison. All legal sources, states the constitution, must be based on Islamic sharia law.

The absence of accountability in government allows attacks against Copts and other marginalized minorities to happen with impunity.

Islamist websites spew hate against Copts on a daily basis while critics are repudiated and their statements are said to be “full of lies.” Copts now face “a shrinking of civic space,” said Herman.

 “A democratic political system is the best way to protect religious freedom” and defend society against “hatemongers,” he concluded.

Andrew Miller, deputy director for policy at the Washington-based Project on Middle East Democracy, went further, asserting that Sisi pretends to be a “saviour” protecting Copts from extremists like Islamic State, in order to advance his standing on the international stage.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Washington's Vietnam Veterans Memorial a Sombre Site

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
 
I worked as a journalist in Washington DC during the 1980s, but until I spoke at a conference here toward the end of June, I hadn’t been back since 1993.

In his recently published book War Beyond Words: Languages of Remembrance from the Great War to the Present, Yale University historian Jay Winter makes the case that war memorials have gradually shifted in design from the vertical, which suggests heroism, something we look up at, to the horizontal, which results in the downward gaze of mourning. 

One such structure, he indicates, is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is said to be the most visited site on the Mall. The memorial is maintained by the U.S. National Park Service and receives around three million visitors each year.

I’d recommend two excellent scholarly articles, “The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Washington Mall: Philosophical Thoughts on Political Iconography,” by Charles Griswold, (1986), and “The Wall, the Screen, and the Image: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial”  by Marita Sturken, (1991), which I have used in courses and draw upon here.

The Vietnam veterans who organized the construction of the memorial stipulated only two things for its design: that it contains the names of those who died or are missing in action and that it be apolitical and harmonious with the site. 

Dedicated in 1982, it was designed by Maya Lin, after a national competition, and she eschewed conventional tactics towards memorial design.

She was a 21-year-old undergraduate at Yale University, not only young and un-credentialed but Chinese-American and female – something not everyone was pleased with. But as the years have gone by, the memorial has attained iconic status.

Situated on the grassy slope of the Constitutional Gardens, it consists of two walls of black granite set into the earth at an angle. Together, they form an extended V almost 500 feet in length, tapering in both directions from a height of approximately ten feet at the centre.

The walls reflect the towering Washington Monument and face the imposing Lincoln Memorial.

The reflective surface allows viewers to participate in the memorial. They see their own images in the names of the dead. It is, for many, an extremely emotional experience, and many break down and weep.

There are no heroic images, no swords or flags. This is not a memorial that glorifies war.

Much of the memorial’s power is due to the effect of the almost 60,000 names inscribed on its walls. They are listed not alphabetically but in chronological order.

The listing of names begins on the right-hand side and continues to the end of the right wall. It then begins again at the far end of the left wall and continues to the centre again. 

Thus, the name of the first American soldier killed in Vietnam in 1959 is on a panel adjacent to that containing the name of the last American killed there in 1975. 

The memorial has taken on all of the trappings of a religious shrine. There is a pathway along the base of the wall, where visitors walk, read names, make a pencil rubbing of a particular one, or pray. 

People bring personal artifacts, flowers and pictures to leave at the wall as offerings. They take photographs of themselves standing next to and touching the name of a friend or relative. 

It is a sombre place, as one ponders the fate of the mostly very young men, whose names are inscribed here.

Mind you, not everyone likes it. Former Second World War pilot and Princeton University literature professor Samuel Hynes, in his book On War and Writing, contends that the wall “says nothing except dead, dead, dead – 58,000 times.” 

My wife Pat, who grew up in Juneau, Alaska, during that period, knew two young men from her high school whose names are on the wall. One was a good friend.

It is no surprise that this is a very different form of commemoration. After all, how does a society remeber a war for which the central narrative is one of division and dissent, a war whose history is highly contested even now, more than four decades after it ended

The monument also speaks to the pain and subsequent marginalization of  the Vietnam veterans, who came disproportionately from the ranks of the poor and minorities. 

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a fitting tribute to all who fought and died. Anyone visiting this beautiful city should make it a point to see it.

Washington is Beautiful but Expensive

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

I teach a course in political geography at the University of Prince Edward Island, where in one segment we look at the history, geography, and demographics of some of the world’s major cities.

One of them is Washington, DC, and I sometimes ask students if they’ve ever been to the American capital. Very few have.

That’s a shame, because it is a beautiful, planned city, worthy of a superpower like the United States.

I worked as a journalist in Washington in the 1980s, but was last here in 1993. I’ve now come back for a conference.

For the politicians, lobbyists, and journalists who work here, life here can be hectic, as befits a world centre. We used to call it “Powertown.”

Prior to leaving, I was told by two colleagues who visited the city last year that I would see many changes. They were right.

Most Canadians are familiar, if only in pictures and on television, with the National Mall. With its magnificent museums, monuments and statues, the U.S. Capitol at one end, the Lincoln Memorial at the other, and the White House a little further north and in between, it really is a breathtaking sight.

But they might not have seen the city’s wonderful neighbourhoods, such as Adams-Morgan, Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, and Kalorama. The city is also home to many universities.

There’s a fly in this ointment, however. The city has become so expensive many people can no longer afford to live in it.

The old 14th Street corridor, for example, has been transformed dramatically, as have other gentrified areas. Where there were once shabby streets with pawn ships, cheque-cashing places, and cheap liquor stores, they have been replaced by great restaurants, trendy bars and endless rows of glass condos.

It’s partly the result of the exponential growth of the federal bureaucracy. 

In response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, President George W. Bush directed enormous sums of money toward national security efforts that required a highly sophisticated workforce.

The Sarbanes-Oxley law, passed in 2002, led to complex financial regulatory efforts that demanded staffing to match. The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 generated a stimulus bill, the Dodd-Frank law and the Affordable Care Act, each of which was a regulatory undertaking of the first order.

Government contracting dollars spent in the Washington area more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, reaching $80 billion, and the amount spent on lobbying more than doubled between 2000 and 2011, reaching $3.3 billion.

By one estimate, there are at least 20,000 registered lobbyists in the city, mainly located along K Street. For every one member of Congress, the influence industry produces about $12.5 million in lobbying.

So, while some three million jobs were lost nationwide in the great recession after 2008, the Washington region, which includes suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, suffered far less.

Essentially, Washington has been the beneficiary of a ­decades-long, taxpayer-funded stimulus package.

There are some 120,000 more people in Washington now than in 2000, bringing the population to almost 700,000. Many are young; the median age is nearly 34, four years below the national average.

And as tens of thousands of the nation’s best-educated workers arrived and during that period, the region added 21,000 households in the nation’s top one per cent.

Not surprisingly, between 1991 and 2016, the average single-family house price in Washington increased 317 per cent, approximately 50 per cent more than the increase nationwide.

In the Shaw neighbourhood, a small area located in the Northwest quadrant which includes the U Street corridor and “Little Ethiopia,” housing prices increased 145 per cent in one decade.

Welcome to the imperial city. You may visit anytime, but you likely can’t afford to live here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Is Hungary Being Unfairly Maligned?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal
 
Hungary has been the subject of increased criticism in the past few years, with Prime Minister Victor Orban accused of harbouring authoritarian tendencies and being hostile to migrants crossing into the country. 

On June 20 the Hungarian Parliament approved a package of laws that criminalizes the act of helping undocumented migrants; some fear it will help transform the country into an “illiberal democracy.”

Is Hungary being unfairly maligned? I recently attended a conference in Washington on “Faces of Persecution,” organized by Coptic Solidarity, an advocacy group for Egyptian Christians. It featured two Hungarian government officials as speakers. 

Dr. Laszlo Szabo was appointed the Hungarian ambassador to the United States last year, while Tristan Azbej is Hungary’s Deputy State Secretary for Aiding Persecuted Christians, a government department now located within the Prime Ministers office.

Szabo, who previously served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Prime Minister Orban’s government, explained that his government is helping to rebuild Christian settlements and churches in northern Iraq for Christians who fled the region when it was conquered by the Islamic State.

“Hungary believes it is best to create a meaningful future for these people, working with churches in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, to provide solutions, he said.

“They need help on the ground, hence identifying whom to talk to is important. We went to one town, Telesquf, north of Mosul in Iraq, and have rebuilt hundreds of houses. 

“We also rebuilt three schools and one hospital after Islamic State was pushed out.” Out of 1,300 families that had fled the town, about 1,000 have returned.

 “We are proud to lead by example. We also created the Stipendium Hungaricum scholarship program for students. We have to create a future of jobs and opportunities.”

Szabo emphasized that there must be meaningful solutions in the affected countries themselves. “This is better than having people flee to Europe.” And at the same time, it will allow Hungary to “preserve its self-identity.”

Azbej served in Hungary’s Tel Aviv embassy in Israel prior to the launch of his unit in 2016. 

It focuses on raising awareness and providing humanitarian aid in regions of crisis.

The ultimate goal, he indicated, is to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East to remain in their ancient lands and to strengthen their communities.

Their primary need is to be able to return to their homes with international support.

Hungary will topple the wall of silence that surrounds the persecution of Christians, he told the attendees. They are victims of  “cruel acts of aggression and discrimination.” 

Helping them, he added, has become a national policy for Hungary. “We have dedicated programs for those living in the crisis zones.”

He told the conference that hundreds of young Copts are studying at Hungarian universities, while Copts injured in terrorist attacks in Egypt have been treated in Hungarian hospitals.

Uncontrolled mass migration is a threat both to Europe and the Middle East, he maintained. In Europe, it will lead to a loss of a nation’s culture, while in the Mideast it results in that region losing its best people.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Roots of Hitler's Anti-Semitic Worldview

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

I recently presented a paper on Nazi Germany’s de-legitimization of Europe’s Jewish population as a prelude to the Holocaust.

Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. The Nazi seizure of power was carried out step-by-step through the first half of 1933, each step disguised as a seemingly legal act.

Everything was completely legal and in conformity with statute and precedent. Hitler governed by executive decree, a form of government that was subject to no checks or balances.

Issuing from the government, these laws had the appearance of legitimacy, yet they had transformed the country into a dictatorship.

What lay behind Hitler’s incredible animus towards the Jews? 

When the Nazis came to power, Jews made up less than one per cent of the population in Germany. But the Nazis regarded them as a vast, powerful, and deadly threat. Hitler viewed the world as poisoned by the “Jewish” idea of human equality. 

Political and religious systems had all been used by the Jews to achieve dominance over more naturally powerful peoples. They were the makers and enforcers of a corrupt planetary order.

Hitler was convinced that without a proper sense of urgency, Germany would be eventually defeated, dominated, and very likely destroyed by the Jews.

Influenced by the tsarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hitler contended that there was a worldwide conspiracy of Jews to overthrow the German race, annihilate its culture, and render it impotent before its enemies. All Jews everywhere, no matter their political views, were part of this vast plot.

The Jews constituted the greatest threat to Germany’s racial purity and fighting spirit, asserted Hitler, and thus to its capacity to wage the eternal struggle needed to sustain and expand Germany’s population and vanquish its rivals. He claimed that they were a “spiritual pestilence,” worse than the Black Death. The only way to remove this plague was to eradicate it at the source.

Germany’s mission, he declared, was the conquest of lebensraum (living space) in the east, which could only be achieved at the expense of “Judeo-Bolshevik” Russia. This depended on overcoming its own decadence by breaking with democracy and purging itself of racial enemies. 

This Manichean world view, a world-historical struggle and apocalyptic-like global campaign, led to the burning of books, anti-Jewish legislation, expropriation, promotion of emigration, and also extensive efforts to “purify” art, science, legal thought and language from assumed Jewish influences. It would eventually culminate in genocide.

Think of SS troops sending clearly helpless old Jews to Treblinka. Can anyone be any less harmless? But they were, in Hitler’s mind, merely the “surface” embodiment of a worldwide conspiracy, one that remained headquartered in London, Moscow, Washington, and other capitals, and was trying to destroy Germany and all “Aryans” in a world war. They were a poison to a civilization's political and spiritual “health,” something Hitler was fixated on.

It was this kind of metaphysical racism which made Hitler’s policy against the Jews distinct from other forms of state sponsored killing, whatever the relative number of deaths. 

The war against the Jews was of greater importance to Hitler than the war against the Allies. Even when it was being lost, Hitler refused to allow redeployment of the trains rolling to the death camps, though they were needed for the war effort. 

And when the trains finally did stop running, because the Russians were about to overrun the mainly Polish-based camps, the SS troops were not redeployed to stave off the Russians. Instead they were ordered to take their captives on the road in what became the final phase of the so-called Final Solution to the Jewish Question: the Death Marches. 

More than 250,000 concentration camp prisoners died in this way shortly before the end of the war. Many of them were murdered by German civilians. The killing had to continue at all costs. Killing Jews was more important than military objectives. 

The so-called “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” was pure ideology put into murderous practice. Destroying the Jews -- every man, woman and child -- was a metaphysical imperative. All Jews, anywhere and everywhere, would have to be eliminated so that the world could survive. For the Nazis, this was an absolute existential necessity. Such was the madness.

Canada's Flags, Then and Now

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Canada Day is almost here, and the Maple Leaf will soon be fluttering everywhere.

Nations are essentially “tribes with flags,” as the Egyptian diplomat Tahseen Bashir once remarked. Flags unite people but can also divide them, and even become emblems of racial and ethnic bigotry.

Since 1965, the flag has come to symbolize the “new,” non-ethnic, Canada, bereft of old colonial symbols. This did not happen without a great deal of struggle.

The old Canadian Red Ensign, with its Union Jack in the corner and a coat of arms on a red background, was, prior to that date, in effect the de facto Canadian flag.

It was described by Governor General Lord Stanley in 1891 as “the Flag which has come to be considered as the recognized Flag of the Dominion both afloat and ashore.”

Following the authorization of a distinctive Canadian coat of arms in 1921, that became part of the Red Ensign. However, the flag often flew alongside the British Union Jack, in a period when Canada still considered itself a part of the British Empire.

With the growth of Canadian nationalism in the 1960s, many saw the flag as a symbol of the past. During the federal election campaign of 1963, Liberal Party leader Lester Pearson promised to introduce a distinctive national flag for Canada.

Canada needed a flag that would be relevant to all Canadians, not just those of British descent, he insisted. As Pearson recalled in his memoirs, “the flag was part of a deliberate design to strengthen national unity, to improve federal-provincial relations, to devise a more appropriate constitution, and to guard against the wrong kind of American penetration.”

Contentious arguments would rage for more than six months, cause acrimony in the House of Commons. It would unleash an emotional debate among Canadians everywhere, and, in the end, do little to unite the country.

The debate in the House of Commons was finally ended by closure and on Dec. 17, 1964, Canada’s new flag was declared official by a vote of 163 to 78.

Most Progressive Conservatives, including former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, were opposed. Historian Marcel Trudel warned in 1964 that Canada’s new flag had “no historic significance” and was a lamentable failure.

“I am convinced, for my part,” he stated, “that any flag, if it is to be truly significant, must contain or represent the symbols of the nation or nations which contributed to establishing the country.”

C.P. Champion, author of The Strange Demise of British Canada: The Liberals and Canadian Nationalism, 1964-68, agrees.

“Unlike Canada’s original flag --the Canadian Red Ensign -- the maple leaf tells no story of our country. The Red Ensign, by comparison, vividly embodies Canada’s rich history, inclusive of First Nations, the fleur-de-lis, and the diversity represented by Scottish, English and Irish symbols.”

The Red Ensign largely disappeared from public view. I remember bicycling past a school in Montreal in 1965 and seeing a pile of Red Ensigns that had been used in its schoolrooms stacked in the schoolyard, ready to be thrown away. I took one home with me but it has since disappeared in one of my many moves.

But the Red Ensign has recently taken on a darker symbolism, adopted as Canada’s equivalent of the Confederate battle flag by some extremists, who see it as a throwback to a time when Canadians were overwhelmingly white and of European extraction.

Caitlin Bailey, executive director of the Canadian Centre for the Great War, in Montreal, said the Red Ensign was a symbol of unity as a young nation went to war. It was the flag that flew over Vimy Ridge to signal its 1917 capture by Canadian troops.

“It’s unfortunate that it has turned into a white nationalist symbol,” she said. “It’s not right, and it flies in the face of what the Red Ensign means.”

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Slansky Trial Was A Ghoulish Affair


By Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press
The British-made satirical film “The Death of Stalin,” released last year, made fun of the absurdity of Soviet “justice” in the years when the dictator ruled his empire like an Oriental satrap. 

Accusations against people could come out of thin air. Trials, preceded by torture to extract confessions, took minutes.A bullet in the head by the secret police soon followed.

In real life, of course, this was no joke.

The final years of Stalinist repression in the eastern bloc countries where Communism had been imposed on Russian bayonets saw the wholesale execution of Communist apparatchiks, mainly Jews.

Despite their loyalty to Moscow during the war years, they found themselves accused of “bourgeois nationalism,” “Titoism,” “Trotskyism,” “Zionism,” and numerous other  ideological crimes.

In reality, Stalin was cleaning house, getting rid of genuine revolutionaries, who had the intelligence and stature to challenge diktats coming from the Kremlin, and replacing them with sycophantic apparatchiks.

Such show trials took place throughout the east European satellite states, but the ones in Czechoslovakia in November 1952 were particularly gruesome.

The Communist Party had taken over the Czech government in 1948, but Stalin was greatly disturbed when Yugoslavia, under Josip Broz Tito, broke from his control that same year. 

He ordered a purge in Czechoslovakia that would be intimidating. Fourteen Czech officials were chosen, chief among them Rudolf Slansky, the secretary general of the Communist Party. Eleven of the accused were Jews. 

This was no coincidence, as Stalin in his final years had become increasingly paranoid and anti-Semitic. He was apparently also angry that Israel, born four years earlier with considerable Soviet and Czech help, had not become a Communist state.

The anti-Jewish character of the Slansky trial was part and parcel of the late Stalinist turn toward anti-Semitism and was introduced into the case by Soviet advisers, who encouraged Czech investigators to stress the dangers of a purported world Zionist conspiracy.

Anti-Semitism was also visible within the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Officially deplored by the Communist regime, anti-Jewish sentiment took form as a struggle against Zionism and cosmopolitanism. 

Among the leadership, the party ideologue Vaclav Kopecky engaged in anti-Semitic diatribes. He repeatedly spoke out against Zionism and cosmopolitanism, depicting Jews as foreign, bourgeois, and unassimilated.

The indictments were prepared, the accused were arrested and isolated, and after some months of “interrogation,” they all pleaded guilty. 

They were forced to confess to being part of a Zionist conspiracy, with Zionism understood as a proxy for Western imperialism. 

Eleven of the defendants, including Slansky, were hanged; three were given life sentences. Those three, including London, were released after Stalin died. They were posthumously rehabilitated in 1968 during the “Prague Spring” period of liberalization.

The openly anti-Semitic character of these events came as a profound shock to many Jews and forced them to re-examine their positions vis-√†-vis Zionism, Communism, and the Left. 

The Slansky trial has been documented in films. In 1970 the Greek-French film director and producer Costa-Gavras made The Confession. The screenplay was based on the book of the same name by one of the defendants in that trial, Artur London.

In 2001 a Czech-born American director, Zuzana Justman, made a documentary on the same subject, called "A Trial in Prague."

Now, 66 years later, actual archival footage of these events has come to light. Six hours of 35-millimetre black-and-white film and 80 hours of voice recordings, much of it mould-damaged, believed to cover most of the eight-day proceedings, have been found.

They were stashed in 14 metal and six wooden boxes in the basement of a bankrupt former metal research business in Panenské Brezany, near Prague.

Plans to turn the trial footage into a propaganda film had been shelved after Stalin died in March 1953 and so were never made public. They are a rare depiction of Stalin-era show trials, very few of which have available long-form footage.

Historian Petr Blazek and filmmaker Martin Vadas inspected the material in mid March and revealed that it included a filmed record of the 1952 Slansky show trial.

The material is now with the Czech National Film Archive, which hopes to restore the material to make it available for public viewing.

 “The priority is to make the footage safe,” said Michal Bragant, the archive’s chief executive. “We still have not learned enough from the 20th century. The more people learn about it and the horror of the show trials, the safer we will be.”

No truer words were ever uttered.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Amazing Academic Life of Bernard Lewis

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Bernard Lewis, the eminent scholar of Middle East politics and religion, died on May 19. The outlines of his long career are well known. Born to Jewish parents in London in 1916, Lewis received his Ph.D. from the University of London in 1939.

After serving in the British army during the Second World War, Lewis became a professor of history at the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London, from 1949 to 1974. 

Subsequently, he was appointed professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He retired from Princeton in 1986.

The author of some 30 books and 200 articles, his works have been translated into more than 25 languages. Most deal with Islamic history, chiefly Arab and Turkish, although he also translated poetry from Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, and Persian into English. He published his own memoirs, Notes on a Century, in 2012.

Most famous – and controversial – were the books What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (2002), and The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (2003). 

In “The Return of Islam,” an article Lewis published in Commentary magazine in January 1976, he predicted that Islam’s conflict with Christendom and the West would once again take centre-stage in global politics, because each “recognized the other as its principal, indeed its only rival.”

Lewis argued the roots of the battle lay in the similarities at the core of the two faiths. “You had two religions with this shared ideology living side by side,” he told National Public Radio in 2012. “Conflict between them was inevitable.”

Lewis was also notable for his public debates with the prominent Palestinian academic Edward Said, a humanities professor at Columbia University. Decades of discord between Lewis and Said led to a famous debate between them in the New York Review of Books in 1982. 

Said contended that Lewis had an “extraordinary capacity for getting everything wrong” and Lewis responded by calling Said’s comments “an unsavory mixture of sneer and smear, bluster and innuendo, and guilt by association.”

In a 1990 article for the Atlantic, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” he warned that “we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations” – a term that three years later was popularized by the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington.

The Iranian revolution of 1979 had already helped transform Lewis into a well-known academic, because it made Washington pay attention to political Islam. Two decades later, in “License to Kill,” published in Foreign Affairs in 1998, he drew attention to Osama bin Laden’s call for jihad against America--three years before 9/11. After September 11, 2001, Lewis observed, “Osama bin Laden made me famous.”

Lewis harbored few illusions about the “Arab Spring” of 2011. “Many of our so-called friends in the region are inefficient kleptocracies. But they’re better than the Islamic radicals,” he told Jay Nordlinger, a senior editor at the National Review.

Not that Lewis was infallible: For instance, in “The Revolt of Islam,” an article published in the New Yorker in November 2001, he seemed to suggest that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may have been implicated in the al-Qaeda 9/11 operation and that he had what Lewis called “unconventional” weapons. This, we now know, was untrue. 

Lewis also wrote that in both Iraq and Iran, “there are democratic oppositions capable of taking over and forming governments.” In an essay in the Wall Street Journal in 2002, he predicted that Iraqis would “rejoice” over an American invasion. That, too, did not happen.

Lewis summed up his whole career this way: “For some, I’m the towering genius,” he told the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012. “For others, I’m the devil incarnate.”

The Bizarre Phenomenon of Dictator Literature

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The British journalist Daniel Kalder’s new book The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy, deals with something rather odd: the writings of despots and mass murderers. 

While living in Moscow, he set himself the task of reviewing an extensive selection of works penned by the dictators of the 20th and early 21st centuries. (The British title of the book is Dictator Literature.)

Kalder argues that Vladimir Lenin should be viewed as the father of this literary genre. Even before he had studied Marx, the young Lenin had read Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s 1863 novel What is to be Done

It inspired Lenin to dedicate himself fully to revolution. Deeply impressed, Lenin gave the same title to one of his own books, of which there were many. His collected works runs to 55 volumes.

While exiled by the tsarist government in Siberia, Lenin produced what Kalder calls “the first major book by the father of 20th-century dictator literature.” Over its 500 pages, The Development of Capitalism in Russia argued that the country was now industrialised rather than agricultural and so ready for rule by the urban proletariat.

Joseph Stalin, his successor as Soviet leader, as a trained seminarian collected and commented on and refocused Lenin’s writings. And, of course, he too wrote dozens of books of his own – turgid, boring nonsense. 

Stalin was so impressed by Alexander Kazbegi’s novel The Patricide, written in 1882, that he renamed himself “Koba” after its central character, and used the pseudonym throughout his early career. 

To bolster his claim to be a theorist; his works were published. His own ambitious history of the Bolshevik revolution, known as the Short Course, was not only printed in the tens of millions of copies, but also became an object of study by the Soviet masses.

Yet, Kalder tells us, as a young man even Stalin penned some not insignificant poetry in his native Georgian.

Mao Zedong first encountered Marxism while working in a library, “the ideal location for a cash-strapped nascent megalomaniac in need of easy access to inspirational bad ideas,” writes Kalder. He devoured the texts that would provide his ideological cover for the cruel regime he later imposed on China. 

His infamous “Little Red Book,” Quotations of Chairman Mao Zedong, was waved by millions of addled revolutionaries around the world during the years of the Cultural Revolution.

It was read out in factories, the way sacred texts are in monasteries. It was also credited with the ability to improve table-tennis skills and cure cancer.

These Communists had intellectual pretentions and their “works” became an important part of the promotion of their cults.

The Italian fascist Benito Mussolini immersed himself in the reading of classic texts. He was later a professional journalist, and highly successful newspaper editor, so it’s no surprise Il Duce went on to write poems and plays, including a historical drama based on Napoleon’s last days.

He published a biography of Jan Hus, the early proto-Protestant reformer, and even wrote a romance novel, The Cardinal’s Mistress.

Fellow fascist General Francisco Franco of Spain wrote the screenplay-novel Raza at the end of 1940 and start of 1941. The Caudillo’s narrative is set during the just-concluded Spanish Civil War.

As for the most notorious piece of “dictator literature,” that prize must go, hands down, to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. If ever we needed proof, Kalder contends, that in some cases “books and reading can cause immense harm,” this one is it.

More recently, Libya’s Colonel Moammar Gaddafi’s Green Book achieved a certain notoriety, while Saddam Hussein, even when busy slaughtering Iraqis, found time to publish the historical romance Zabiba and the King, after falling in love with the twenty-four-year-old daughter of one of his advisers.

More books emerged: He finished Get Out You Damned One!, a direct rebuke to the invading American forces, right before the Battle of Baghdad in 2003.

Kalder mocks those Western intellectuals whose anti-Western dogmas made them susceptible to any old nonsense. Jean-Paul Sartre sold Maoist newspapers in Paris, and the actions of the vicious Red Guards were lauded on the left as models of revolution. Michel Foucault managed to admire both Mao and Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. 

Kalder sums up by noting that most of these works are full of “tedium, megalomania, banality, mendacity, vanity and inadvertent self-revelations.” But, he observes, each dictator “has what every author can only dream of: a captive audience.”

Minorities Persecuted in Middle East

by Henry Srebrnik, [St John, NB] Telegraph-Journal

It’s a famous statement attributed to Adolf Hitler in a speech he gave to German army commanders on Aug. 22, 1939. The Fuehrer asked: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The quote is now inscribed on one of the walls of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Most Canadians do not realize that, despite the fact that Christianity originated in today’s Israel, Christians for centuries following the introduction of Islam in the region still constituted a majority of the population in the Middle East. From Greece to Egypt, this was the eastern half of Christendom.

When the first Islamic armies arrived from the Arabian Peninsula during the 7th century, the Assyrian Church of the East was sending missionaries to China, India and Mongolia. The shift from Christianity to Islam happened gradually.

In the lands of the Fertile Crescent, Eastern Orthodox Christians were divided between Jacobites and Greek Orthodox. Catholics included Melkites and Maronites, as well as followers of the Latin rite.

There were Assyrian Nestorians, Chaldeans, and various small groups of Protestants, who were converted by 19th-century Europeans.

Non-Arab Armenians, most of them Armenian Orthodox, arrived in the early 20th century, fleeing the Turks. And then of course, there are the Copts, the largest Christian group in the Middle East.

But today, repression and religious cleansing is taking place in the Middle East. Entire communities have been uprooted, many fleeing for their lives, in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

The percentage of Christians in the region has dropped precipitously, as fanatical forces such as the Islamic State, al-Qaida, and others, seeking to re-create the expansionist Islamic empires of the past, make it clear that for them, all Christians are enemies.

From 1910 to now, the percentage of the Middle Eastern population that is Christian has declined from 14 per cent to just four per cent; this is large-scale ethnic cleansing, often ignored by the West.

The Aid to the Church in Need papal charity last year described the current level of persecution against Christians as being “worse than at any time in history.”

The report “Persecuted and Forgotten?” examined the plight of Christians in 13 countries over the past 12 years, and found the number of Christians in the Middle East had dropped drastically.

In Syria, it fell to just 500,000 from about 1.5 million when the Syrian civil war began, driven out by extremist groups like the Nusra Front and Islamic State.

With the fall of Saddam Hussein, Christians began to leave Iraq in large numbers, and the population shrank to less than 500,000 today from as many as 1.5 million in 2003.

“Governments in the West and the UN failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said.

Why the lack of attention? Politicians are reluctant to address the plight of Christians explicitly for fear of appearing to play into the “crusader” and ‘‘clash of civilizations’’ narratives the West is accused of embracing.

When the Islamic State massacred Egyptian Copts in Libya in 2015, the U.S. State Department referred to the victims merely as “Egyptian citizens.”

Aid to the Church in Need observed that “at a time in the West when there is increasing media focus on the rights of people regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality, it is ironic that there should be such limited coverage of the massive persecution experienced by so many Christians.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Philippine Presidents Imperil Democracy

By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal

Among the presidential systems in Southeast Asia, the Philippines has the oldest one in the region.It has been an independent state since 1946.

Philippine presidents have usually dominated other branches of government and their hegemonic position led to the collapse of democracy there several decades ago and periodic instability since then. 

The Ferdinand Marcos and Rodrigo Duterte presidencies, in particular, demonstrate the dangers.

Marcos, elected in 1965, declared martial law in 1972, with authoritarian rule lasting until his overthrow in 1986. With his wife Imelda, his autocratic regime, based on widespread favoritism, eventually led to economic stagnation and recurring reports of human rights violations.

After free and fair elections were restored following his ouster, there were several periods of instability but Philippine democracy again faces a major challenge under the current leadership of Duterte.

He has already proved to be dangerous by undermining political checks and balances.

Duterte’s “war on drugs,” launched after he took office in 2016, has claimed an estimated 12,000 lives of primarily poor urban dwellers, including children. He has vowed to continue the anti-drug campaign until his term ends in 2022.

He also repeatedly subjected United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Agnes Callamard to profanity-laced ridicule for her repeated efforts to secure an official visit to the Philippines.

A prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague in February started a preliminary examination into a complaint accusing Duterte and at least 11 officials of crimes against humanity.

On May 6 Duterte threatened to resort to emergency powers and enforce them “to the hilt” to deal with relentless criticism over his human rights record, crimes and government wrongdoing. He is already harassing dissenting voices in the country’s media.

The Philippines, not surprisingly, given its Spanish colonial history, is similar in its political culture to many Latin American countries. 

Presidents consider themselves entitled to rule as they see fit, constrained only by their term of office. Some scholars have referred to this as “hyper-presidentialism.” 

How could it be otherwise for somebody who claims to embody the whole of the nation? In this view, other institutions are nuisances. Accountability to courts and parliaments seem a mere impediment to the full authority that the president has been elected to exercise.

Philippine parties are quite weak and lack strong societal roots or clear party platforms. They are electoral vehicles which employ clientelist ties rather than programmatic appeals to win voters’ support. 

Also, patronage controlled by the president usually insures strong congressional majorities for the incumbent. So weak parties help avoid the gridlock which makes presidentialism elsewhere perilous.

Presidents in the Philippines’ “hyper-presidential” system are equipped with massive formal and informal powers. Their hegemonic position has enabled power hungry chief executives like Marcos and Duterte to undermine even the even weak checks and balances in the Philippine political system. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Egypt’s Beleaguered Coptic Christians

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
 
The Copts of Egypt are over 10 million strong and have lived in the country as Christians for two millennia. They are the largest Christian and largest non-Muslim community in the Middle East.

The history of Egyptian Christianity predates that of Islam. Coptic Orthodox Christianity started in the first century when the first church was established in the city of Alexandria. By the fourth century, Alexandria and its popes had emerged as one of the leading pillars of Christendom.

After the seventh century Islamic conquest, however, Egypt has become Islamized and Arabized and Arabic gradually replaced the Coptic language. Slowly the country lost its Christian majority as Copts converted to Islam. 

In the eleventh century, Pope Christodolos was forced to move the seat of the papacy to Cairo, which had eclipsed Alexandria as Egypt’s largest city.

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt is today led by Pope Tawadros II, elected in November 2012. The 118th Coptic pope, he succeeded the late Pope Shenouda III.

Egyptians who have remained Christians today consider themselves the original Egyptians with Pharaonic origin. Thus some Coptic intellectuals argue that Coptic culture is largely derived from pre-Christian culture, and precedes not just Islam but Christianity as well. It gives the Copts a claim to a deep heritage in Egyptian history and culture.

Nonetheless, Christian religious symbols are a means of identity expression for Copts, and the cultural development that distinguishes them from Egyptian Muslims has constructed a Coptic ethnicity.

Some ethnic Copts participated in the Egyptian national movement for independence and occupied many influential positions in the late 19th century. Many became prominent in business.

However, things took a turn for the worse after Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the monarchy ad established a socialist republic after 1952. 

Copts were severely affected by Nasser’s nationalization policies, and his pan-Arab ideology undermined the Copts’ strong attachment to Egypt and their sense of identity as pre-Arab Egyptians.

Discriminatory state policies and political violence have historically marginalized Copts, particularly in many cities of Upper Egypt and in the Nile Delta area.

In August 2013, following the army coup that unseated the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi, there were widespread attacks on Coptic churches and institutions in Egypt, amid clashes between the military and Morsi supporters. 

Egyptian human-rights organizations strongly condemned “rhetoric employed by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies which includes clear incitement to violence and religious hatred in order to achieve political gains.”

Samuel Tadros, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, described these assaults as the worst against the Coptic Church since the 14th century.

The violence unleashed on Egypt’s Christians, which in recent years has left hundreds dead, is just the tip of a much more troubling iceberg. 

The average Copt suffers from systematic forms of persecution and institutionalized discrimination emanating from all levels and segments of society, including at all levels of education.

Copts have not only been significantly underrepresented in politics but also have had limited opportunities for employment and promotions, compared to the Muslim majority.

Attempts to address this are usually met with denial by Egyptian media and government are underreported.  Sometimes Copts drawing attention to these injustices are portrayed as agitators out to tarnish Egypt’s image.  

The 2014 Egyptian Constitution defines Islam as the state religion. While it is the duty of the state to protect the religious freedom of Copts in constructing and renovating church buildings, establishing churches has at times elicited violence against Copts in several towns in Upper Egypt.

Like many other Middle East Christians, Copts have a large diaspora in the west. Tadros estimates that over 18 per cent of ethnic Copts now live outside of Egypt.

Gaining converts in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia has proven particularly exciting. 

“For 2,000 years, we were the official Church of Egypt,” Tadros said. “Today, we are in Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand, Sweden, Fiji, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Brazil, Ghana -- we have invaded the world.”

In the past decade, dozens of Americanized Coptic churches have opened across the United States, concentrated in Texas, California, and along the East Coast. There are now at least 450,000 Copts in the U.S. and over 250 Coptic churches in the country.

Canada and Australia are estimated to have at least 50,000 Coptic Egyptians each. Toronto has the largest concentration in this country, while the same holds for Sydney in Australia.