Review: The Vanishing is a revealing introduction to Christianity in the Middle East | Canberra weather

lifestyle, the disappearance, janine di giovanni, bloomsbury

The secondary title of this book is “The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East”. It consists of a series of essays on Christian communities in Iraq, Gaza, Egypt and Syria. The author is Catholic, but deals with all versions of Christianity, especially the different varieties of Eastern practice. She spoke to residents of every country, almost all of whom demanded that their names not be published, including those who now live abroad. She writes about her visit to Iraq while Saddam and his Mukhabarat secret police terrorized the country. Then came the invasion from the west and the death of Saddam, but then it got even worse. “I was not a Saddam fan, but felt that a gigantic scab had been plucked away, leaving a raw, bloody wound without the ability to heal,” she writes. When the Americans left, they were replaced by ISIS, “without allaying the pain that haunted the Iraqi people since the invasion.” Even though Iraq is home to some of the oldest Christian communities in the world, they seem to have an uncertain, sometimes precarious, existence. Before ISIS, they were able to convince the various political leadership groups that they were beneficial for the prosperity of the country. With Daesh, churches were set on fire, statues shattered, icons destroyed, churches used for target shooting or for storing chemicals. When the author returned there in 2019, a resident told her that although ISIS is gone, “the feeling is not.” In Gaza, the author is aware of being where Jesus lived and worked. The Christian population – Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical – is increasingly shrinking and must manage relations with secular Fatah, militant Hamas and aggressive Israel. A UN representative in Gaza stressed that “the level of education is extremely high, as are the language skills.” Literary levels are over 96 percent, well above the region’s average, yet young people, Muslims and Christians alike, are caught between the political and military postures of their elders. The chapter on Gaza is distressing reading. Syria is confusing, even for those trying to keep up with the war there. There are nearly a dozen versions of Christianity in the country, with a “long, winding, and often bloody” history. Christians in Egypt fare a little better, suffering from discrimination rather than persecution. As with Assad in Syria and Saddam in Iraq, Egyptian Christians tend to support strong leaders like Mubarak in his day and now Sisi. It is likely that any of the chapters here could be developed into a full-fledged book. As it stands, the reader is left with small but memorable snippets like the fact that more than two-thirds of Gaza’s population are under the age of 24, or shocking elements like the fact that ISIS has made huge profits from the sale of girls and young women they captured in their rampages.

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