The Body and the Blood
The Holy Land's Christians at the Turn of a New Millennium, A Reporter's Journey
by Charles M. Sennott
New York: Public Affairs, 2001. 512 pp. $30.
Reviewed by Habib C. Malik
Middle East Quarterly
Unlike the Holy Land pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II, when a journalist embarks, as Sennott does, on a self-styled sojourn following in the footsteps of Jesus, both the aim and the results are ambiguous. Sennott's large tome chronicles his travels successively in Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth, Jordan, Galilee, Lebanon, and Jerusalem, presumably recapitulating Jesus' trek. He describes his purpose as documenting "the dramatically diminishing Christian presence in this land where the faith began." A self-professed lapsed Catholic, Sennott does underscore this well-documented demographic fact. But his anecdotal encounters fail to achieve a coherent picture of the troubled Christian presence, let alone fathom the roots of its anguish.
In Sennott's hands, Jesus becomes little more than a prop designed to confer atmosphere on an otherwise sentimental and opinionated "journalistic pilgrimage"—a recurring and regrettable hallmark of much recent travel literature. When it comes to Egypt's Coptic Christians, the only real story has to be that of persistent persecution, and Sennott relates a string of horrific incidents illustrative of the Copts' plight as the region's quintessential dhimmis (second-class citizens), maltreated both by the authorities and the Islamists. Despite this, he regards the American Coptic Association's accounts of church burnings and forced conversions as "exaggerated."
Turning to Lebanon's Maronite Christians, Sennott echoes earlier journalistic sages, Robert Fisk and Jonathan Randal, by describing this single free, though embattled, Christian community of the Arab world as guilty of "cultural arrogance" and possessing a "megalomaniacal imagination." Palestinian Christians, by contrast, he finds exhibiting a rare blend of secularism and nationalism (one that has earned them, however, the hatred of both Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews). His banal conclusion: Christians are caught in the middle of a seemingly endless conflict, and hence, they're emigrating in droves.
Related Topics: Anti-Christianism, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestinians | Habib C. Malik | Fall 2002 MEQ
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