Christians, First and Foremost, or Citizens? Both, Equally
During the time of the Crusades, Eastern Christians were already split between belonging to their community and belonging to the broader collectivity in which they lived. A division that still exists today: whether the preference is for the former or the latter depends on the person with whom one is speaking and the form of Islam in which Eastern Christians are immersed. In reality, however, the two identities are inseparable and complementary. Only states founded on the rule of law will be able to guarantee their survival in contexts that are authentically plural in the Middle East.
In his book The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, Amin Maalouf tells how Eastern Christians, probably enthusiastic about the arrival of the crusaders whom they saw as brothers in the faith, were quickly so disgusted by their atrocities1 that they found themselves looking back on the Muslim domination with nostalgia.2 Better than any other analysis, this episode reflects the ambivalence of the Eastern Christians’ identity, divided as they have been between different forms of belonging: their community belonging, which tends to attach greatest importance to their religious identity, and their belonging to the broader collectivity in which they live, that broader collectivity within which they are called to integrate and which they have a vocation to serve.
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1Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Saqi Essentials, New York, 1989).
2See Thierry Hentsch, “L’Orient méditerranéen du Moyen-Age chrétien : la rencontre de l’Islam,” Études internationales, 17 (1986), no. 3, p. 509 et seq (especially p. 520) on this point.
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