I had a very strange realization the other day, as I was listening to NPR. Yes, I listen to NPR on my commute. Syria has been in the news a lot lately, and I don't really even want to broach that subject because I'm not qualified to talk about it. What I do want to consider, however, is how my attitudes toward the middle east have changed since my deconversion, and how I'm only just realizing that I know very little about the nuance and complexity of that storied and incredible part of the world.
To start with, here is what I previously thought about the middle east. The middle east is characterized by hundreds or thousands of years of struggle between God's chosen people and the heathen. This struggle continues to this day, with the descendants of Ishmael (Muslims, or people of general Arabic descent, or ancient Mesopotamian/Egyptian/Babylonian/Persian peoples, it wasn't often made clear or historically accurate) battling the descendants of Isaac (Hebrews/Jews/modern Israelis). This righteous conflict will continue until the second coming of Christ when Israel (or America or something) will defeat Palestine (or Muslims, or Arabs, or something) and rebuild the temple. The right people will go to heaven, the wrong people will go to hell, the end. Good conquers evil.
There are a lot of issues with that world view, and that's an understatement. To start with, it's not even historically accurate. The middle east is the cradle of civilization, it has been populated by peoples of varied ethnicity, culture and religion over thousands and thousands of years. Also of note, the Hebrew nations were never really major players in the region. To cast this mosaic of human history into such dull black and white tones is a crime against the vibrant cacophony of voices making up the story of the middle east.
This view is also starkly Islamaphobic. It turns an entire religion and people group into an enemy which God has given another religion and people group authority to fight against. Now I understand it's not as if anyone is trying to restart the crusades, but, the crusades did happen (I'm just pointing that out, not at all suggesting they're going to happen again. People get tetchy when you bring up the crusades).
But the thing I realized, the thing I had never understood before, was that the conservative Christian view of the middle east completely erases the effects of colonialism. Poof, gone. Wait the west may have screwed over the middle east with imperialistic colonial practices? But the west (or America, or something) is God's chosen people, they can do no wrong. And they certainly couldn't do any wrong back in the good ol' days!
As I was listening to NPR the other day (like an old person) I was considering Syria and wondering what underlying factors could have contributed to its current situation. The problem with my old worldview is that it was a worldview that knew what it wanted to see and fit the evidence into the story it assumed lay underneath. Narratives are not hard to construct. The problem with that worldview is that it leaves out the actual reasons contributing to unrest in the middle east while simultaneously promoting a historically inaccurate and racist understanding of the world. You can't get to the bottom of a situation, and you certainly can't do any measurable good, if you're working off such a skewed foundation.
I've been to parts of the middle east, and it was my interactions with the incredible people who live there that changed a lot of my worldview. My thoughts are with anyone in Syria, Egypt, or anywhere else that is experiencing unrest or suffering.