Why are Christian Militias never “Christian Extremists”?

(By Juan Cole)

The dramatic events in the Central African Republic no doubt seem distant and complex for a North American audience. CAR is geographically as large as France, but with a population of only 4.5 million (similar to Lebanon or Costa Rica). It consists roughly of 25% Muslim, 25% Protestant Christian, 25% Catholic Christian, and 25% adherents of African faiths.

Last spring, the Seleka coalition of Muslim clans made a coup, which has provoked Christian-Muslim faction-fighting. Christians have organized militias, which they maintain are self-defense forces aimed at expelling Seleka goons from their villages or neighborhoods. In the fighting, some 440,000 people have been displaced.

The anti-Balaka Christian militia massacred 24 Muslims this week. Whereas Selaka is often called extremists in the US press, the Christian militias are almost never called “extremist Christians.” Moreover, Western press reports imply that the massacre is understandable since these Seleka members are connected to high-ranking Seleka coup-makers.

While Western press reports do speak of Christian militia members, on the American side the E-word was little applied. But surely massacring 24 non-combatant people is extreme.

The BBC reports:

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25 Responses

  1. Danny Gold

    . @JohnWreford because neither side here is extremists. neither side trying to spread ideology. it’s about identity.

    • @DG, Just curious: Do you think “al Quaeda” is about SPREADING IDEOLOGY, as opposed to a macho, crushing paternalism and take-it-all-for-ourselves IDENTITY, an identity that spews out of the worst places in the human psyche and in which there’s a horrible race to the bottom? Were the Tamils about “spreading ideology,” or the Lord’s Resistance Army? Even if you look at it from an organizational standpoint, what are those “militias?” And what do they do? How about the Hutus hacking up the Tutsis?

      Too bad “we” can’t understand and arrange ourselves better, so that the crap that drives ALL this “extremism” gets finally lost in bad old history…

      • Al Qaeda doesn’t belong alongside the other groups you mention. They are not an “identity” group. The command the support of no populations, but are in fact hunted and despised, and waging war on, the communities from which they came – very unlike the Tamils, or the Hutu militias.

        Individual situations have individual facts, and they’re worth understanding, instead of sweeping distinct and different events under a single grand theory.

        • The “grand theory” is actually just an observation that humans, under various flags, banners and excuses, and led by some really cynical and sociopathic SOBs, do serious and futile and self-perpetuating violence to one another. So you contest that al Quaeda is an “identity group?’ Really? The way into the franchise is by pledging allegiance and fealty and loyalty and all that to whom, again? And what does the Administration say that Al Quaeda opposes and wants to destroy, as an index of who the adherents actually think they are? And one might be careful about cautioning others to keep the facts straight, and to accurately try to distinguish distinct and different events (while daring to look for larger patterns), after demonstrating some weakness in the same supposed flaws…

          One little bit of context: link to cfr.org

    • Oil as the source of all evil in the Middle East is grossly overrated. It’s a fungible product on a world market and its producers happily sell to all comers without scruple. How can they be expected to deny themselves the short term extractive windfalls for ideological or political reasons?

  2. To answer your headline:
    A full fifty percent are christian and so are the northern societies that control the resources and reportage.

    StopThe Immoral and Illegal Wars!

    • “Why were the “Christians” who attacked the Muslims in Near East called Crusaders and not barbarians?”

      Because they were attempting to retake the Levant, which Islamic armies had originally taken from Christendom 450 years earlier when they invaded and conquered that part of the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century.

        • But since the actions were, as you say, “common that era,” then their usage wouldn’t have been seen as barbaric.

          Notably, the Muslim forces were not termed “barbarians,” either. They were talked about as bad guys for sure, but in the same manner that a European enemy would have been described.

      • And how did “Christendom” come by its “ownership” of the Levant, again?

        As an historian, Bill knows that the winners (and Rulers) write the histories, and get to choose the “facts,” and insinuate the selected themes and labels, that get injected into our thinking and discourse.

        • “As an historian, Bill knows that the winners (and Rulers) write the histories, and get to choose the “facts,” and insinuate the selected themes and labels, that get injected into our thinking and discourse.”

          How would you describe the Muslim armies who conquered the Near East segment of the Byzantine Empire, Mr. McPhee. Do you think they had a morally superior right to their conquests that the Crusaders lacked?

        • I know your gut tells you that the answer is “Through conquest by Christian armies,” but it just ain’t so.

          Through the conversion of the locals by the early church, both before and after it became the Roman Empire’s state religion.

          Syria and Egypt were the first two Christian countries.

        • Actually, my “gut” tells me that the pre-Islam Christianization of that area was a complex process that included piggy-backing on the actions of Roman and Byzantine empires, not noted for their kindness, but eventually noted for their corruption-encouraged fading, and being overcome, by the “enthusiasms” of expansive Islam. To clarify my point, the history of that region and most of the rest of the world is replete with and in many ways driven by organized and/or anomic violence of the sort so evident right now. As far as I can tell, there are no “moral claims” to righteousness and territory, except in the myths various groups of us tell ourselves. Your grafting that “gut” misreading onto what I wrote is all invention.

          For a tiny bit of the full complex context, on the “Christianizing” of the Levant, for anyone interested, look here:
          link to en.wikipedia.org There of course is so very much more.

          Converts to many new identities tend to be “enthusiastic” in their desire to dominate, decimate or dispossess others… The trick, in my humble estimation, for humans to survive much longer, is to find some common ethical and behavioral structure that puts survival and comity, on a large scale, ahead of personal advancement and profit and the proselyte’s monomania. A fool’s dream, I know… with so many others finding personal gain, identity or satisfaction of various perversions in doing the usual thing.

        • I’m afraid your gut is wrong, since the conversion of Egypt and Syria both took place prior to the actions of the Roman Empire to spread Christianity (in fact, they both went Christian while the religion was being persecuted by the Roman government), and before the Byzantine Empire even existed.

          A fine, brave attempt to move the goal posts to the Land of Useful Generality, but the question was specifically how the Levant became Christian – a question that really has nothing to do with “Arab Christianity,” since the area did not become Arabized until centuries later.

  3. It’s the same with terrorists: they’re only bad if they’re someone else’s terrorists; our terrorists are fine, upstanding people: cf. Nicaraguan Contras, & Al Qaida in Libya & Syria.

    • Except that al Qaeda in both Libya and Syria are constantly called terrorists in the western press, and neither are “ours.”

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