Klaus Wivel’s The Last Supper and the plight of Arab Christians

Sunday 12/03/2017
Cover of Klaus Wivel’s The Last Supper.

With the Islamic State increas­ingly targeting Christians in Egypt, the desperation to fight against political Islam continues. Shocked by interna­tional indifference to the plight of Middle Eastern Christians, Danish journalist Klaus Wivel travelled the region document­ing their experiences in his book The Last Supper: The Plight of Christians in Arab Lands.
Wivel, the New York corre­spondent for the Danish newspa­per Weekendavisen, has written on many subjects but focuses on the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Middle East.
Each chapter in The Last Supper is dedicated to a different setting in the region, including Lebanon, Iraq, the West Bank and Gaza. The chapters are lengthy, some about 60 pages, giving Wivel space to detail his conversations and surroundings.
An elderly Catholic in Bethle­hem is quoted as saying: “The West considers us to be Arabs; the Arabs consider us to be Chris­tians. We lose either way.”
Arab Christians always felt they were second-class citizens, a struggle shown throughout the book.
Wivel says the church in the Middle East is weak because it is divided, scattered and the different communities do not have much sympathy for each other.
Palestinian Catholic priest Mitri Raheb claimed the only reason Europeans are interested in the struggles of Middle Eastern Christians is to fuel hatred of Muslims. Bethlehem became a war zone between Jews and Muslims that Christians were caught up in even though Christians were not suicide bombers and they did not try to kill Israelis.
A young Palestinian Christian complained they have no state protection because the police side with Muslims. She said Muslims stole land from Chris­tians, took their houses and harassed their women.
She also spoke to Wivel of romances between Muslim women and Christian men becoming easier, with Muslim women renouncing Islam and converting to Christianity.
“Earlier, this was completely unthinkable and the woman’s family could have killed her for doing this but I sense that it’s become easier, especially if you’re rich and influential. Then no one will touch you,” she said.
Wivel compared the persecu­tion of European Jews in history to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. “What is taking place in Gaza, for instance, is different. It is milder, more hidden, more unorganised and asymmetrical, more difficult to hold a government responsi­ble for. While crossing the border, I struggle to find the right word. ‘Pogrom’ is too strong, ‘harassment’ too weak; ‘persecu­tion’ is too weighty, ‘discrimina­tion’ too trivial.”
Lebanese political activist Raymond Merhej said he felt closer to Muslim Lebanese than fellow Christians from other Arab countries. He said he is free to practise his religion without discrimination.
Wivel demonstrates this by describing West Beirut, which is predominantly Muslim. “No visible evidence exists of an adamant Islamic set of morals; many, though not all, women are unveiled and some restaurants serve alcohol,” he wrote. “The bars behind my hotel are open until the early hours of the morning. Young students are everywhere, animated and drunk, like young people can be all over the free world.”
Iraqi Christians are proud to be Iraqi and many did not support the US invasion. Arch­bishop Bashar Warda told Wivel: “We didn’t expect that Americans came to Iraq to protect the Christians.”
“We’re Christians but we think of ourselves as Iraqis. We never asked for special treatment from the Americans. We just expected that the changes would be good for all Iraq.”
Andrew White, an Iraqi vicar, said the West is gradually neglecting Iraq. He predicts there will be no Christians in Iraq in ten years due to the damage religion has done to the region.
Wivel’s chapter about Gaza and the West Bank is where the book shines. Whether the amount of description is necessary or not is debatable. Some may find it tedious; others may find it necessary to fully understand the experi­ences.
The Last Supper: The Plight of Christians in Arab Lands is an impor­tant account of a minority targeted for the wrong reasons. The Quran teaches that good Chris­tians, Jews and Sabians will be rewarded by God.
“Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds — shall have their reward with their Sus­tainer; and no fear need they have and neither shall they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)