Tom Stringham: Could Christianity topple the Chinese government?

Chinese authorities appear to be cracking down on Christianity, removing crosses from dozens of churches and demolishing at least a hundred more under the pretense of enforcing building codes. The growing popularity of Christianity, which is officially legal in China, is undeniable. According to analysts, the leadership of China’s ruling Communist party share a fear that Christianity is a political threat. They are probably right to worry.

Unbeknownst to many Westerners, a Christian uprising in China is not without precedent. From 1850 to 1864, in a mass revolt known as the Taiping Rebellion, a peasant named Hong Xiuquan who believed he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ took control of a region of China inhabited by 30 million people. Hong’s “Heavenly Kingdom” movement almost succeeded in dethroning the Qing emperor, but was pushed back by a combined Chinese and European force before it took Beijing.

Hong’s movement was unmistakably religious, as witnessed by his own writings and those of his followers, despite projections of political motives onto his crusade by later ideologues. This fact is not lost on Chinese leadership, who understand the power of religion to move millions.

Christianity’s sphere of influence is at an all-time high, its numbers having swelled over the last half-century. In 1949, there were 700,000 Protestants and 3.5 million Catholics in China. Now, the best estimates are that there are around 40 million Protestants and 12 million Catholics. Even these figures are probably low, because so many Christians worship in secret: it’s now rumored that there are more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party, to which 86 million Chinese belong.

The political threat of Christianity to an autocratic state comes in part from Christian theology: whereas traditional Chinese religions tend to view the world through a paradigm of balance or stability, the religion of Christ is fundamentally transformative. To a Chinese Christian, China is good but corrupted. If it becomes fully corrupt, it requires redemption.

Rebellion against the People’s Republic has never hit critical mass, and perhaps it never will. Neither the death of Mao Zedong, rapid industrialization nor the internet appear to have destabilized the robust political system. But this week’s crackdown signals a fear in Beijing that the church could be the catalyst for unrest yet unseen. As Christians across China view images of toppled crosses and bloodied worshipers on social media this week, there might begin to stir in their hearts the seeds of political change.

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Henry Srebrnik: The Gaza War is Taking its Toll on Israel

Israel’s “Iron Dome” defensive system has proved remarkably efficient in destroying missiles and rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza – though one rocket that landed near Ben Gurion International Airport did manage to stop much airplane travel to the country for a few days. But this is no casualty-free fight, despite overwhelming Israeli military superiority.

Given that the Palestinian death toll in Gaza in this war between Hamas and Israel has now topped 1,100, the Israeli deaths, at the moment numbering 56, may not sound like much. But we should put that number in context:

Israel’s population stands at about eight million, of which 6,135,000 are Jewish. Assuming all 56 deaths are Jews (as Israeli Arabs do not serve in the military), as a percentage of the population this is the equivalent of about 2,800 American fatalities in a population of 314 million.

In other words, Israel has proportionately lost more people in this three-week conflict than the U.S. has suffered in thirteen years in Afghanistan – where a total of some 2,300 Americans have died. That gives us some perspective as to why Israel wants to stop further Hamas attacks.

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Barbara Kay: Niqab case a welcome ruling

Human rights is the great issue of our day, and yet weeks ago the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) made a significant ruling that flew under the radar of North American pundits: The court upheld France’s ban on the wearing of the niqab in public.

The controversial law was effected by Nicolas Sarkozy’s government in 2010 as a counter-measure to the symbolic Islamization represented by the niqab’s 2000-some wearers (out of five million Muslims). In 2011 a 24-year old French woman known only by the initials SAS initiated the ECHR case, arguing that the ban violated her freedom of religion and expression.

The ECHR ruled that the ban “was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face.” And, to be more precise, the court found that concealment of the face breaches the “right of others to live in a space of socialization which [makes] living together easier.”

 

I welcome the ruling. The ECHR cut to the heart of the issue: If social reciprocity – or the possibility for social reciprocity – is not the default condition reigning in the public forum, then there exists a state of social inequality. If my face is visible to my fellow citizens, but some citizens’ faces are not visible to me, psychological tension is bound to colour relations between our two groups. Free people show their faces to each other, and the burden of accommodation must be assigned with a view to optimal trust in shared spaces, not the individual right to create social barriers.

As the ruling opens the door to other countries in the EU to impose a similar ban, predictable protest by human rights groups ensued. “’How do you liberate women by criminalizing their clothing?’ asked Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti.”

Along with many other pundits, Chakrabarti here muddies the issue in his use of the word “clothing” to describe the niqab.

The niqab is not clothing; it is a mask. When a mask is removed, a person is still clothed. If you subtract those masks worn to protect the face from cold or germs, and those collaboratively agreed-to for specific entertainment purposes, you are left with masks that seek to conceal one’s identity, that deliberately de-personalize the face behind them. In such cases, no good motivation prevails, and no good social consequence ensues. The ECHR made the right decision.

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Jackson Doughart: What’s different about this Gaza war?

From the beginning, there seemed to be something different about the present war between Israel and Hamas, at least in comparison to Israel’s response to Hamas rocket fire every couple of years in “mini wars”. The “backstory” of alleged ethnic killings and revenge killings, the length of the conflict, the changed landscape of the Middle East (including for Hamas a more hostile Egyptian regime than it found under President Morsi), and of course the eventual ground campaign by Israel are all factors in this sea change.

But what may in time emerge as a great consequence to the Middle East conflict in general is twofold. First, the nature of the international response—to say nothing of the local reaction from Arabs in the West Bank and within Israel proper—has blurred the distinction between anti-Semitism and “anti-Zionism”, the latter of which has long presented itself as a principled opposition to Israeli policy on the ground of alleged colonialism and apartheid. But the character of demonstrations over the past couple of weeks, including in such cities as Chicago, London, and Paris, have shown the two to be increasingly indistinguishable, with accusations of “human rights abuse” going hand in hand with the blockading of a Paris synagogue, ostentatious anti-Semitic caricatures, and Holocaust-praising chants. (One echoes Douglas Murray from Britain’s Spectator in noting that the thousands of European Muslims taking to the streets in rage over Gaza stayed home through the continuing carnage of the Syrian civil war and the present calamity in Iraq, suggesting that the taking of Muslim life is unimportant to them unless the enemy party is Jewish.)

Second, the willingness of liberal Jewish commentators to defend ideological co-thinkers who sympathize with Hamas seems to be diminishing. One of many examples is this article from the Forward by progressive writer Tova Ross, who describes how the present events have disabused her of the naïve pseudo-even-handedness which once animated her view of the conflict. She has been persuaded that her hawkish father was right all along.

Now there are surely gradations to this phenomenon and many a hold out, but it’s worth noting that the anti-Israel crowd’s desired legitimacy has long been aided by people such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finklestein—leftist Jews who advance the rhetoric of apartheid and delegitimation. So if more progressives feel conflicted by lambasting Israel alongside the sordid types who praise Hamas, it must be good for Israel in the long run.

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Barbara Kay: A Macleans columnist’s selective nausea trigger

Emma Teitel, a columnist of progressive views for Macleans magazine, recently walked into a north Toronto camping stores serving a largely Jewish clientele. There she saw something “that made my stomach turn.”

Pundit stomachs don’t “turn” lightly, so I braced myself for the answer. Was it a big, slimy rat poking its head out of a sleeping bag? A drug addict shooting up in a pup tent?

The answer (put off for 10 suspenseful lines) was quite a letdown: there on a table “piled high with T-shirts…sitting neatly right beside stacks of Batman and Superman shirts, a pile of forest-green tees bearing the bright yellow lego of the Israel Defence Forces (my emphasis).

Teitel then informs us she was so agitated at the very idea that “war” and “fashion” and “superhero movies” could be conflated that she took a photo of the offending T-shirts, intending to “share” them via a disapproving hashtag (#Jewsishdiasporafail strikes her as a possibility). Then she realizes this could be something anti-Semites might seize on (ya think??), and resists the temptation.

Good call, Emma!!

But let’s backtrack a bit here. The IDF is a democratic nation’s legitimate military branch. Its mandate is to defend Israel. What’s with the stomach-turning over Jewish kids declaring pride in the armed forces of a nation to which one is historically, culturally and emotionally attached?

Let me guess. Because the IDF, in the course of defending Israel from a barbarian, exterminationist gang of terrorists bent on murdering as many civilian Jews as possible, has ended up killing Gazan civilians whom they warned to evacuate buildings but who refused (or Hamas did not permit) to leave?

Teitel has fallen into the victim-numbers trap: she’s rewarding Hamas with the moral high ground because Israel actually protects its citizenry. More than any other military, the IDF routinely risks – and loses – lives to minimize civilian loss of life. To Israeli children huddled in shelters, and to Diaspora kids who feel their fear, the IDF is indeed as heroic as Superman. They merit proud sartorial lamination.

Know what turns my stomach? Impossibly high standards for Jews alone. I’ve probably seen a thousand T-shirts bearing the iconic likeness of bloodthirsty massacrist Che Guevara gazing romantically into the future. Now those are tees deserving of condemnation. But so far I’ve never read of a progressive writer, certainly not Emma Teitel, even burping at the sight of them. Check your #Jewishself-righteousness.

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