Skip to main content

tv   Janine di Giovanni The Vanishing  CSPAN  December 24, 2021 11:00am-12:01pm EST

11:00 am
the plight of christian communities in syria, egypt, iraq, and palestine. then columbia university professor john mcwhorter weighs in on race and wokeness in america. and later, creator of the 1619 project and pulitzer prize winning journalist nikole hannah-jones looks at american history, slavery, and present-day america. find a complete schedule at or consult your program guide. now here is author janine di giovanni. >> senior fellow janine di giovanni has been with us since 2018. she's a columnist on foreign policy, an award winning author and journalist. she has dedicated her life to courageous work in war zones, in conflict, in humanitarian crises around the world. she has reported extensively on the front line as a firsthand witness from the middle east, the balkans, across africa, and
11:01 am
from south, southeast, and central asia. and we're so thankful to have here at jackson, teaching classes that draw upon these incredible experiences. she was a recipient of the prestigious guggenheim fellowship which enabled her to travel and report extensively from gaza, iraq, syria, and egypt for "the vanishing." and the book really is an intimate portrait of her own faith journey as a conflict reporter for more than 35 years as well as the heartbreaking challenges confronting ancient christian communities in the middle east. and we're delighted to have janine with us today. i'm going to ask a few questions just to sort of get it going, but i want to keep this informal and fun, so in the audience, feel free to raise your hand. on zoom, feel free to type your questions and we'll get to those as we go. so janine, thank you so much for being with us. >> such a pleasure, it's so
11:02 am
great to be here in person too. >> i know, we're all sort of adjusting finally to having the in-person interaction. as much as we love zoom, you know, it's just so much fun to have and draw on the enthusiasm in the room, in addition to our virtual colleagues. so janine, you were born and raised as a roman catholic. as you note in the book, you've worked as a journalist in war zones for 35 years. just help us understand the role that your own personal faith has played. not just in thinking about the book and why you've wanted to hone in on these ancient christian communities in the middle east, but how faith sustains you for doing what you do. it's not something we often talk about, but you've witnessed so many atrocities. you've been at great personal risk. what does faith mean to you, why is that an important element of
11:03 am
study and what it means to be a journalist, from your perspective? >> it's a really good question, because so many of the conflicts i've reported, whether it's israel/palestine or the balkans, bosnia, kosovo, come down to, or people say, this is all about religion or faith, particularly in the middle east. and yet for me, you know, what i did on the ground as a witness and as a human rights investigator, was very separate from me as a person. although when you live amongst -- if you're living in a war zone, i'm thinking very strongly right now of my time in sarajevo, it was living under siege in a city that was completely blockaded and was very scary, there was shelling all the time, there was sniping.
11:04 am
but there was a catholic church that was open during all this. and to get to it, it was a cathedral, i don't know if anyone knows sarsarajevo, but t reach it, you had to go through peril, sniper's alley was the main thoroughfare that they called sniper's alley because the snipers on the hills above could basically target you. yet when i arrived there, i found such solace and such peace in the middle of an incredibly tumultuous time and a very scary time, because essentially if you're living through war, you're very much alone. even if there are people around you, it's whether or not you live, you die, whether or not you get shot, whether you're in the wrong place at the wrong time and get hit by a piece of shrapnel, it's very individual. but yet when i was in this church i would look around me and there were all kinds of people.
11:05 am
young people, old ladies, who were sitting very quietly, if not at peace, praying for something. i felt very much part of a community. even though we didn't speak to each other. and on christmas eve, 1992, it was one of the most moving experiences i've ever had. it was midnight mass, christmas midnight mass. and also it's very representative, because sarajevo was being ripped apart and bosnia was being ripped apart by nationalistic forces that wanted to say this is not a multicultural place, we want it to be a homogenous place. but yet it was. there were catholics, there were christian orthodox, there were jews, there were muslims, and all mixed. sarajevo was a great cosmopolitan, wonderful city, pre-war.
11:06 am
so christmas eve, i was told there was going to be a midnight mass, but it couldn't be said at midnight because the serbs would then know and they could target the church and part of targeting and shelling is to try to get a lot of people in a place at the same time. so they sent out a secret message that it would happen at a certain time of day. i think it was 7:00 in the end. but i went with a colleague of mine who is now dead. he was a wonderful journalist who was murdered in sierra leone when we were working there together on another terrible war. but the two of us climbed up to the top of the church and we saw the soldiers come in from the front line, the catholic soldiers, like they kind of shuffled in. and they went to receive communion. and they were, you know, this rag tail bunch, because the bosnians had no defense force. so they were in sneakers, it was the middle of winter, and they had hunting rifles, they didn't have real rifles.
11:07 am
and they came to receive communion. and then everyone sang "silent night" in serbo-croat. it was one of the most remarkable memories of my life. everywhere i went in war zones, whether it was baghdad, mosul, cairo, wherever i was, gaza, i would always go to churches because i always feel like personally, it's solace but also it gives me a handle on how people are thinking and living. so it's very much a part of -- as i tell people, it is my moral compass, essentially. >> i really appreciate you sharing that personal reflection on the role that faith has played in your life in sustaining you through some very difficult times. and it really comes out, i think, in the book, in the four communities that you look at, the christian ancient communities in gaza, in iraq, in
11:08 am
syria, in egypt. give us a sense of how faith sustains them. so they are, of course, facing heartbreaking discrimination, persecution, horrific violence, as you recount in detail in the book. yet many choose not to flee, even in the face of this. what role does faith play in sustaining and perpetuating these communities that you looked at? >> i looked -- i focused on four people, four groups of people. iraq, syria, gaza, and egypt. and all of them are very different. all of them face very different challenges. but overwhelmingly, the theme is that they are at risk of being eradicated. some quicker than others. like, let's look at iraq. so iraq, i first became -- of course all my life i was aware of the ancient christians because the land of the prophets, the apostles, watt
11:09 am
ninevah, which is mosul and the northern plain which runs into kurdestan. it's where the apostles went to bear witness and gain more from their flock. in 2003, as saddam hussein was about to fall, i was living in baghdad, and i was working as a journalist. i had opened up a bureau in the ministry of information, saddam hussein's ministry of information. and i can't explain to you how paranoid that time was under saddam hussein. everything was bugged. we weren't allowed to have cellphones. you know, you couldn't have any kind of communication. i had a satellite phone, but every night you were only
11:10 am
allowed to use it under the guidance of the ministry and every night they would seal it with sealing wax and put a stamp on it. and in the morning, there was a creepy guy that would come and open it for me. and just as a sidebar, this man had no fingernails. they had been ripped out, like under torture. and every day he would open my satellite phone and i would stair at his fingernails and think, like, what did he do, that he was in saddam's prison, like what happened to this man? like, something happened to him that he was so terrible that he was put in prison and his finger nailed were ripped out. anyway, by some stroke of pure luck, i got permission to drive the entire length and width of iraq. and, i mean, this kind of thing never happened. i think i had an assignment from national geographic. after much pleading and bribing and baksheesh in the middle east
11:11 am
is important, i got permission to make this trip. and i knew i was seeing an iraq that would disappear forever once the invasion happened in 2003, that i would never again, nor would anyone else see iraq in this way. so i got in my car with my driver, who was a palestinian guy who it turned out was reporting back on me, everything i did, to the secret police. and my fixer, who was a very, like, hot-tempered iraqi guy who was a filmmaker, and the three of us basically drove from the south, basra, up all the way to the north. and along the way, north of mosul, we first came upon the christian communities, which were the syrians, the caldeans, the orthodox, the syriac, the sects vary widely.
11:12 am
it's unbelievably confusing. i've spent four years trying to unravel their dogma and it's proven to be very, very complicated. what i saw from these people was, first, a deep fear of the coming invasion, the 2003 bush invasion, because christians in iraq, like christians in syria and christian copts in egypt, had been in some ways protected by dictators. so they were -- saddam protected them or allowed them to live the way they wanted to live. and they were terrified that what was coming would be a kind of sunni extremism which would attempt to eradicate them. so they were in great anguish, the first time i started working with these communities. and then ironically enough, 12 years later, i was in baghdad in june 2014, when the islamic
11:13 am
state rolled through. and literally, for these people, that was the end of days. isis -- seemingly they -- isis did not come out of nowhere. people -- i was working in syria at the time as well so we were very aware of the rise of isis. for these people, they stayed in their villages until the last moment. and it's interesting you ask this question, like, why didn't they go? their land, their ancestral home, is so important to them, and they know if they leave, christians in that area will disappear. now, the numbers are really -- i mean, i'm never -- i'm not a numbers person, because i think numbers never tell the true story. for instance, in syria, the u.n. stopped counting the dead due to the war in 2016. so we have no idea how many people were killed in syria. we have no idea how many
11:14 am
christians are left in iraq. but we guess that in the last census, which is in the time of saddam, so 40 years ago, there were 1.5 million. today, we wager between 150,000 and some say as high as 300,000. i would say closer to 150,000. so why are they leaving? those that survived isis fear more radical groups, especially the iranian-backed militias, the popular mobilization forces, and they fear turkish air strikes. they fear more extremist groups coming through. so basically that is a major consideration. the second, climate change. iraq is the number 5 on the list of the u.n.'s most vulnerable. their farming lands, nineveh was
11:15 am
one of the bread baskets of iraq, and when isis went through they basically destroyed their irrigation system. droughts, extreme climate, temperature change. for those of you that have worked in the middle east, you know at night, in the summer, you always sleep on the rooftops and you just pull a mattress up there and you stay up there all night because it's just so unbearably hot. the last time i was there, at like 2:00 in the morning on a roof, it was 104 degrees. just radical kind of shifts and extreme temperature. the great rivers like the euphrates and the tigris, the fishing communities are threatened. so climate change. migrant -- i mean, migration, so, a lot of the christians, when the trump muslim ban came about in 2016, 2017, christians from arab lands could come to the u.s. muslims could not.
11:16 am
and that to me was deeply worrying, because as someone that worked for the u.n. refugee agency, i thought it sent terrible, terrible messaging that we have good refugees, christians, and bad refugees, muslims. and i just thought this was a terrible, on every level, precedent. and for other reasons as well. but the christians that could get out, many of them, the diaspora is huge, as you know, everywhere i go i seem to run into an assyrian, who has grandparents who were assyrians from iran or iraq. the diaspora is huge and many of them felt they had better opportunities elsewhere. but they were very torn because they knew that if they leave, they're leaving this very important foothold that they need to have. so that, and then the third thing is the lack of industry. so whenever people say to me, you know, we could come to this
11:17 am
later, what policy recommendations do you have, i just say we must support them in initiatives. so that's just iraq. if you want me to go into egypt -- >> we can turn, maybe, to a few of the other countries that you focus on. and again, i recommend the book, and to delve into really these different christian communities in greater detail. and we can come back to iraq for those of you who i'm sure have questions, because some of the work that janine has done in the aftermath of the rise of isis and the siege of mosul is really extraordinary. the gaza strip is not a place that you associate with christian communities. i think according to your book, there are about 800? >> 800. >> eight zero zero christians in the gaza strip, sandwiched between hamas on one side and israeli defense forces on the other side. again, just help us understand how a community like that
11:18 am
continues to live in an almost unbelievably challenging circumstance. as you note, this is a community very much at risk of being extinguished in the next century. but it's lasted pretty long, all things considered. and so give us a sense of how a community like that continues to thrive, and is there any prospect, in your view, in having this ancient civilization continue in the region as it is? >> so just a little background on gaza for those of you who don't know. it's a tiny strip of land, 14 miles by seven miles, where 2 million people live. in the u.n., back in i think 2014, they said that by 2020, gaza would be unlivable, by 2020. we're now coming into 2022. the water resources, the lack of
11:19 am
electricity, the grids being hit over and over by bombing, basically being hemmed in. the greatest challenge -- okay, there's only -- i just got back, i was there in july and august -- is the lack of restriction. so, i mean, 2 million people, think of it, in 14 miles by seven miles. it's very, very heavily populated. the bombing, the israeli bombing, 11 days in may, devastated it even more. so every time there is an incursion, it just hits the grids, the electricity grids, the water system, even more. and what i worry about, and i've been working in gaza since 1990, is the complacency, that people have become in a way, both israelis and palestinians, that this is just the way it is, and it's always going to be like that. and so there's new generations that are born and raised in gaza
11:20 am
who can never get out. yet these are the most educated people in the middle east. i think it has the highest rate of education of preschool and early school. people even in the poorest refugee camps take great pride in sending their kids to school. most of my friends in gaza speak perfect english without an accent. and at least one or two other european languages that they learned on youtube, because they can never leave. so the restriction on the movement means, let's get back to the christians, but i just wanted to really stress that the humanitarian situation is on a breaking point for everyone there, muslim, christian, buddhist, whoever is there, it's a terrible, terrible situation. and i have a piece coming out in "vanity fair" in january which is about gaza, focused actually on the youth and the tremendous potential that they have, if
11:21 am
only we could give them a chance. so the christians. and since i've been working there since 1990, like you, i had no idea. i mean, i knew there was a small christian community, because a few years back, the baptist bookstore got burned down, when hamas first came into power. and i remember thinking, baptist bookstore? and then, you know, on my subsequent trips back and forth, i started visiting the christians there. and they're ancient, ancient. all of these people are ancient people. when you speak to the asyrians in iraq, when you speak to the copts in egypt, the greek orthodox in gaza, you have a sense of the tremendous weight of history they hold. christianity -- gaza strip was completely christian until the fourth century. and these people are the descendants of those people. so it's kind of mind-boggling.
11:22 am
and they've lived there, they've resisted emigrating even though many of their families and relatives have. and for them, they endure the bombings, the water cuts, and everything else. also for them it's very important to get to bethlehem, which is their kind of seat of their faith, bethlehem and jerusalem, for the holidays, for christmas and easter. and they can't, they can't leave. so that's very, very painful for them. the fact that they can't get jobs. and again, like this tremendously educated population, young people that are graduating, one young dentist told me he had just finished dental school in gaza and he said there's one job for every 11 dental graduates. and they can't find work. and yet they don't want to leave because if they leave, they know they will be in exile forever, like edward saeed, and longing
11:23 am
for their homeland, longing for palestine, yet there's so little they can do there. so they're in a terrible, terrible situation. >> wow. thank you for that. maybe i'll ask you a question about syria, and i'll ask you a question about egypt, just rounding out your study of these communities, but then i want to quickly open it up to comments and questions from all of you in the audience as well as on zoom. so please do feel free to submit those questions on zoom as we go. so let's go to syria. and you have a riveting story in the book about the christian town of molula, am i pronouncing that properly? molula, northeast of damascus. of course rebel forces attacked it during the syrian civil war in 2013. and similar to what you were describing about the iraqi christians, this is a christian community that had a very complicated, to say the least,
11:24 am
relationship with bashar al assad, a relatively secular dictator who was providing at least some semblance of community. so this is a community that is in some ways thankful, maybe, or what's their view on how assad has sort of come out now, having won the civil war, of course with the support of iran and russia and hezbollah, but in this horrific series of atrocities, this was still the person who this community looked to for at least some semblance of security and stability. so how do you understand where this community stands today, given all that's happened in the situation in syria? i'm sure, as you know, so many have fled, but some are still there. and where do we go from here in syria? >> it's like a very sad conclusion that we have to make, is that assad has won the war.
11:25 am
if you can call -- i don't think "winning" is the right term because it's a burned, devastated country that he's now going to preside over. and horribly, this is a man with a tremendous amount of blood on his hands that will be then taking this country, again, into his hands. and when you think back to why the war started, it was about a call for freedom. so the syrian revolution was the last of the arab spring uprisings. it first started in tunisia and then egypt and then libya and then finally syria. and the call was, we want our freedom. and the really tragic thing for me is that the opposition, who really started by and large a nonviolent, peaceful revolution, then turned armed, and then was basically hijacked by many radical groups including hts who now control the last -- the last pocket of idlib.
11:26 am
the christians, molula was so fascinating to me because very early on in the war, and for those of you who don't know, there were two ways to enter syria as a reporter or as a -- not as an activist, as a reporter -- well, humanitarians weren't really allowed in. the regime would give permission and you would get a visa. this usually went to countries that supported assad, russia, china, polish journalists sometimes got visas, or journalists who supported assad, so they would give them visas. the other way was across the border in turkey, that was possible until isis got control of the checkpoints, kidnapping and killing my colleagues, jim foley was executed, beheaded by isis. in the very beginning, for some reason, i slipped through the
11:27 am
cracks. and the regime was giving me visas. so i went, and of course i was followed and targeted by the secret police. but i managed to do some traveling around, and i got to molula, which was this extraordinary place, because it was really like an oasis of peace in the middle of a war beginning to break out, and you really knew in those early days it was going to be a horrible war. and i met these nuns, and they were so peaceful, so gentle, but such vehement supporters of assad. and literally they were chanting the same thing that the guys who were destroying entire sections were chanting, which was, "with our blood, assad." they were really fierce assad supporters. i thought, as always, when you're a journalist or a documentarian, i wondered if they were afraid and that's why
11:28 am
they were saying this to me. but i genuinely believe, after seeing them and spending time with them, that they did support assad. so the thing about molula is it then changed hands so many times. it was in government control and then it went to free syrian army control, opposition, then it got overrun by jihadists at one point. then it went back to government control. and throughout it all, the nuns that i knew disappeared. a few of them got kidnapped, and, you know, stood up and they're okay now. but a lot of people left, the christians that were there who were frightened of, as they told me, the black flag. they were really frightened of radical sunni groups taking power. they said, we support assad because we know who he is and we know what he stands for. i thought this was, purely from an anthropological point of
11:29 am
view, to kind of live under a dictator like that, because you felt safer with him than you did from the unknown. >> fascinating. let's talk about the copts in egypt just for a moment before we open it up. and i'm looking at all these questions coming in on the zoom chat too. so we'll get there in a second. the copts are the largest christian community in the arab world. and you note in the book that they face discrimination, not persecution. so maybe just sort of help us understand the different degrees or continuum of harassment that you might experience as a christian in egypt. and of course i'm not saying that discrimination is okay. but relative to the other communities that you look at, they have been able to carve out some semblance of peace and
11:30 am
stability in their communities. what are some lessons that you might learn from that community? is there any way that that christian community has behaved or negotiated arrangements with their own governments and nearby areas that might be relevant to the christians in iraq or syria or gaza? or is it just very unique to its own circumstance? >> the copts just -- the reason -- a lot of people say why didn't you include lebanon in your book. and i didn't include lebanon for a very specific reason, that the lebanese christians are very assimilated into the economic, political, and social realm of lebanon, whereas every other group i looked at are not, except for the copts, to an extent. the copts are between 6% and 10% of the population, we don't know. so there's a lot more of them.
11:31 am
and they vary drastically in socioeconomic ranking. so for instance, if you're in cairo, a wealthy suburb, where many of my copt friends live, many of them went to the french lycee, they were educated there, they're from wealthy families, and they say outright, look, we don't suffer anything, we're fine. copts cannot by law, and this is why i get into the discrimination, they cannot -- they can't build churches. they can't -- there are certain inheritance laws. they can't serve in the upper ranks of the military, which of course is a hugely important apparatus in egyptian political life. it's basically an arm of the government, a very strong arm of the government, especially under general sisi. there's all sorts of marriage and divorce laws.
11:32 am
discrimination is enshrined in the constitution. so among the wealthy, it's okay. they still say to me, i feel different, i still feel like i am the other. then you get the copts who are living in minya, in the upper egypt, in the provinces. entirely different situation. so they are there, their churches are being burnt down. they are actively being -- they are being beaten up on their way to church. as the stories they told me, they are being completely isolated from the communities. their churches, some of them, showed me, they brought me to their churches, chains were put up preventing them from going to pray. so really, much more active discrimination. and i would call it persecution. and then there's also all of the many christians that are targeted by isis in the sinai,
11:33 am
by al qaeda in the sinai, by the radical groups in egypt. egypt to me is becoming increasingly dangerous under general sisi because of his repression but also because of the rise of more radical groups who have been emboldened by the taliban's victory. so the taliban's victory has a really extreme effect on christians throughout the region, because, you know, they see it as, wow, these guys defeated the greatest armies on earth, this is a signal for us that we can -- we can rebrand the islamic state, we can rebrand, we can regroup, we can be stronger than ever. >> and of course the taliban has a lot of its roots in islamic -- egyptian islamic jihad. >> absolutely, from the '70s, it's where it all -- not started, but where it had a huge concentration. >> i'm tired of hearing my own voice, so i really want to hear from all of you. i want to call on some folks in the audience as well as incorporate the chat on zoom.
11:34 am
so when i do call on you, if you're here, if you could go up to the stand there, if you wouldn't mind, and just press the button to make the green light, and that will allow the zoom folks to hear you. so let's get started, and please go ahead and do that. feel free, please, to introduce yourself as well. >> hello. my name is desnime. i'm a senior, one of janine's students. one question i had was about the coptic population in egypt. you mentioned that to some extent they're very much ingrained, socially, culturally, politically at one point. i guess i'm curious, when exactly did the oppression against them start? like, did that have anything to do with the rise of the muslim brotherhood, for instance? was it at one point they lived
11:35 am
peacefully with the other populations and then something changed? or did it just, like, increase gradually over time? >> so i couldn't hear you very well, but did you say is it linked to the muslim brotherhood, the discrimination against them, is it linked to the muslim brotherhood, was that your question? >> yes, so i'm curious if the -- because it seems they're very much ingrained within society. so that signals to me that at one point, like, they did have much more power than they do now, they're accepted and they mingled with everyone else. i guess i'm curious, when did that change from that kind of peaceful intermingling to the oppression and persecution they face now. i'm curious if that has anything to do with the rise of the muslim brotherhood, for instance, or maybe something else. >> well, i would say it's 9/11. to me the world changed forever after 9/11, even in the way that wars are carried out.
11:36 am
you know, everything shifted, in a sense, to this global war on terrorism, and therefore, you know, the rise of more groups, violent non-state actors that could act out. i think that, you know, in egypt especially, it's really important to distinguish which part of egypt you're talking about, because i think the christians in minya that i met, really remote communities, i mean, like hours and hours from the bustle of cairo where it seems like literally i was back in, you know, the 1600s. and they feel and have always felt discriminated against, actively, getting beat up on their way back from church. i think since 9/11, there has been much more focus on a kind of -- on the -- i would say the minorities throughout the region in egypt but also throughout the region.
11:37 am
so i think there's been much more active focus on whether or not -- you know, how they can live, how they can continue to live in these countries. and i think general sisi -- you know, sisi's egypt right now is a very worrying place on many levels, like human rights, his geopolitical stance on things. so i think, you know, the attempts for copts in egypt to sort of assimilate into society, again, if you're in cairo and you're wealthy, even in suburbs of cairo, the people who do all the garbage picking and garbage collection, because they work with pigs, muslims can't handle pigs so they do all the -- so
11:38 am
they're really people on the fringes of society still. >> thank you. we have a question on zoom from carrie who i think was reacting to your comments about being in church in sarajevo as well as the churches that you have continued to attend. she's asking, do you find attention between the personal and professional in some of the conflict reporting that you've done, and even specifically if you're at a church, do you sort of take off the journalist hat? do you view yourself as being in a moment where you're not a journalist? or is this so much of your persona now that you can't really divorce these two? give us a sense of how this faith question plays into some of the work that you've done in the area. >> that's such an interesting question, because i never think of myself -- i just think of myself as me, right? so i don't think of myself as a journalist or teaching at yale. it's just me. and the work i do is so
11:39 am
interconnected with the person i am, the two do not separate in any way. and again, my faith is not an evangelical -- you know, i'm very spiritual, let's say. so i could easily -- what i believe in could easily transcend to islam or to judaism. i believe in compassion and love and doing what is right to your fellow man, and doing the right thing. so, i mean, those are the morals that could extend to martin luther king or gandhi. it's faith, but it's more about a global reckoning. so i guess -- i don't know, i was raised a roman catholic but i suppose what i believe is probably closer to being a quaker or a universal -- not the
11:40 am
cult, but there is -- i think it's call the universalism. anyway, i hope that answers it. >> yeah, that was great, thank you so much. let me just see if there's anyone else in person. yes, please. and come up and introduce yourself and hit the green button or make it green. there you go. thank you so much. >> hi. my name is abby. i am a law student so i'm very interested in sort of -- this answer might differ by country, i'm sure, but whether the persecution has been occurring through legal channels or whether it's mostly kind of community norms or extra legal persecution. i know that in jordan, for example, there are separate court systems in family law, so depending on the religion on your national i.d. card, you'll go through a different court system. i'm wondering if those kind of legal differences exist in the countries you write about, and if so, how those legal
11:41 am
structures are changing over the time period that you examined. >> yeah, it's a good question. definitely in egypt, i mean, egypt is a place where the laws are enshrined in the constitution that directly affect the copts. so for instance, churches are getting burned down, especially in minya, which is where many of the christians live, the poorer copts. they can't build churches, that's like a law. and then all of these inheritance laws and divorce laws are very -- and they're very, very complicated. i've had people explain them to me and it's basically, you know, if a muslim man marries a christian woman, it's entirely different than if a christian woman marries a muslim man, opposite. so the place where it's most evident is egypt. the iraqi constitution, which
11:42 am
i -- as you know, was rewritten after the invasion and is constantly in a state of flux, i don't think there's any provisions written in for minorities. and you probably know that, you know, the jewish population of iraq, especially of baghdad, was like a hugely vibrant and important community that was completely eradicated in the 1950s and the 1970s. so i don't know in a sense even if there is laws that protect minorities, like the yazidis, if you can uphold those kind of laws in a country that is so tumultuous, essentially a post-conflict society. but i would argue that iraq is very much on the brink. so yeah, egypt is probably the place you should look at the most in terms of the laws and how they directly affect the copts. >> thank you. great question. i'll get to you in just a
11:43 am
minute, so you're welcome to come up to the center. i'm going to incorporate another zoom question here from peter, who is noting -- first of all, a lot of questions about israel/palestine, as you might imagine, in this zoom feed. so one question, just sort of noting of course the judeo-christian origins of both christianity and judaism and islam. does that suggest to you in these ancient communities that there is a possibility for interfaith dialogue or an ability to at least recognize the common origins of these christian, judaic, and muslim societies? >> no, absolutely, i'm a great
11:44 am
believer in track two diplomacy, for those of you who don't know, track two kind of operates in parallel to the elite powers negotiating to end wars and end conflicts. the u.n. and governments would be track one. track two is faith based leaders, women's groups, community grassroots organizations. to me, these are the people that matter the most because they're on the ground. and, you know, i lived in london for most of my adult life, actually, and i used to go to a wonderful church there on pottery lane, and the priest that ran it was a -- he was very much involved in track two in israel/palestine, along with william sekart, a great philanthropist in london, you probably know him. >> yes. >> absolutely, faith-based groups can contribute so much to bringing healing. you know, i think extremism,
11:45 am
whether it's the settler movement in israel or whether it's radical jihadis or evangelical christians in america who to me are as dangerous as anyone else when they align themselves with political causes, extremism is the real danger. you know, and this is what these endangered communities fear the most. so if we get like-minded, sensible, pragmatic, compassionate people who really want to do good work on the ground, i think it could be extraordinary. >> thank you. yes, sir, please come on up. am i right you're hand was up? we'll get you next and then come back to the zoom feed. >> my name is max, congratulations on releasing the book. >> thank you. >> i have a question. a global power that defends christians across the globe, at least of the western kind, and this is of course [ inaudible ]. do you see any instrumental
11:46 am
potential of the vatican when it comes to addressing these four very different, right, cases where christians, although different and very diverse, are persecuted, is there room for vatican to be instrumentally helpful in addressing these issues? thank you. >> yeah, great question. pope francis went to iraq last year at the height of covid, a really bad time. it was march and it was the time, you know, we hadn't yet gotten our vaccines. iraq still hasn't -- most -- i'm working on a u.n. program there right now, most of the people i'm working with can't get vaccines, they're not available. he went there then. he was advised by everyone not to go. and he went, because of course his background is working with people in, you know, the ghettos of buenos aires. i think that single act of courage gave so much solidarity to these embattled people, it was just a remarkable thing that
11:47 am
he did. so i think there has to be solidarity, max, not just from the vatican but from all of the christian communities. in america, which predominantly is a christian -- and i put that in brackets, i mean, the highest percentage of believers are christian, you know, people don't know about these communities in the middle east. so if they did, and there was more solidarity, and not just -- i mean, praying for them. i mean actively trying to support them in terms of getting their industries on the ground, education so that young people stay there and don't flee, i think it could be, you know, incredibly supportive. and i think the pope's visit, and therefore the vatican, did have a big influence. and he has been to egypt. syria, actually i feel like he
11:48 am
has been to syria but i can't remember a visit since covid or since the war. and i do think that his influence has tremendous potential. >> thank you. yes, sir. >> hi, thank you. i'm a first year student. i have more existential question. in the beginning of your presentation you mentioned the sense of loneliness under the siege. from my experience of living under the siege, this is completely the opposite. you basically -- this is the highest level of feeling of community, of the city where people where people understanding their common faith, common -- especially when there is no electricity, nothing there, and people are just -- so
11:49 am
how -- can you elaborate on your feeling of loneliness under the siege in terms of sarajevo? >> did you say you're from sarajevo? >> no, i'm from eastern ukraine. >> our from the ukraine, so you very much understand what it's like to be in war zone. so you want me to -- what the sense was of being in the siege? >> no, basically in the beginning you said you felt high level of loneliness, living under the siege, while for me it sounds a little bit odd because for me it's completely the opposite, there was months where people were as close as possible. >> oh, i see. okay. >> and how you think -- why you felt lonely and generally the existential situation of living there and feeling detached from
11:50 am
everyone or whatever your loneliness constituted there. >> yeah, well, i think probably personally i felt -- i didn't feel lonely because i was busy, right? it was a siege, and like i spent most of my days either hunting g with people so i i was or trying to find a source of electricity so i could send my stories to the world. also i was working with people. i was out on the streets working, existentially lonely because this horrific thing was happening around me, and children were being killed because they went out to build snowmen or old people were p being shot through the head by snipers or dying in their beds from the cold so i felt lonely in the sense from god. i felt it was more of a question of a st. agustine type crisis, how can you allow this to happen, and i remember reading, doing my bulk in reading about
11:51 am
the catholic church during world war ii have been been aligned of course with the ustasha who were propped up by the nazis, and how one of the bishops after the war was excommunicated from the church, he had been involved in the atrocities, the camps at yesanovich or places like that, and when he was excommunicated in some of his letters, being a catholic meant being part of a larger community around the world, no matter where he went, he felt a sense of belonging, you could go in any church, whether it's in africa or new haven and you felt that you were a small person connected to a larger thing. once he was excommunicated, he felt this tremendous loneliness, and i think for me in, i felt
11:52 am
this tremendous loneliness from god because i couldn't understand how he could allow such tremendous suffering, and every priest and every rabbi, and emom has never been able to give me a good answer. that was the source of my loneliness. it was this tremendous, i can't believe, and every day for three years i saw a catalog of extraordinary grief and pain and suffering. and it just amounted to this question of how can human beings do this to each other. it's kind of part of my life's work about evil, and you know, and what human beings can do to each other, and at the same time, in war zones, and you probably know this, you see tremendous evil, and you see tremendous acts of courage and
11:53 am
good that elevate the human spirit to a level which is extraordinary. >> thank you so much. we are running low on time here, let's get your comment, please. come and press the green button, and speak up as well. thank you so much. >> apologies for that. >> i'm also a student of janine. thank you for the book and for this. i guess my question is i wonder what the long-term, you know, like, real sustainable solution would be for these minorities. i mean, not to lessen the crisis of christian minorities in the middle east, but, you know, even racial minorities, black, populations in differently, you know, arab, and middle east countries faced really, you know, whether it's legal or cultural societal but still
11:54 am
fatal, and i guess like what, what about the christian minorities, how do they see themselves, is it more of like a nationalist, you know, vision of i am palestinian, i am muslim. like is it more like the pan christian, my fellow christians will save me, and also like to tie that, i guess, you know, kind of with the case of, you know, the christians in syria, how were other christians involved in the arab spring. how much is their loyalty to the country versus, like, you know, because obviously, sorry, i'm going on and on, but the discrimination comes from you're with them, you're with the enemy, with the western, whatever, and you're not part of us, but i can imagine the sense of i grow up in yemen in 2011,
11:55 am
and democracy and freedom for everyone so i guess we don't have any hope anymore, but what, i don't know, like is there, i can't imagine there's hope for the people, like, whether they're muslim or whatever, in all of these countries for freedom, and you know, rights for everyone, whatever religion they are. sorry, long. >> i got it. but your name means hope. amom means hope. so really interesting and i found that actually instead of being united like in iraq, for instance, i remember once writing a long piece about the syrians, and i got nasty letters saying i hadn't paid enough attention to them. i found that the sects were -- there was not a global sense like we're all christians in the way there might be world
11:56 am
muslims, let's stick together. world jews let's stick together. there was not a great sense of brotherhood. i'm an iraqi first, a yemeni first, i'm egyptian first. religion came secondment because they're minorities, that's part of their identity. one woman said to me, and i thought it was a great way to describe it. she was egyptian, and she said, i grew up feeling as though i always, like, i was wearing different clothes from everyone else, and she didn't mean literally clothes, she just meant that she felt like she was the other. so i think probably existentially there is this united thing, like we're christians in the middle east, or christians in asia and we are minorities and need to be protected. within their own communities, there's lots of dissension, which really surprised me and
11:57 am
frustrated me, and i think also post isis it came down to getting funds from ngos and international organizations and who is getting the most attention. so very cynically, but i really, i didn't like that. you know, it was a part i didn't like at all, and your question about hope, well, we have to have hope, right? without that, we, i mean, we really have to believe that ultimately in some way, that these groups are going to be protected. i think in terms of policy recommendations i'm always saying that we have to -- it always comes down to education. gordon brown, the british politician who i think is tremendous is now the un envoy for education, and i just think education is the thing that universally heals, whether or not it's combatting radicalization in france and the u.k. or whether it's, you know,
11:58 am
giving education and training to young entrepreneurs in gaza, or whether it is, you know, educating christians in iraq or syria so they can start small industries and sustain themselves and live there. you know, we have to kind of support and build up these communities. it's not enough to put a band-aid on it. it's really having deep rooted sustainable policies that will last for generations. otherwise, you know, in 100 years, what social scientists in the region tell me is these people will not exist. so the ancient land, the land of jesus christ for christian, their ancestral land, they will be gone, and a homogenized middle east that is basically lacking these diverse communities, is a middle east we don't want. we want, you know, the diversity, the rich fabric that they bring to society. >> wow, thank you so much, and please join me in thanking
11:59 am
janine di giovanni. >> thank you for coming, everyone. >> the book is "the vanishing", and congratulations, janine. feel free to stick around and come up, if that's okay. >> i think it's at the bookstore, too. >> definitely at the bookstore and to those on zoom, we got as many as we could. thank you so much. and all of us thank you for bearing with us with the hybrid, virtual event, hopefully many to come as we emerge from covid. so thank you so much. thank you. weekends on c-span 2 on american history tv, on sundays, book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and offers, it's television for serious readers. learn, discover, explore, weekends on c-span 2.
12:00 pm
former politico recounts the life of john marshal harlan in the great dissenter. farrah jasmine griffin, chair of the african-american looks at the writers of black authors, and public intellectuals to address issues of freedom. mary roach examines the conflict between humans and wildlife in the book fuzz. in under a white sky, pulitzer prize winning author, liz kolbert. and brian broome reflects on his life and memoir, punch me out to the gods. most of these authors have appeared on book tv, and find the programs at book


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on