Mother Agnes Mariam (center) with Mihraç Ural (left), organizer of the Banias massacres.
December 2, 2013
It is nothing new or surprising to hear the claim that Mother Agnes is an apologist for the crimes of the Assad regime. Did you know, however, that this March she was invited by the France-Israel committee to give a talk in Paris entitled "Situation of Christians in Syria, what message for Israel and for France"? This account of the event helps contextualize other statements that Mother Agnes has made regarding Israel, and reveals her heavily theological and pro-Israel interpretation of the Syrian crisis and the role Israel should play in the region.
When Mother Agnes met with Gideon Levy of Hareetz, she said that "she loved Israel and that the Jews should serve as a light unto the nations". As a Christian nun, however, it is possible to think that "Israel" in this expression means the Jewish people, rather than the modern day state of Israel. After reading about her talk for the France Israel committee, however, it becomes clear that the way she understands Israel is heavily theological. According to Josiane Sberro’s reporting, she said that "for her, Israel must remain a light for people of faith of the world, an example that for her she accepts to follow without reservation" (1), and that "the state of Israel must be the recourse of protection of faith and of the believers" (2).
Mother Agnes’ heavily theological interpretation of Israel can be better understood when placed in the context of her heavily theological analysis of the growth of sectarianism in the Syrian crisis. Sectarianism is a problem in Syria. However, rather than simply describing the problem, Mother Agnes contributes to the problem by turning to sectarian and Islamophobic discourse to describe the Islamist rebels in Syria. In the context of falsely claiming that salafi mercenaries today make up the majority of the armed rebellion, she calls them "Barbarous" numerous times and even claims they are "without faith or law"(3). Juxtaposing godless Islamist rebels with pure Christian victims who are the true people of faith: this is the theological/ideological context in which she says that Israel "must be the recourse for the protection of faith and of the believers"(2). Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that she goes as far to likening the situation of Christians in Syria today to the situation of Jews in Syria after the Nakba – she actually says that as Syria became Judenrein, it is preparing to become Christianrein (4). It is a standard zionist tactic to use the German term "Judenrein" to speak of expulsion of Jews from anywhere, in order to make the ideological connection to the holocaust, which effaces the actual history of the creation of the state of israel and the ethnic nationalist aspect to Jewish colonialism which was introduced to the middle east by Zionism. And it is simply doubly uncritical to make an equivocation to the situation of Christians in Syria today. This is the kind of thing that can only be said by someone who completely lacks an analysis of colonialism.
When confronted on her attitude towards Israel in the question period, mother Agnes Mother Agnes did a beautiful job linking her own analysis to the traditional zionist deflection for its apartheid policies and human rights abuses. I will quote this paragraph in full:
"Mother Agnes is confronted by the room, sometimes rudely, on the place of the Arab minority of all religions in Israel. When she recounts her version of the actual Syrian situation, Mother Agnes encounters the same silence as the one which haunts the democratic actions of Israel, where Arabs are in Parliament and in the Supreme Court and in all spheres of society…"(5)
By responding to very real criticism of Israeli treatment of the Arab minority by referring to the presence of Arabs in Parliament, Mother Agnes makes it clear that she is willing to repeat zionist discourse even when it is not explicitly tied to her theological-sectarian analysis. She steps here into completely normal Israeli apologist territory, the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from Hillel outside a student centre in front of a "Stand with us" banner or the "Wall of Palestinian Lies". There is only one thing left to say: Mother Agnes is a Zionist and a defender of Israel.
Note: You can read the original report here but for sake of transparency I’ve included the original text of the quotations I used above (the english above is my own translation).
(1) "Pour elle, Israël doit rester pour les hommes de foi du monde une lumière, un exemple que pour sa part, dit-elle, elle accepte de suivre sans réserve."
(2)"Mère Agnès poursuit en un appel vibrant au sauvetage du foyer originel du christianisme. Elle appelle à l’aide fait surprenant l’Etat d’Israël, qui se doit d’être le recours à la protection de la foi et des croyants."
(3) "Mère Agnès affirme que le gros des troupes de combattants est formé de mercenaires salafistes barbus, financés par les milliardaires des pays voisins soucieux d’en finir avec la dynastie des Alaouites, dont l’islam est jugé trop modéré. Ces combattants sont, dit-elle, des barbares sans foi ni loi, recrutés dans toute l’Europe. Ils viennent de Suède, de Grande Bretagne, de France et se permettent comme ils l’ont déjà fait à Tombouctou, de détruire complètement Alep, une ville pourtant reconnue patrimoine mondial. Bâtiments, foyer culturel, rien n’est épargné."
(4) "Ces territoires devenus Judenrein, au sinistre souvenir, se préparent, dans le silence concerté des grands de ce monde et des bien pensants, à devenir Christianrein"
(5) "Mère Agnès est interpellée par la salle parfois
avec rudesse sur la place faite en Israël aux
minorités arabes de toutes confessions. Quand elle
raconte sa version de la vérité Syrienne actuelle,
Mère Agnès rencontre le même silence que celui
qui occulte les actes démocratiques d’Israël,
où des Arabes sont au Parlement à la CourSuprême
et dans toutes sphères de la société, y compris le Parlement."