Monday, July 03, 2006

Nine hundred years and counting

Nine-hundred and thirty-five years ago, at Manzikert in eastern Anatolia, the Islamic conquest of what we today call Turkey began its final phase, with a crushing victory over the army of the Byzantine Empire. It continues today, not with armies -- the need for such effort has long passed -- but with the solitary knife and pistol. From Catholic News Service:

A French missionary priest survived a knife attack on July 1, but Church leaders in Turkey are worried by a rising tide of anti-Christian violence in the months leading up to a visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

Father Pierre Brunissen was badly wounded when he was stabbed twice by a man who was promptly taken into police custody. Authorities said that the priest's assailant appeared mentally unbalanced.

The AsiaNews service reports, however, that Father Brunissen had received a number of threats in recent weeks, and the parish church he served in the town of Samsun had been vandalized. The violence and intimidation had increased, AsiaNews said, after the murder of an Italian missionary, Father Andrea Santoro, in the Turkish town of Trabzon, in February. The young man charged with killing Father Santoro, who was also described as unbalanced, shouted an Islamic slogan after shooting the priest.

Bishop Luigi Padovese, the apostolic nuncio in Turkey, told the Associated Press that he would like to believe officials' assurances that the assault on Father Brunissen "has nothing to do with Islamic fundamentalism." But he said that hostility toward the Church has increased significantly in recent months, with an apparent campaign against Christian influence, and "it is the Catholic priests who are being targeted."

Bishop Padovese seems to know the score. The "unbalanced" assailants of Frs. Brunissen and Santoro are no more than the undisciplined vanguard of the assault of the real Islam upon all things outside it -- including any brand of moderate Islam inclined to accommodate Western or Christian influences -- that will soon engulf Turkey. Not even the gentlest, most peaceful Christian presence, exemplified by these two priests, can be tolerated by the real Islam. A generation ago, there were still sizable religious minorities in Turkey. They are dwindling today, and soon there will be none.

What is utterly galling in this is that every square foot of what we now call "Turkey" -- and accept as naturally and natively Muslim -- was once the heartland of Christianity. Its churches at Ephesus and in Galatia were the recipients of letters from St. Paul. Its plains once fed the whole Byzantine Empire. Its sturdy Christian peasantry filled the ranks of the Empire's army, which alone fought off every pagan and Muslim challenger for centuries. Until Manzikert.