Liberation and Theology in the Middle East
by Samuel J. Kuruvilla
London: I.B. Tauris, 2013. 320 pp. $95.
Reviewed by Dexter Van Zile
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Report
Middle East Quarterly
Radical Christianity is proffered as an analysis of Palestinian liberation theology but amounts to little more than a laudatory and exculpatory summary of a movement that portrays Jewish sovereignty as the greatest obstacle to peace and justice in the Middle East.
Like many academics, Kuruvilla, who hails from India, is deeply offended by the legacy of Western colonialism but somewhat indifferent to the impact of Islamist imperialism. This makes the author an easy mark for his subjects—Palestinian theologians Naim Ateek and Mitri Raheb—who portray Israel as a colonialist outpost in what otherwise would be a peaceful Middle East.
Like the theologians he is writing about, Kuruvilla seems unable to confront the impact of Islamist ideology on religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East. This is particularly evident in his lament that Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, founded by Ateek, was rendered a “pariah” for its “Christian-humanistic vision” in which Israel would be replaced by a bi-national state serving as home for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Apparently, Kuruvilla believes that Jews could live in peace in what would eventually become a Muslim-majority state, a notion for which there is simply no evidence. Would Kuruvilla advocate for the undoing of the India-Pakistan partition of 1947?
At points, Kuruvilla seems intentionally oblivious to the anti-Christian hostility that is increasingly evident in Palestinian society. He quotes an unnamed Palestinian Christian who stated in 2007 that he was “utterly confident that the Palestinian government headed by Hamas will not distinguish between a Christian and a Muslim” but ignores the 2007 bombing of the Gaza branch of the Palestinian Bible Society or more recent decisions by Hamas to close Christian schools. This same anonymous Palestinian Christian goes on to say that his community is “afraid of all those who wrongly exploit religion, politicize it, and interpret according [to] their interests. This is what is practiced by many religious Jews.” Kuruvilla lets pass this delusional statement.
One is at a loss to determine how much one can rely on his research even when it appears useful, as in details about the history of the churches in the Holy Land. He incorrectly reports that the general assemblies of the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the United Methodist Church of America have passed divestment resolutions targeting Israel when in fact none have. He states that the Zionist Organization of America is “defunct” when it is alive and kicking. These errors suggest Kuruvilla to be spectacularly unfamiliar with the very topics he covers.