Robert Fisk's World
I have usually found that the closer a religious Christian, Jew or Muslim comes to the Middle East, the madder they become. The most avuncular Shropshire vicar, the kindest Jewish moderate, the most secular Muslim - dump them within a thousand miles of Jerusalem and they have the eyes of Lord Blair of Kut-al-Amara, that crazed, glazed, faith-based lunacy that must have inhabited the eyes of the Crusaders when they slaughtered their way across the Holy Land, dropping off near modern-day Homs in modern-day Syria to consume - literally - some of their Arab enemies. Orthodox priests fight each other over Christ's tomb; Israeli settlers claim that the Koran is not "a valid document" and local Muslims fully intend to "Islamicise" the world.
Was I the only one to react with a total lack of surprise to the news that Muslim Afghan soldiers are fighting Muslim Taliban fighters with a coded inscription on their rifle sights from the Bible's Book of John? Could Holman Hunt - who also went batty in the Middle East - have imagined that his Light of the World (Jesus, no less, painted in 1854) would be guiding the path of American as well as Afghan army bullets into the hearts of the Muslim Taliban? Possibly. So it turns out that another bunch of religious nutters, the makers of Trijicon rifle sights in the United States, believe the inscription is "part of our faith and our belief in service to our country".
Not since the Serbs and Lebanese Phalangists set off to massacre and rape their Muslim enemies over the past three decades with pictures of the Virgin Mary on their rifle butts has there been anything so preposterous. No doubt, our brave Dutch newspaper cartoonist - he of bomb-in-the-Prophet's-hat humour - will now sketch Jesus using a clip of 7.62 ammo to bang on the door of that wretched cottage in the Hunt portrait. Indeed, 'twas I who first spotted two American M1A1 Abrams tanks parked in central Baghdad in 2003 with "Crusader 1" and "Crusader 2" painted on their barrels. But since the man who sent them there - check out Bush's lunatic conversation with Chirac - believes in Gog and Magog, what's new? Don't tell me no one in the Pentagon (or the British Ministry of Defence, which has an order in for another 400 Trijicon sites) didn't query that weird "JN8:12" on the equipment.
No wonder then - and here's a real tragedy - that Christians are in a state of perpetual exodus from the Middle East. In Egypt, six Coptic Christians were killed at Christmas - along with a Muslim policeman - when local Muslims attacked them. The Copts are maybe 10 per cent of their country's 80 million people but they are heading in droves for America. One problem they have is seeking official permission to build churches in Egypt - and if they get this permission, sure enough, up will pop a mosque right next door.
Courtesy of that great Bible-reader George W Bush, the Christians of post-invasion Iraq - one of the oldest sects in the world - are still fleeing sectarian violence for the West. They've been murdered and burned out of their homes. Why, even the head of the superior Islamic council of Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim, turned up in Beirut this week to tell the Maronite Catholic patriarch of Lebanon that he was doing "all he could" for his Iraqi Christian brothers and sisters. Algerian Islamists have just burned a Christian Protestant church in an apartment in the Berber city of Tizi Ouzou. But as an Algerian police officer said to the local AP man in the town a few …