Ted Cruz has done it again. Seeking to redefine the definition of “obnoxious,” the junior Texas Senator managed to go to a conference in defense of Middle Eastern Christians, currently facing genocide at the hand of ISIS/ISIL/IS in Syria and Iraq, violence in Egypt, and discrimination in other parts of the Middle East, and, well, piss just about everyone off. How did he manage to do this?
Well, if you know Ted Cruz, you know there are many ways the Senate’s Miss Congeniality could have offended his audience. When he’s not infuriating liberals or Democrats, he busy doing to the same to fellow Republicans that aren’t Tea Party Superstars like himself, or he’s just alienating rational, informed, critical-thinking-exhibiting people in general.
In this case, he chose the beginning of his speech to tell Middle Eastern and mainly Arab Christians that they “have no greater ally than the Jewish state,” praising that state, Israel, and lecturing these Arabs that they needed to publicly stand with Israel, and went on to criticize those who hate Israel. He was booed off the stage.
Now, I can imagine some of my readers, particularly the conservative kind, imagining that this audience was filled with anti-Semitic terrorist sympathizers filled with zealous hate for Israel and the Jews, and that Sen. Cruz was making a brave stand against bigotry in all forms.
As a thinking person, if you do have this view, I beg of you to consider why what Ted Cruz suggested would be so offensive to most Arabs, including Christians, and why a discussion as begun by Cruz was inappropriate at this specific conference.
For one thing, the conference was titled “The In Defense of Christians Summit.” Notice how the words “Israel,” “Jews,” and “Speak About Anything You Want” are absent from this title. Perhaps Sen. Cruz got an invitation to a different conference and went to the wrong location?
Alas, no. He was supposed to attend and speak, and was briefed on the audience
Now, with Ted Cruz, we know he’s not an idiot. Obnoxious, rude, megalomaniacal, yes, but an idiot, no. Master debater and Harvard graduate that he is, he knew exactly what he was doing. And I would suggest this might just be the quintessential Ted Cruz Moment: he wasn’t speaking to the audience that was physically in front of him, and booing him, at all. Nope, not even for a second. He was speaking to the extreme Evangelical Christian conservative who is today the base of the Republican Party. This speech that Ted Cruz gave had everything to do with the 2016 Republican Primary audience, and very little to do with the actual Middle Eastern Christians with whom he shared the same room, and many of whom now are part of communities facing genocide from the worst terrorist organization on the planet. In fact, he gave advice to these very people that are under threat that would be sure to endanger their lives, but which sounded really good to this rabid Republican base of his he will need to dominate in order to secure any influence or even perhaps a nomination in the 2016 Republican Primaries.
The fact is that, in Middle Eastern countries other than Lebanon, Christians are only a very tiny minority (and even in Lebanon, they are only a minority though a sizable one with much political power). For Palestinian Christians, Jewish Israeli authorities don’t look at their religion and say “Aha! You’re a Christian like Ted Cruz, no roadblocks, curfews, detentions, land confiscations, beatings, or arrests for you.” Palestinian Christians suffer just as much from a brutal, unforgiving, and humiliating decades-long military occupation as do their Muslim brothers. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been facing violent attacks from Islamists in a relatively new wave of violence there, with even churches and weddings not off limits. The situation is even worse in both Iraq and Syria, where ISIS and other groups are targeting all non-Muslims and even many Muslims in genocidal ethnic-cleansing. Now that groups like ISIS and other extremists have free reign in much of Syria and Iraq, Christians (and others) there are facing much more lethal and dire threats than the day-to-day occupation Palestinians in the West Bank face, or the flare-ups Egyptian Christians face. To ask these Syrians and Iraqis, threatened with expulsion, sex slavery, and mass murder, to publicly embrace Israel while they are at the mercy of the likes of ISIS is akin to asking them to impose a death sentence upon themselves. But Sen. Cruz, humanitarian that he is, did not mince words, nope; one of the first pieces of advice he gave this embattled community was to “stand with Israel and the Jews,” and that if they did not, he said, “then I will not stand with you.” Especially in these countries but certainly in other Middle Eastern countries where Israel is very unpopular, to say the least, and not for wholly unjustifiable reasons, to ask these embattled Christians to publicly ally with Israel is to ask them to draw negative attention towards themselves and to place themselves at risk needlessly in places where freedom of expression and respecting minority views are generally not something to be taken for granted.
If you forget everything from this article except for one thing, remember this: Ted Cruz had absolutely no problem using one of the most persecuted, endangered, and threatened groups in the world today—Middle Eastern Christians—as a prop to draw attention to himself, to increase his stance among the social conservatives that form his party’s base and especially its primary voters, and to give this group advice that would only endanger their lives even further without even a moment’s hesitation, all while being fully aware of his audience and, one would presume, as a self-anointed crusader for persecuted Christians, his audience’s unique and trying circumstances. Most modern demagogues in the U.S. are simply sidelined or ignored by large numbers of people, or are limited in their power. But Sen. Cruz has shown an ability to throw monkey-wrenches into the system in a way that other demagogues like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh have thus far been unable match, culminating in his actions being the primary reason our government shut down last fall. This makes him more powerful than either Limbaugh or Palin, and something new in the modern era. That such a man would so recklessly endanger the very people he postures himself as trying to protect—an educated, intelligent man whom we must assume has a decent understanding of the realities these people face—is yet another solid reason why liberals and conservatives alike should shun this man as something disgusting and whose actions are beyond even the fringe of acceptable political behavior in this country. As long as there is a significant amount of room for a creature like Cruz to operate, our system is in danger and we must question how we have come to such a low point, and do everything to make sure that people like Sen. Cruz are regarded by strong majorities in both parties as a self-serving charlatan and manipulator, undeserving of any kind of constituency that could ever hope to give him a significant amount of power. That he is regarded more positively than this by large numbers of Americans is a problem, a sickness, and a disease we must all confront, or suffer the devolution of our society and our system with only ourselves to blame.