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On Christians in Jordan and Fake Arabism.

Christians on Palm Sunday in Jordan

Melkites are not Arabs — We don’t speak Arabic — Why People Who Say “Palestinians Built Jordan” Won’t Like this Post.

Since I was a child, 3 main ideas were planted in my head; you are Arab, we speak Arabic, and Palestinians built Jordan.

As I graduated college, I took an interest in authors who use the process of elimination (via negativa) to reach the truth (similar to the method used by Sherlock Holmes to solve crimes). These notable authors include, but are not limited to; John of Damascus, Al-Ghazali, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Little by little, I came across several resources related to economics, Ancestry DNA data, and the history of the Church. Which, led me to doubt the 3 main things about my identity, by eliminating false truths which are inherited in our common knowledge.

First; the notion that I’m Arab. Arabs (holders of the J1e haplogroup) come mainly from the Arabian Peninsula. Their genes haven’t transferred much to the Levant, especially among Christians. Even after the rise of Islam. As a Levantine Christian myself, with the family history dating back to the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, such as Haifa. The J1e doesn’t exceed 3–15% in those areas [1]. So, my ancestors, having preserved their Christian faith, have almost no probability of mixing with the J1e holders. And, according to the map below, the J2 (Anatolian haplogroup) dominates these coastal areas.

So, what part of the Levantine gene pool am I? Here, I had to return to the history of the Levant, my family’s history and the history of my religious sect (the Greek Melkite Church). Turns out, the Melkites (and the Antiochian Greek Orthodox) have been the first people to be ever called Christian, and they were mainly based in Antioch (current day Turkey). They were the Antiochian Greeks/Grecosyrian [2] (a mixture of ancient Greek settlers and to some extent, indigenous Levantines.) The Antiochian Greeks/Grecosyrian had little mixing with the Syriac speaking citizens at the time. And, since the Chalcedonian Schism in the church in 451, the church assumed a tribal function. Marriages were relatively rare outside the religious sect. This has also been reinforced by the subsequent Islamic expansion into the Levant. As Muslim rulers provided the privilege of some autonomy to each Christian sect (as long as the Jizya was being paid). And, as the Ottomans came to power, the same procedure continued. So, languages changed, but genes less so. And, as the Crusades took place, and succeeded to a certain extent in taking back some Christian land, they weren’t interested in protecting the Antiochian Greeks, but, in spreading the reach of the Latin Church, by setting up their own institutions and appointing their own clergymen. This didn’t last long and the Antiochian Greek Church preserved its tribal function even more.

As Greeks were successful merchants in the Levant, some moved to Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. And, after the Turkish Genocide in the early 20th century, more Antiochian Greeks took refugee in these areas. As I traced the history of my family (up to the fourth generation) it turned out, my family hadn’t married outside the Melkite church (confirming the Church’s tribal function hypothesis). So, by the process of elimination, genetically, I’m not Arab, I’m most probably Antiochian Greek. And so are most of the Melkites and Antiochian Greek Orthodox Christians in this region.

So, if I’m genetically not Arab, am I linguistically Arab? I took on the hobby of analyzing the difference between the real Arabic Fus-ha and our Palestinian/Jordanian dialect. Turns out, it is drastically different. We apparently incorporate a lot of different languages, besides Arabic. Other Languages include; Aramaic, Syriac, Turkish, some Greek and some French[3]. So, it is but a huge mistake to call what we speak; Arabic. For example, “deer balak men halzalame”, is not Arabic. “Zalame” is Aramaic and “Bal” is Syriac, and they have a different meaning in the Arabic language.

So, why then, are we called Arabs? And why is our liturgy in Arabic? I had to look further into the 19th century politics to find an answer. Turns out, the “Arab” identity was a 19th century invention by a bunch of intellectuals, such as Georgi Zaidan, with the support of the Brits (in an effort to kick out the Ottomans, in which they succeeded) and the Church clergymen in hopes of avoiding further massacres and persecution by the radical Muslims of the time of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Funnily enough, now, Levantine food and culture, which predates the invention of the fake Arab identity, is called “Arabic” food and “Arabic” culture.

Now, to the third point, which somehow connects to the previous two points. As I came across the book “Antifragile” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and to be more specific, his point where business and trading build tolerance [4], I couldn’t help but think of my own Christian community in Jordan. As I studied the history of Levantine Christians, I found out that they were usually the most educated (probably till this day), as they were exempt from military service as long as they paid the Jizya. So, they focused on other aspects, such as; trading, education, administration and industrialization. And Christian parents in Palestine and Jordan emphasized the importance of education (especially that the first schools and universities in the region were established by missionaries, hence, easier access to education by Christians).

I always recall Abdo Al-Shair’s (father of Kamal and Jamal Al-Shair) reply: “I invest gold in their brains” to his neighbor, who used to advise him to invest his money in real state rather than the education of his children. As it turned out to be the most successful investment. Kamal would go on to build one of the the top 5 engineering firms in the world with billions in revenues, and Jamal would become a Jordanian cabinet minister and member of the National Consultative Council.

If you look at the engineering field in Jordan today, you’ll notice that it has a huge presence of Christian entrepreneurs (both from Jordan and Palestine). Dar Al Handasah, Engicon, CC, CCC, Haddadinco, Habash & Deir, and many more. Other fields where Christians have a huge presence include; banking, law, medicine, schools, alcohol, Jewelry and trading. I estimate that Christians in Jordan control a big share of the economy, which is definitely more than their percentage (2–4%) of the population

These results don’t indicate Christians are better, on the contrary, it is just an illustration of how Christians contributed to building the tolerance we always preach in Jordan. And according to Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in their book “Why Nations Fail”, using the cultural/racial hypothesis to explain economic developments is false (for example, Palestinians in Lebanon are facing so many economical pressures forced on them by the Lebanese government, unlike Palestinians in Jordan) which, introduces us to the other point absent in economical talks in Jordan, which is; if it weren’t for the privileges provided by the Jordanian government to the Christians and Palestinians, they wouldn’t flourish and prosper (that’s why, people who say “Palestinians Built Jordan” will probably not like this conclusion). So the inclusive economical and political policies are the foundation on which Christians, Palestinians and Jordanians made this country what it is today, and hence, should be given the credit in the first place, instead of boosting ones’ bias towards a certain race/culture in economical talks.

Well, as the saying goes “truth is like poetry, and most people fucking hate poetry.” This might hurt at first, but don’t worry, you’ll get over it.


Edmond Shami


[1] https://medium.com/east-med-project-history-philology-and-genetics/something-nordic-supremacists-will-not-like-44d99e8a4188

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiochian_Greek_Christians


[4] https://www.amazon.com/Antifragile-Things-That-Disorder-Incerto/dp/0812979680



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