Christmas is usually a time to celebrate the arrival of Christians in the Holy Land. But this year, as Patriarch Michel Sabbah of the Latin Rite Catholic Church revealed during his Christmas sermon in Bethlehem, local leaders are currently concerned with the opposite phenomenon: exodus. Speaking to the legions of Arab Christians fleeing the region, Sabbah said, "I say to you what Jesus told us: do not be afraid."
But there's reason to be. Last year, dozens of Christians were slain in Iraq and a Syriac Orthodox priest was beheaded in Mosul. Two prominent Christian Palestinians were recently killed in Gaza. A political stalemate in Lebanon and the increased dominance of Shiite Hizbullah has made Maronites fear their traditional perks, like control of the presidency, are slipping. Even in Egypt, where religion has played little role in government, Christians now worry that the increasing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood could lead to new restrictions.
Thus many are voting with their feet. There are now just 12 million to 15 million Arabic-speaking Christians left in the Middle East, and this could drop to 6 million by 2025. Countries are being transformed: in 1956, Lebanese Christians made up 54 percent of the country; today they're about 30 percent. Iraq's Christian population has fallen from 1.4 million in 1987 to 600,000 today. And Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was 80 percent Christian when Israel won independence in 1948; now it's 16 percent. Fred Strickert of Wartburg College estimates that hundreds of thousands of Christian Arabs have been displaced in the recent years, including half a million from Iraq alone. Christian Arabs emigration isn't new. But according to Drew Christiansen, editor of America Magazine, the tide has increased since the second intifada in the Palestinian territories and the Iraq War. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute says most Christians chose to relocate to Europe and the Americas. Some 75 percent of the United States' 3.5 million Middle Easterners are Christian, as are large slices in Canada, France, and Brazil. Many new exiles hope to relocate to the United States: no small irony given that the instability they're fleeing was set in motion by the United States itself.
With the exodus, ancient practices and cultures are being lost, and Middle Eastern Christians risk eventually being "amalgamated into Western Christianity," says Christiansen. The result will be "a dilution of the diversity of Christian traditions." But given the life or death choices many Arab Christian emigrants now face, that looks like a small price to pay.
The Dollar: There
s A Bottom
One of the surest financial trends for 2008 is the continued weakness of the dollar. Or is it? A Bank of America report last week laid out the case for an end to the dollar's fall. The bank's head of currency strategy Robert Sinche says the dollar's "horrible undervaluation" of 13 percent against a basket of other major currencies closely matches prior lows in 1987 and 1995.
Sinche rejects the idea that the greenback will fall even further as central banks stop bankrolling American consumer spending by moving their reserve holdings into other currencies. While fresh numbers from the IMF last week showed the dollar's share of global reserves slipping, BOA calculates that the drop since 2000 has broadly followed the exchange rate, showing only marginal shifting of currencies.
Still, a U.S. downturn could force the Fed to cut rates, making the dollar even less attractive to investors. For now, that's where most analysts are putting their money.
Trade Secrets: A Bomb In The Game
Once again Americans are paranoid about losing civilian technology with possible military uses to the "Red Army." Only now the Reds in question are Chinese, not Soviet. The dual-use issue was revived by a report last week from the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, warning that lax export rules could free Beijing to modernize its airborne weapons systems and purvey arms to Iran. Scary stuff, but there's not much to it.
Restrictions may have worked during the cold war, but Adam Segal of the Council on Foreign Relations argues, "Since then, there hasn't been any agreement among U.S. allies about what should be controlled. Also, it's harder to distinguish commercial from military uses, and there are more technologies available from a wider range of producers."
Today, if America refuses to sell, buyers can go to Israel, South Korea, Europe or Japan, not to mention Russia and China itself. When Washington blocked exports to Chinese semiconductor manufacturers, they just got parts elsewhere.
It's also hard to keep up with science. In 2001, the U.S. didn't want microprocessors of a certain speed to fall into the wrong hands. But by that time, chips like those were standard in Playstation game machines.
Another difficulty: sheer volume. U.S. high-tech exports to China grew 44 percent in 2006 to $17.7 billion—too much to track. In 2006 Larkin Trade International studied 47 proposed restrictions, and found that the Chinese were already buying 32 of the items from other sources. This is one hole that probably can't be closed.
—Adam B. Kushner
The British will earn more money than Americans in 2008, a first since records began. They'll also widen their lead over the French and Germans, says a new Oxford Economics study of per capita GDP.
48,062 Expected British GDP per capita in 2008, in dollars
47,427 Expected American GDP per capita in 2008, in dollars
1880 The first year comparative data were available (and already Americans led)
8 Expected percent difference between French and German GDP per capita and British GDP per capita
s Orphanages: Adopting High Standards
A decade ago, the Chinese orphanage system was a case study in neglect: a 1996 Human Rights Watch report called it a "nationwide crisis." But today the system is among the most respected in the international adoption community, what Susan Soon-keum Cox at Holt International Children's Services calls a "model" for other countries. Access to China's estimated 42,000 orphanages remains limited, but American adoption agencies are reporting initial signs of a system transformed: new facilities, advanced medical technology and lower child-to-caretaker ratios. The progress would not have been possible without the booming Chinese economy or the country's growing role in international adoption.
It is hard to say whether all orphans receive effective care. Below the visible tier of adoptable children, there could lie more-frustrated resources for the others, says Nicholas Bequelin, China researcher at Human Rights Watch. China has taken the right baby steps, but how the program grows from here remains to be seen.
Giving green used to mean sacrifice—spending to save a lemur, not indulge yourself—but that was then. With green now red hot, companies are adding eco- prefixes to nearly anything. Taiwan's Asustek Computer, Inc., got good buzz last month with the Asus Eco Book, a bamboo-encased laptop. Don't rush to a store yet—the product is still a prototype.
Most green indulgences come at a premium price, like the Bike Blender. The bike, which powers an attached blender, will set you back nearly $700. For a spirited holiday there is 360 Vodka ($28 per liter). Billed as the first ecofriendly premium spirit, the alcohol comes from locally grown grains and the bottle is 85 percent recycled glass. It's a fitting drink to toast a green Christmas.
Fast Chat: Redefining Equality
If one theme emerged in the past year's scientific research, it's that no two humans are alike when it comes to their genes. NEWSWEEK's Sarah Kliff spoke with Henry Harpending, an anthropology professor at the University of Utah, about the social implications of biological differences. Excerpts:
Where does the concept of genetic diversity stand in the eyes of today
I don't think we can avoid [it]. I think we're going to have a major revision in our shared attitudes about biological equality.
Could that undermine the notion that all humans are equal?
If you think that justice and equality demand biological identity, I think it could. But I also think that we have human and civil rights that don't depend on the assumption that our ancestors were in equivalent places 500 years ago.
What impact could increased awareness of biological differences have on society?
I have faith that underlying all of [the research] is a lot of decency, good will and optimism in the citizenry … We'll handle it with decency.