In an article on Tariq Aziz, who has recently been sentenced to 15 years in prison for his contribution to the execution of 42 Iraqi flour merchants in 1992, the BBC's long-serving correspondent John Simpson has made two statements that I find quite surprising because of the outright prejudices contained in them.
First of all, according to Simpson, "although [Aziz] comes from a Christian family, this is a matter of historical chance rather than an indication of his opinions." This statement is, obviously, problematic on a number of levels. Would Simpson say this of a British politician with an unsavoury reputation? Would he take the pains to point out that such-and-such European or North American politician was born into a Christian family and had then gone astray? Moreover, what does it mean to say that the fact that he's a Christian is no indication of his opinions? Can Simpson tell us what opinions a Christian, as understood by him, does hold or should hold? Can he tell us which is the Christian opinion: invading Iraq as the Christians Bush and Blair did, or not invading it, as several different churches (including the Catholic Church, to which Aziz belongs, and which later accepted Blair into its fold) urged? Are Bush and Blair not Christians? If they are, why is Tariq Aziz any less a Christian? And, further, is Simpson trying to say here that Aziz's Baath Party membership would have been more understandable had he come from a Muslim family? If he is saying that, what is that but a calumny?
Secondly, according to Simpson, "Tariq Aziz changed his name from Mikhail Yuhanna... to something much more Arab-sounding, in order to fit in better with his Baathist colleagues". Now, pray tell me, what is not "Arab-sounding" about the name Mikhail Yuhanna? Again, it seems that Simpson is trying to equate "Arab" and "Muslim", and to try to portray the Christians as an anomaly in the Arab world. The fact is, Christian Arabs were present in the Middle East long before the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had been born. Mikhail Yuhanna is certainly not a non-Arab-sounding name. On the other hand, it is an identifiably Christian name. By renaming himself Tariq Aziz, Yuhanna did not Arabise his name; he secularised it. There is a big difference between the two, which a man of John Simpson's experience ought to be aware of.