- Lucy Caldwell’s The Meeting Point (2011): From Ireland to Bahrain and Back
The Meeting Point (2011), the second novel by Belfast native Lucy Caldwell, focuses on Euan and Ruth Armstrong, an Anglican minister and his wife who travel from County Down to Bahrain for a mission trip; Euan’s mission is both a response to the events of September 11, 2001, and an anticipation of the war in Iraq, which is declared during the course of the novel’s narrative.1 When they arrive in Bahrain, Euan reveals that the true nature of the mission is something quite different. The real purpose of the trip is to enter Saudi Arabia, where he and a contact will distribute Bibles and baptize converts. During the course of their month-long stay in Bahrain, Ruth has an affair with a local man, Farid, and entrusts Farid’s teenage cousin, Noor, with the Armstrongs’ toddler. Set between 2003 and 2010, the novel is framed by the impact of the global recession on the North and shaped by the international role of Ireland during the Celtic Tiger.
As a voice of evangelical Christianity, Euan embodies the post-9/11 fundamentalist rhetoric that became prominent in the United States and in allied countries, as well as post-Troubles patterns of violence and xenophobia in Northern Ireland. He characterizes Muslims as non-believers “dying of thirst” for the Word of God, awaiting salvation in a land of “venomous snakes and scorpions.”2 The causes and effects of present-day Islamophobia have become increasingly complex, but reactions to the events of 9/11 remain a linchpin of the recent surge in evangelical Christianity. In a 2014 analysis of Christian dispensationalism, Grayson R. Robertson III argues that the fall of Communism in 1989 “cleared the way for Islam to once again become the primary eschatological enemy of Christianity” and that the events of 9/11 prompted “the most dramatic increase in the amount of evangelical Christian literature devoted to forecasting [End Page 41] the final biblical dispensation since the late 1960s and early 1970s.”3 President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, Robertson argues, was based largely on the advice of dispensational pre-millennialist advisors who regarded Saddam Hussein as the Antichrist, come to rebuild Babylon and launch missiles toward Israel, and saw the region as the location of the Battle of Armageddon as outlined in Revelation.4 President Bush’s use of the term “crusade” to describe the “Global War on Terror” notoriously framed American foreign policy as a response to a perceived threat to Christian hegemony. Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, later stated that the term “had been intended not to signify opposition to Islam but ‘a broad cause’ that other nations should join,” an ostensibly slight semantic distinction.5 Widespread evidence of Islamophobia since 2001 would suggest that such opposition did, indeed, fuel this “broad cause” and produced a spike in evangelicalism, both in the United States and beyond. One study found that of the 450 evangelical churches in the Republic of Ireland in 2010, 60 percent had existed for fewer than ten years.6
Much as the elimination of the encroaching global threat of Communism sparked anti-Islamic Christian evangelicalism in the United States, the political nature of evangelicalism in Northern Ireland has allowed for the transfer of rhetoric once reserved for Catholics to Muslims. The role of the Rev. Ian Paisley in galvanizing followers to support the tenets of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)—specifically, to reject the Good Friday Agreement—cannot be overlooked.7 However, the collective sense of Unionist identity has waned in recent [End Page 42] decades. Claire Mitchell and Jennifer Todd trace this identity crisis both to the integration of Catholics in governance and to the fact that “the United Kingdom itself can no longer be seen as a model and upholder of the Unionist position.” Having “lost the argument with regard to the political future of Northern Ireland,” conservative evangelicals, who “thrive on opposition,” have replaced the “Catholic other” with the “Islamic other.” Some of the evangelicals interviewed by Mitchell and Todd expressed a sense of abandonment and conceded that a united...