Friday, June 28, 2013

Fr Touma Bitar on the Meaning of Met Boulos' Kidnapping

Arabic original here.

On the Matter of Metropolitan Boulos (Yazigi)

The issue of the beloved metropolitan is not, at root political and it is not sectarian. The issue is not one of extremist groups seeking revenge, nor one of random, opportunistic groups. What happened did not happen by accident, despite the fact that it may or may not have a political aspect. Until now, those who know have not abandoned their silence, for one reason or another, and they might not be interested in speaking. Those who do not know have continued to inundate us with their imaginings, guesses, rumors, fears, and maneuvers!  One thing remains fixed and one goal remains certain, behind the current scenario and its means of implementation: What happened would not have happened if the Lord God had not desired it, in order to lead His beloved Boulos and us to one specific thing. It is not just for him, but for us as the Antiochian Orthodox Church also, as long as he, as a bishop, is of us, with us, and before us. Nothing happens to anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus outside God’s purpose or without His permission. In either of the two cases, there is no question of randomness or of seizing that which or those who belong to God! “No one is snatched from My Father’s hand,” said the Lord Jesus. After this, whatever happens, from God’s perspective can only be for the good of His servants! “Everything works together for the good of those who love God,” it is said. Human standards have no value here! Naturally, we are motivated as humans and our feelings and emotions are affected as people. From this angle, it is not possible—especially for those who have experienced his brotherhood closely—for their hearts to not break over his kidnapping! However, in matters pertaining to God we do not stop at the limits of human affairs. And so the Church has embraced the issue. First of all, she embraces it with prayer and fasting-- and not just with the goal of achieving his release. Naturally, this is what we hope for, if it is possible within the framework of God’s will for him and for us, because in that there is consolation and considerable reassurance for many! We fast and pray earnestly as much as possible, primarily so that the beloved Metropolitan Boulos will be or become His and so that we as the Church will be enriched through him. In any case, “God’s will is for you to be holy!” We do not know what God will cause us to go through, today or tomorrow, for our salvation. What He has in store for us remains hidden within His saving economy! Nevertheless, we know that whatever He causes us to go through, He gives us what we need from His grace, unto our salvation and not our perdition! In any case, we look to what is unseen and not to what is seen! This is our point of reference! Again and again, we trust that we are completely in His hands because He is He and He alone is the Master of All! 

In this context, even if it were possible to imagine what might have happened and might be happening to His Eminence, even without being kidnapped and experiencing slow death, not a single person has experience of it without going through it! There is a world of difference between imagining something and experiencing it in reality. However, we know that God’s grace is in the measure of the severity of the trial, so that we can bear and overcome. One does not know himself, in reality, except when he finds himself in a difficult situation and praiseworthy things might not come except under pressure! In ordinary circumstances, he might be inclined to fear or to bravery, but when he is in a situation where he is powerless, then only he and his Lord know what passes through his mind and what he feels in his gut. In any case, he will not be abandoned! He may suddenly find himself girded with an inner strength and not know where it comes from. Likewise, he may be struck with panic at first, and then by remembering God his heart calms! This happens frequently in the stories of our confessors and martyrs in Christ’s Church. One might find himself in an internal struggle between fear and longing for martyrdom, then, suddenly through dispensation from on high, God’s grace bursts through to strengthen weak limbs and lame knees. In such an atmosphere, we know on the one hand that God does not burden any of His servants with more than they can bear, just as we know on the other hand that if He leaves them or causes them to pass through a trial for a time, it is because He chooses His servant, as one of His own, to be purified through the trial, for a blessing to rest upon him as he takes shelter in God, so that he might be made holy through surrendering himself. If one cannot live for God except by His grace, then no one can die for Him except by His grace! Confessors, in any case, are the seeds of the Church!

We do not know whether Metropolitan Boulos is still alive or if he has passed away. Therefore we continue to pray for him as one still alive, without completely discounting that he may have departed. Our concern, if he remains alive in the flesh, is that he not grow weak, that he be strengthened with grace, purified, sanctified, and that he bear witness to the Lord living, until death. Our concern if he has departed is for him to be numbered among the righteous and the saints! Therefore we firmly abide in prayer for him. We do not hold it against anyone or against any specific group, hoping for his release or for certain news about him. Our hope is in God! We surrender our affair to Him! We have complete trust that the prayers that we have lifted up and lift up for the intention of our beloved brother Metropolitan Boulos are not in vain. Just as the world’s hard currencies are traded from one to another according to need, so too God exchanges the prayers of the faithful in Christ’s Church for the credit of those whose intentions are raised, according to the situation they are in and their needs. Then God cannot but, in the way He knows, send us news about him so that our souls will not remain in suspense until the end. God is not unjust and He is not careless! Living is the God before whom I stand!

As for us, the Church, for a member of us, a brother among us, or a bishop to be subjected to what Metropolitan Boulos was subjected to, this is a trial for us, a signal, and a prophecy from God. All of us are concerned, without exception! We are members of each other so long as we belong to the body of Christ! If one among us is not in pain, as though he is not concerned with what happened, then his feeling in Christ is dead and he does not belong to Christ’s Church, neither in spirit nor in truth! Members that do not feel the pain of another member have been enveloped in death! In such a case, we must repent before time passes us by! Those who do not repent in order to recover their sensitivity to other members and the world die before they die. Those among us who are only concerned with a political reading of the incident and that the Christians are in danger and so flee or stir up panic in the hearts of the faithful for their own interests are strangers to God. They neither know how to read the mind of Christ nor how to meditate on God’s purposes in sowing Christians in these lands. We were sown here not so that we could be one tribe among the tribes of the earth, but so that we might be witnesses to God, the aroma of Christ, so that we might spread love, service, humility, patience, meekness, and joy in this region. We do not belong to ourselves! We are God’s! We abide as witnesses to the truth! As sheep! As a blessing! We speak of God’s glory and spread news of His works! This is why the kidnapping of Metropolitan Boulos comes as a trial, on an existential level. We will pass it through zeal for God’s house or we will fail it through heedlessness to this house!

The incident, in its deep, lived experience, indicates that the wells of divine life within us today are suffering from a drought! Dryness almost consumes us! Individualism is eating us up! If not for the pain of those among us who suffer for Christ’s sake, then we would not be concerned and would not be moved from our own interests, we would not be awakened to line up for repentance, exertion, and sacrifice in the life of the Church and there would be nothing left to bring us together!  If we are not brought together by Christ, His love, and hardships for His sake… if we are not united by suffering in Christ, then there is nothing left to unite us! We are no longer in the Church or of her! For those who do not gather together in Christ’s name in hard times, there is no value to when they gather in good times, even when it is in His name! Now is the time of sifting! Every seed not sown by the Heavenly Father will be weeded! Each sorts himself according to his heedlessness! Where are you from?! I do not know you! The time has ended for those of us who considered ourselves nominal Orthodox Christians! Events are coming faster and pressuring us. Today, the cross of Christ either brings us together or divides us forever! Words are no longer enough! Today, there is another discourse for the suffering of the Middle East. Either we relearn our forgotten language, the language of communion, or we get devoured by the tongues of Babel, perhaps irrevocably!

The kidnapping of the beloved Metropolitan Boulos, among many events these days, is a prophecy that it will no longer be possible for us to remain in Christ’s Church without exertion, sacrifice, and blood! Where the faithful do not choose to follow in the work of love, the Lord God imposes upon them, out of love, a situation of suffering, hardship, and death! All those who do not wish to sacrifice themselves for Christ will be cut off! Our hearts are hardened and we no longer hear! We only have one last chance left: to hear through pain! The Lord’s Christ wants us, for His joy, unto salvation. And so the power of the word has waned and the shriek of pain cries out! The Middle East burns and the whole world boils! Where are we going? We no longer have any place on earth where we are untouched by worry. Either we bear the cross of Christ and live or we bear the cross of the world and die! There is no more running away from facing the dues of our wallowing in our sins, our individualism, and our heedlessness!

As for our beloved Metropolitan Boulos, God has His own timing, to which no one can add or subtract!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan- Douma
June 16, 2013

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Suicide Bombing near the Maryamiyya Cathedral-- Patriarch John X is Safe

Arabic original here.

An-Nahar has learned from sources at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Bab Touma, Damascus that the explosion near the patriarchal residence was caused by an explosive device and that it happened after Patriarch John X Yazigi entered the monastery. He is safe and sound.

The official source said that four people were killed and more were wounded after two suicide bombers blew themselves up near the benevolent association [Dar al-Ihsan] and the Maryamiyya Cathedral, headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. He added that one of the suicide bombers was killed in the explosion, while the second was wounded and apprehended by Syrian security forces and transported to the hospital.

It is worth noting that the explosion occurred during the distribution of food to the needy at the [Shiite] benevolent association and that those who were killed and wounded were waiting to receive their food assistance.

Delegations from Antioch, Jerusalem meet in Athens

From the French-language website Orthodoxie:

Greece: A Meeting in Athens Concerning the Jurisdiction of Qatar

A meeting was held June 21 in Athens at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the initiative of vice-minister Costas Tsiaras, to raise the issue of the disagreement between the patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem with regard to jurisdiction over Qatar. In addition to the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarcate, which offered its mediation, including Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, delegations from the Patriarchate of Antioch and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem were present at the meeting. Carol Saba was part of the delegation from the Patriarchate of Antioch which also notably included Metropolitan Saba (Esber) of Bosra. An agreement was reached that will be relayed to the holy synods of Antioch and Jerusalem.

The Greek Foreign Ministry's statement following the meeting (Greek original here):

Following a discussion, conducted in a spirit of mutual trust and understanding, representatives of the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem confirmed that each Church respects the limits of the jurisdiction of the other, and agreed to relay specific proposals to the Holy Synods of the Churches which serve the common goal of Orthodox unity. In conclusion, the Deputy Foreign Minister praised the mediating role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and thanked the agreement and the constructive atmosphere in which the talks were held.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Highlights of the Joint Subcommittee Hearing on Minorities in Syria

The entire hearing can be accessed in video and text, here.


[…]For over four decades, the Syrian state has been unsurpassed in the Arab/Muslim Middle East as a protector of the basic religious freedom of the Sunni majority and of the non-Sunni minority religious communities. The historic Christian churches have long experienced not only freedom of worship, but also broad freedom to meet social needs outside the bounds of the Christian community and to demonstrate their faith publicly.
            Syria’s delicate religious balance was disturbed in 1982 when the Sunni supremacist Muslim Brotherhood a made bid for political power. This Islamist uprising was ruthlessly crushed by the Syrian state. A similar Islamist uprising took place in the spring of 2011. The opportunity arose when the “Arab Spring” pro-democracy movement reared its head in Syrian towns and cities. The peaceful pro-democracy movement was brutally suppressed by the Syrian government. But at the same time, a parallel non-democratic, Sunni supremacist movement, with strong ideological and lethal support from Saudi Arabia and other Islamist forces, soon made itself felt throughout the country.
            I have received testimony from Christians from Homs, Qusair, and Latakia who witnessed during the “Arab Spring” mobs emerging from Sunni mosques following what were presumably incendiary sermons, to make unruly public demonstrations in favor of the overthrow of the “infidel” Syrian government, and its replacement with a state with Islamic legitimacy. Among the genocidal slogans heard during such demonstration were “Alawites to the tomb, Christians to Beirut,” and “We will drink the blood of the Alawites.” These mobs were not pro-democracy freedom fighters.
            By the summer of 2011, violence became the dominant characteristic of the Sunni supremacist movement, as it came under the domination of Syrian and foreign jihadists. Alawites and Christians were targeted as the armed jihadist and their followers began to put their genocidal slogans into practice.
            Victims recounted to me details of the religious cleansing of Christian neighborhoods in Homs and Qasair by armed jihadis who threatened them with death and the destruction of their property if they did not leave their homes. A Christian woman told me that before she fled Homs at the beginning of 2012, she had seen the beheading in broad daylight of an Alawite girl who was pulled off a public minibus by armed jihadis. Churches in Homs and Qusair have not only damaged as a result of the exchange of mortars by the Syrian army and rebel forces, but have also been desecrated after falling under the control of the armed opposition.
            From credible media reports and interviews with Syrians on the frontline of the conflict, we see that the targeted kidnapping of non-Sunnis is now a  regular feature of the Syrian tragedy. I spoke with a Christian who reported that the four cousins of a close Alawite friend were kidnapped and beheaded. A nun told me that she knows a Christian girl who was kidnapped by armed insurgents and is now mentally deranged from the abuse. The victims of kidnapping include priests and prelates. The kidnapping of Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Boutros Yazigi while attempting to negotiate the release of two abducted priests is widely interpreted within the Syrian Christian community as a message from the Muslim supremacist opposition to leave the country.
            […]The outcome for religious minorities in Syria could turn out to be worse than in Iraq. But all hope is not lost. Massive violence, some of it targeted, did indeed drive many Christians and Alawites from their homes in places like Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Qusair and al-Raqqah when the armed Islamist opposition gained local footholds and went to battle against the Syrian government. I have seen for myself extensive destruction in Homs. But I also found government-controlled Tartus Province on the Mediterranean coast to be a generally tranquil place where people go about their private business and practice their religious faith without oppressive interference from the side of the state. The bustling seaside city of Tartus exudes a spirit of defiant optimism. Over 400,000 displaced Syrians have sought refuge there. They include Christians and Alawites, but the overwhelming majority of the displaced are Sunnis.
            It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Tartus Provice has largely, though not entirely escaped the horrors of the civil war. This is mainly because the armed Islamist insurgency has been unable to gain a foothold there. […]
            The burning question is: Do American policy-makers place high priority on securing the fundamental rights of all the peoples of Syria, and guaranteeing the existence of the endangered religious minorities in Syria? If so, the United States’ de facto war against the Syrian state - a state which has for decades been a prime protector of religious minorities - would end forthwith. Our government would use its leverage with its principle Sunni Islamist allies in the “coalition of the willing” for affecting regime change - namely Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar –to end their support for armed Muslim supremacist forces in Syria, and encourage them to turn their attention to providing Syrian-standard respect for religious freedom to their own citizens.
            The green light given to our Sunni regional allies to militarily destabilize Syria does not lend credibility to the human rights rhetoric that surrounds the United States’ regime change policy. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey may be beloved by America’s military and economic interests, but all have grave democracy deficits and cannot serve as models for religious pluralism and freedom religious. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are Sunni absolute monarchies. All religious minorities are banned in the former. Nearly one hundred years ago the Christian minorities were virtually eradicated in Turkey by means of genocide. Successive Turkish governments, including the current government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, have taken patriotic pride in genocide denial. […]

   […] Though no religious community has been spared suffering, Syria’s ancient Christian minority has cause to believe that they confront an “existential threat,” according to a finding of the UN Human Right Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria, last December. And this group, in contrast to Syria’s Alawites, Shiites and Sunnis, has no defender.
[…]They face a distinct peril so dire that their ability to survive in Syria is being seriously doubted by church leaders and independent secular observers, alike. While in some neighborhoods they struggle to maintain defense committees, they lack militias of their own. Nor do they have protective tribal structures, or support from any outside power. Referencing Syria, Archbishop Elias Chacour, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Israel, remarked a few weeks ago that, while many people are facing hardship and dying in the Arab Spring, no group is suffering more than Christians.
The Christians, however, are not simply caught in the middle, as collateral damage. They are the targets of a more focused shadow war, one that is taking place alongside the larger conflict between the Shiite-backed Baathist Assad regime and the largely Sunni rebel militias. Christians are the targets of an ethno-religious cleansing by Islamist militants and courts. In addition, they have lost the protection of the Assad government, making them easy prey for criminals and fighters, whose affiliations are not always clear.
Wherever they appear, Islamist militias have made life impossible for the Christians. Metropolitan Archbishop Jean Clement Jeanbart, of Aleppo’s Melkite Greek Catholic Church, told the Rome-based Catholic outlet, AsiaNews, "Christians are terrified by these militias and fear that in the event of their victory they would no longer be able to practice their religion and that they would be forced to leave the country."
He explained: “As soon as they reached the city[of Aleppo], Islamist guerrillas, almost all of them from abroad, took over the mosques. Every Friday, an imam launches their messages of hate, calling on the population to kill anyone who does not practice the religion of the Prophet
Muhammad. They use the courts to level charges of blasphemy. Who is contrary to their way of thinking pays with his life."
[…] Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East, who has been desperately working to cope with the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon and Iraq, wrote to me in February: “We are witnessing another Arab country losing its Christian Assyrian minority. When it happened in Iraq nobody believed Syria’s turn would come. Christian Assyrians are fleeing massively from threats, kidnappings, rapes and murders. Behind the daily reporting about bombs there is an ethno-religious cleansing taking place, and soon Syria can be emptied of its Christians.”
[…]Ordinary individuals, too, have been summarily killed after being identified as Christian. For example, Fides reported that a man named Yohannes was killed by an Islamist gunman who stopped the bus he was taking on the way to Aleppo and checked the background of  each passenger. When the gunman noticed Yohannes’ last name was Armenian, they singled him out for a search. After finding a cross around his neck, “One of the terrorists shot point blank at the cross tearing open the man’s chest.”
Such reports are not uncommon. A woman from Hassake recounted in December to Swedish journalist Nuri Kino how her husband and son were shot in the head by Islamists. “Our only crime is being Christians,” she answers when asked if there had been a dispute.
On February 13, 2013, the New York Times reported on Syrian refugee interviews it collected in Turkey: “One mother told of the abduction of a neighbor’s child, held for ransom by rebel fighters in her hometown of Al-Hasakah, which prompted her family to seek safety for their three young sons across the border in Turkey. A young man demonstrated how he was hung by his arms, robbed and beaten by rebels, ‘just for being a Christian.’”
            […]Swedish Assyrian journalist Nuri Kino, who travels to the region to interview Christian refugees from Syria recounts the story of Gabriel Staifo Malke, an 18-year-old who fled with his family from Hassake after his father was shot on July 17, 2012, for having a crucifix hanging from his car’s rear view mirror: The son told him: “In Hassake, terrorists had warned Christians that they would be killed if they didn’t leave town; there was no room left for us. Most of the others hid their religion, didn’t show openly that they were non-Muslims. But not Dad. After the funeral the threats against our family and other Christians increased. The terrorists called us and said that it was time to disappear; we had that choice, or we would be killed.”
            […]Christians, as well as others, also have been targeted with summary executions, forcible conversions to Islam and expulsions from their homes as a result of actions taken by the courts of the "Caliphate of Iraq and the Levant", the name the al-Nusra Brigade and other Islamist rebels use in reference to the Syrian territory under their control. The Christians find it impossible to survive under such rule.
            […]After a recent prayer walk in Jordan for the two kidnapped bishops, Syrian Christian refugees told Dutch blogger Martin Janssen that their village of 30 Christian families had a first hand taste of the rebels’ new sharia courts. One of Janssen’s accounts, as translated by renowned Australian linguist, writer and Anglican priest, the Rev. Mark Durie, follows:
“Jamil [an elderly man] lived in a village near Idlib where 30 Christian families had always lived peacefully alongside some 200 Sunni families. That changed dramatically in the summer of 2012. One Friday trucks appeared in the village with heavily armed and bearded strangers who did not know anyone in the village. They began to drive through the village with a loud speaker broadcasting the message that their village was now part of an Islamic emirate and Muslim women were henceforth to dress in accordance with the provisions of the Islamic Shariah. Christians were given four choices. They could convert to Islam and renounce their ‘idolatry.’ If they refused they were allowed to remain on condition that they pay the jizya. This is a special tax that non-Muslims under
Islamic law must pay for ‘protection.’ For Christians who refused there remained two choices: they could leave behind all their property or they would be slain. The word that was used for the latter in Arabic (dhabaha) refers to the ritual slaughter of sacrificial animals.”
            The man told Janssen that his and a number of other families began to pay the jizya but, after the amount demanded kept increasing over several months, the Christians decided to flee, leaving behind their farms and property. Some who could not pay or escape were forced to convert to Islam.
            An Orthodox cleric, independently corroborating such accounts, described conditions in the towns taken by rebel forces in the Christian valley outside Homs: “They are ruled by newly-appeared emirs, and those Christians who were not able to flee these places are obligated to pay jizya—a special tax that allows them to remain Christians, and Christian women must hide their faces like Moslem women. If they don’t pay the jizya they are simply killed.”
            […] When the jihadist rebel units take control of a town, like Ras al-Ayn, in Hassake province, it loses its Christian population over night, church sources further report. Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Eustathius Matta Roham, of Jazirah and Euphrates, confirms that churches and all Christian symbols have been destroyed in Ras al-Ayn.
Most information about these massacres and about the violence perpetrated by the regime comes from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), an organization set up by the Syrian opposition in London. Virtually all international news accounts republish the
Observatory’s reporting. According to AsiaNews: “For nearly two years, SOHR has reported only acts of violence by the regime against the rebels. Mainstream international media like the BBC, al Jazeera and al Arabya, have relied on it as their sole source of news.” […] 
The Center for Religious Freedom concludes that Syrian Christians are both trapped in a vise between the two sides of a brutal conflict, and specifically targeted in an ethno-religious cleansing campaign. The US administration is failing to address, or even notice, the particular situation of Syria’s Christians. Without delay, it should adopt the following policies:
            First, it is critical for the US to officially take notice that, while every group in Syria is suffering, the Christian minorities are currently particularly persecuted; as well as being caught in the middle of a terrible war, they are also the objects of a concerted religious cleansing campaign. The State Department’s Religious Freedom Reporton Syria, issued last month, notes blandly that: “Reports of harassment of Christians, mostly in the context of ongoing political unrest, increased during the year.” Also that: “Some Christians reported societal tolerance for Christians was dwindling and this was a major factor for the surge of emigration of Syrian Christians.” Few actual cases were cited by the State Department and there’s not the slightest hint in this gross understatement that the threat they face is an existential one.
            The situation of Christians and other minorities should be accurately reflected in a special report, one that Congress could mandate, and/or in official speeches, from the bully pulpits of our highest level officials. The fact that this cleansing is being missed is reason for the Congress to pass the resolution of Reps. Frank Wolf and Anna Eshoo mandating a special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East.
            Second, US humanitarian aid must also be directed to the institutions that are caring for the Christian refugees. Generous American humanitarian aid – over $800 million – for Syrian refugees typically bypasses Christians since they are generally afraid to go to the camps, where they risk further persecution and attack. Churches and monasteries in Lebanon and Turkey are being overwhelmed with Christians escaping violence in Syria and these and similar such facilities need to be identified and provided assistance.
            Furthermore, humanitarian aid – and, in the future, reconstruction and development aid –is desperately needed inside Syria. The majority of Syrian Christians, and others, who have been driven from their homes are displaced within Syria and are in urgent need of assistance. The US should provide such aid and must ensure that –unlike in Iraq -- such aid actually reaches the Christians and other smaller minority communities and is not distributed solely through Assad government agencies, or existing opposition groups; aid to them should be distributed through Syrian Christian organizations, including, but not limited to, the churches.
            Third, while many Christians wish to continue living in Syria and we hope that the Christian community will remain in their homeland, the US must begin to accept large numbers of the Christian refugees who are not be able or willing to return to Syria and who cannot securely stay in the region. Because as a group, the Christian minority has not been linked to terror by either side, they do not require extensive background checks and their cases can be expedited. The LA Times recently reported that the Obama administration is considering resettling refugees who have fled Syria as part of an international effort that could bring thousands of the 1.5 million or more Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East to the United States. According to a State Department official cited in the Times, the Department is "ready to consider the idea,” upon the receipt of a formal request from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. Washington usually accepts about half the refugees that the U.N. agency proposes for resettlement, the paper reports. However, because many Christians avoid registering and entering UN camps for fear of being victimized, they are not likely to appear in the High Commissioner’s request. Hence, the administration should ensure that unregistered Christian refugees are included in any resettlement plan, and that their cases are not delayed by unnecessary terrorist background checks.
            Fourth, as the administration distributes support, weapons and other aid, lethal and non-lethal, to the members of the Free Syrian Army, it must ensure that none goes, directly or indirectly, to those responsible for religious persecution and cleansing against any group. In addition, the US should ensure that policing assistance needed for the defense of Christian neighborhoods and villages is provided.
            Fifth, the US should make a peaceful settlement in Syria among its highest foreign policy priorities. It should do so in consultations that include appropriate and fair representation of Christian and other small minorities, including through their civic leaders. Charges must be taken seriously by the Syriac National Council of Syria, a coalition of Syrian Christians groups and leaders, that the Syrian National Coalition, with which the West regularly consults, is dominated by Islamist groups and does not include authentic Christian voices.
            Any settlement must ensure religious pluralism and freedom through a democratic constitution guaranteeing religious freedom, freedom of expression, personal security, and full recognition of the rights of all minorities, as well as other political and civil rights, including the right to equality under the law for women. Guarantees must be provided against Syria’s Talibanization through the forcible imposition of sharia by sharia courts, Islamist security forces, or religious police.

Fr Georges Massouh on Takfirism

Arabic original here.

Takfirism is Unbelief

The growth of armed religious movements expresses a profound crisis in all our Arab societies, especially when these movements do not target an outside enemy but rather target a partner in the nation or aim to weaken or dominate the state. Takfirism is a means by which armed groups come to justify their violent activities. All those who do not believe what these groups believe is an unbeliever, every state that does not follow Islamic law in its constitution and legislation is an apostate state, and all who serve this state and work in it as  civil servants, judges, soldiers, and police are unbelievers…  and for them unbelief is grounds for shedding blood.

Takfiris go so far as to believe that all those who do not follow God’s laws as they interpret and follow them are unbelievers, outside the Umma, even if they make the profession of faith, perform the prayers, give alms, fast during Ramadan, and make the hajj. They rely for their rulings on Qur’anic verses that apply to unbelievers and polytheists and on prophetic hadiths that are sometimes weak.

This takfirism expresses a crisis in the understanding of the state in Islamic jurisprudence which was established at a time when the state was different than in our present time. The state was an Islamic caliphate that incorporated all or most Islamic countries. But as for us, for almost a century we have lived within the framework of a nation-state and what was good in ancient times may not necessarily be successful today.

Thus we find ourselves in need  of contemporary juridical interpretations that take changes into account. Here comes the role of juridical authorities in devising a contemporary jurisprudence that meets the requirements of the modern state that arose in the Arab world at the end of the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic Caliphate. This necessitates putting an end to numerous ambiguities with regard to concepts and terms that are used, or that may be used, in some “moderate” Islamic documents. For example, the expression “citizenship” which simply means equality of rights and responsibilities for individuals in the one state, cannot be harmonized with the constitution of a religious state because there is no equality in it.

Our words are not intended as a defense of the Arab regimes that have all failed, regardless of their various labels, since the era of independence, to lay a firm foundation on which a modern state could be based. The military republics were oppressive under the cover of secularism, Arabism, and the liberation of Palestine… Rulers came to resemble emperors of the middle ages. They acted like gods: enjoining, forbidding, and dominating every detail of public affairs. Thus we can say that over the past century we have not witnessed true civil states in our Arab world, but rather states that are not respectable.

People are in a state of servitude from which they will not be saved except through a return to reason, which all religious texts recognize them as possessing. In place of reason, ignorance and immersion in superstition are common. In place of building a future, a return to the distant past and the evocation of conflicts reign.

If religious discourse remains as it is today, inciting and inflammatory, in order to boost religions or sects, then people will increasingly lose their humanity with which God created them. There will not remain any true meaning to religions if people are not freed from worshipping them and worship is brought back to God alone who has no partner.