Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on Minorities' Need for a Civil State

Arabic original here.

Do not Blame the Minorities

Some people blame members of "minorities" because they prioritize their religious and ethnic identities over other, universal identities. However, most of those doing the blaming start their criticism on the basis of narrow sectarian positions, of a numeric majority that assumes it has the right to impose what it desires on minorities that have no choice but to obey, willingly or unwillingly, the will of the majority.

In reality, Islamic thought has not succeeded in solving the dilemma of minorities. This is because it divides society into two parts: Muslims and non-Muslims. Islamic thought itself is responsible for the phenomenon of minorities and for not bringing about the means that would permit members of minorities to engage in Islamic society and that would push them to be more committed to the issues and aspirations of Muslims. 

The basic problem for those who are striving for an Islamic state lies in their lack of respect for political, social and religious diversity and for their lack of respect for the particularities of the groups that form the national mosaic that incorporates all citizens. The religious state is in no sense impartial. Rather, it is discriminatory because, according to its constitution and law, it classifies people into ranks and turns those who are not joined together by a single common religion into mere subjects, robbed of will and freedom.

For this reason, minorities' fear of the establishment of a religious government is legitimate. They do not want to see sectarian princes ruling in God's name under the cover of a religious jurisprudence at odds with modernity. In the past, the Islamic Umma lived within a single caliphate, but in our own era various states have been established on a national basis the ruins of the caliphate. There has come to be a pressing need for a new vision to cope with new realities, a vision established on the basis of true citizenship with equality for all children of the same nation.

Within the framework of  a civil state, with all that this expression means, it is not possible for there to be a jurisprudence of relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, as was dominant centuries ago. In this issue specifically, the distinction is not clear between so-called centrist Islam or moderate Islam and other descriptors applied to Islam in different places. 

The only viable solution, according to members of religious minorities along with many Muslims, lies in establishing a state founded on full citizenship based on a fair constitution that does not discriminate on a religious, sectarian or ethnic basis. The dictatorial regime that governs with an iron fist is no guarantee for minorities and their existence. It is not what will protect them, since if it is eliminated they are eliminated. The religious regime that governs on the basis of presumed divine right is no guarantee for them, since it denies their citizenship and takes them back to the state of being second-class subjects. The regime based on freedom and equality is the sole guarantee for them and for the future of their children. There cannot be respect for human dignity without the establishment of a just civil state where there is no religious authority that imposes itself and its ideas on all people. The crisis lies in some Islamic thought that has not yet managed to take into account civil-minded people, both Muslim and non-Muslim together, who do not desire religious rule.

The predicament of relations between religious groups, majorities and minorities, is growing every day. However, minorities have the right to long for governments  that have developed on the level of respect for human rights. As for the authoritarian state, whether religious or non-religious, it is a hideous evil that must be rooted out sooner or later.

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