Friday, March 6, 2015

Carol Saba on the Meaning of the Plight of Middle Eastern Christianity for the West

French original here. You can also listen to it here.

Middle Eastern Christians: Is there a Pilot on the Plane?

"There are boiling cauldrons," declared former Prime Minister Michel Rocard, grand old man of French social democracy, last Thursday on Europe 1, having just published Le suicide de l'Occident, suicide de l'humanité? with Flammarion. The question-mark implicitly suggests the West's responsibility for the tragedies in the world today. "Our society is in the process of committing suicide. Speculation and greed have strangled the economy. Commodification suffocates humanity and the devastation of the environment threatens life. The precipice is already dangerously close and we blithely continue our march towards collapse." Rocard, who denounces shortsighted visions of the West, calls for awareness of the multiple threats that are arising simultaneously but that do not necessarily have the same causes. "The economic issue should be the priority," he says, because "it is by letting the economy deteriorate that everything else deteriorates. Ukraine, Japan and China, the Middle East..."

Yesterday, also on Europe 1, another grand old man and intellectual denounced the horrors inflicted on the Christians of the Middle East. For Jean d'Ormesson, an academic of the Right who even at 89 has held on to a great intellectual liveliness, "the management of savagery" is a new brand of this nameless horror, while totalitarianism in the past hid itself in order to work its evil. Someone who knows how to measure his words, he does not hesitate to describe the trials of Middle Eastern Christians as a real "genocide". He calls for genuine awareness and, most importantly, for coordinated action that would prevent the "disappearance" of Middle Eastern Christians including, if necessary, military action on the ground.

According to Jean d'Ormesson, the disappearance of Middle Eastern Christians is an orchestrated undertaking, as attested by the horrible reality on the ground, as well as by the studies published in the book Le livre noir de la condition des chrétiens dans le monde (édition XO), which was organized by my friend Samuel Lieven, a journalist at the newspaper La Croix, under the direction of Mgr Jean-Michel di Falco, Timothy Radcliffe, and Andréa Riccardi-- a book that I highly recommend reading. Is it necessary to recall the recent kidnapping of 220 Assyrian Christians in the region of Hessake in Northeast Syria? And before that, the appalling decapitation of Copts? And the exodus of Iraqi Christians? And the kidnapping of the Orthodox nuns of Maaloula, who fortunately were later released? And the emblematic kidnapping, which sadly has gone on for two years, of the two bishops of Aleppo, Paul Yazigi and John Ibrahim?

Of course, we should feel indignation on behalf of all victims, including, Jean d'Ormesson says, for the Jordanian pilot and also for our own here in France killed in early January. However, Jean d'Ormesson is right and, even if he does not put it this way himself, I will say it: it's time to realize that the tragedies of Middle Eastern Christians are harbingers of our own tragedies here in the West, that their descent into hell is our own as well, and that in saving them we also save ourselves.

But be careful not to misread the fight! The beheadings of the Copts in Libya certainly targeted the Christians of Egypt but it also targeted-- in my opinion it especially targeted-- the Egyptian model of Christian-Muslim coexistence which is certainly not perfect but remains the only bulwark against the radical, "monolithic" societies based on terror that are on offer for us. Moreover, by declaring seven days of national mourning to honor the 21 Egyptian Coptic martyrs, Egyptian President al-Sisi perfectly understood the message and has given the correct response. It is perhaps one of the few times that the Copts of Egypt, despite being one of the historical and original components of that nation, have felt themselves honored by their state as citizens.

At the heart of the current dramas in the Arab world, there is certainly a great trial for Middle Eastern Christians. But they are only the symbol of the oak that some are seeking to cut down. The confrontation aims to establish "radically monolithic" societies on the ruins of societies tolerant of diversity. Yes, the Eastern Question is, cruelly and at full speed, catching up with the West which has long kept it at a distance, focusing its energies and political interests elsewhere. At a time when France is wondering about the dialogue with Islam in France, it has become obvious that the pressing issue of what is happening in the Middle East is in the foreground for us as well, here and now. The urgent need, then, for France, for the West in general, and also for Russia would be to resolve on a just basis the nagging problems of the Middle East that feed every radicalism. Then, it is appropriate to actively contribute to the emergence of a new Arab political order, with truly democratic nation-states that respect fundamental rights, rather than to support various local and region powers that are not working in this direction-- in fact, just the opposite.

Only a single form of citizenship with equal rights and responsibilities for all, is the best antidote to the exploitation of religion by politics and vice versa, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere. Only a secularism contextualized within the lived reality of the Arab world is capable-- much more than the military action of all the armies of the world-- of combating religious radicalism and protecting the coexistence of all the elements of the diverse societies of the Middle East. It is clear that the emergency of the Middle East has become our emergency! Let us bring, then, the right responses!

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