Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Sectarianism or Secularism?

Arabic original here.

Sectarianism or Secularism?

The erudite bishop Georges Khodr states that he and the Orthodox are, in general, "strategically secularist, currently living within the sectarian system, participating in it without harm or prejudice because it is the current face of the state." He then reminds himself that "Historically and theologically, the Orthodox cannot be an ethno-religious party taking direction and commitment to a single political policy from the bishops or from those who are delegated with the worldly affairs of the Orthodox. We do not forget that we are only an ecclesial society and because we are this way, our presence has its particular aspect in politics. It is to be present with all and for all, on the basis of our faith commitment" (al-Kanisa wal-Dawla (Beirut: Manshourat al-Nour, 1982), p. 42).

There is a basic definition that can be agreed upon by those who call for secularism, however much they might differ in how they define it. This is the separation of religious and temporal authority and the independence of each of these authorities from the other such that each one respects its proper sphere. The political authority does not impose upon religious institutions anything that violates their beliefs and religious authorities do no expert legal tutelage over people and society.

Our position with regard to the state, whether it is religious or non-religious, believing or atheistic, is only based on the extent of its respect for the freedom, rights and dignity of man. The description of the state does not concern us as much as the standards it relies upon in governing. Many secular states are far more advanced than states with a religious character in terms of respecting human rights. There are states that have no religion that respect fundamental religious values more than religious states.

The secularism that we long for is that neutral and impartial space, that shared space that does not follow any religious or non-religious ideology, in which every individual citizen lives out his freedom through acting in accordance with his conviction in such a way that does not affect the rights of his partners in the one nation. The secularism that we long for is that secularism that respects religious, cultural, ethnic and political diversity...

On the other hand, most Lebanese agree that sectarianism is the fundamental reason for the country's constantly passing from one crisis to another. They agree that even if sectarianism is not the chief reason for the outbreak of internal conflicts, it is the fuel used by those interested in fanning the flames of these conflicts and transforming them into wars that have affected all Lebanese, who have paid dearly with their lives and livelihoods.

It has already been decisively proven that, in order not to slip into internal strife from one decade to another, the Lebanese must pass from a condition of sectarianism to a condition of citizenship where in political society and the state, national identity and national loyalty take precedence over other identities and sectarian loyalties. The primacy of national loyalty in no way erases other loyalties, which each have their own scope and sphere. In national affairs there is a shared loyalty and in religious affairs there are other loyalties and these cannot be mixed.

In the current social and political situation, we cannot deny that sectarian loyalties have a growing influence on the formation of relationships between Lebanese. At the same time, however, we cannot live in a state of flagrant contradiction between what we say and what we actually do. A sort of schizophrenia dominates the discourse prevailing in political circles in terms of affirming the importance of eliminating political sectarianism while at the same time eagerly working to entrench it. However, before eliminating political sectarianism, a number of necessary steps must be taken, without which it is impossible to truly put an end to sectarianism and instead we would just change to a new state of sectarianism even worse than the first where sects that are numerically the majority would dominate minorities.

What is surprising, however, is the belief some people hold in the usefulness of sectarian solutions to the problems sweeping our country. The sectarian ailment cannot be treated with more sectarianism. Therefore sectarian governance based on a sectarian division of spoils is not a rational solution but rather will only exacerbate the problem. What our country is witnessing is the logical result of what we failed to achieve over the past century, building a state of citizenship, institutions and law. We failed to build a state that upholds the rights and general freedoms of citizens, not the corruption of the authorities in power or the "rights of the sects". We have failed to build a state in which all citizens feel themselves as belonging, without feeling injustice or persecution. We have failed to build a state in which no one is rejected for not belonging to the dominant sect or to one of the large sects that monopolize authority in it.

The great Georges Khodr had the first word and he will have the last word: "It seems to me that the secular state that respects every religion and welcomes all citizens as equal in the status appropriate to their service is the closest to God's heart... Let us not forget that a state for Christians or a state for Muslims can be the entities the furthest from freedom and justice and that in the name of religion they can negate every human value and make their society into a terrible prison. The religious state is terrifying because we do not know of any state in history that was truly God's rule on earth but we know of theocratic states controlled by clergymen, by whatever name, rule according to texts attributed to or associated with their god and give reign to their lusts" (al-Kanisa wal-Dawla, p. 39-40).

No comments: