Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: Arabism as a Christian Choice

Arabic original here.

Arabism as a Christian Choice

Modern states in the Arab Middle East arose following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, but the churches did not divide according to the newly-established states, but instead insisted on transcending borders and nations. The unity of their children--Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian or Jordanian...-- was too strong for their bonds to be broken by political or administrative boundaries.

This discussion is not coming from partisan premises or from current political choices. Rather, it is rooted in all the churches' awareness of their identity and their witness. No one can cast doubt upon the loyalty of members of these churches to their nations, but most of them see that their national loyalty in no way negates their commitment to the issues of other members of their church who belong to the entire Antiochian land.

During what was called the "Arab Nahda", which lasted from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century, Middle Eastern Christians (or at least most of them) adopted the ideas produced by the European Enlightenment. They saw in citizenship, secularism, socialism, and Arab or Syrian nationalism common denominators-- whether linguistic, civilizational, cultural, national, geographic, social, or humanitarian-- that bring them together with their fellow-citizens and partners in a shared fate, both Muslims and other people of the region. They saw in these ideas a gateway to their liberation from the hegemony of a state garbed in religion which forbade them from their natural rights to practice their full citizenship without any diminution. They were the tip of the spear against ignorance, colonialism and narrow sectarian affiliations and against backwards religious thought and the confusion of politics and religion.

What is striking today is that the grandchildren of the Christians who launched the idea of an Arabism that includes all the people of the region have themselves come to fight against this idea. They ignore the fact that their forefathers, when they adopted Arabism, did not adopt it on a racial or genealogical basis. But rather, they adopted it as a basis for national partnership and equality, far removed from religious-- and particularly Islamic-- rule. For this reason, the Islamists fought the idea of Arabism to the point that some of them declared it to be a form of unbelief-- and these are imitated today by the grandchildren who disown their forefathers for their choices.

The Christians of our land were never a single ethnic nation within a political or social framework. They are a single nation within an ecclesiastical framework: they are "a holy nation," as the Holy Apostle Paul said. They did not, however, constitute a religious or ethno-religious nation and they never strove to establish their own ethno-state in imitation of the Jews who boast of belonging to a primarily religious religious nationality, of the sort of being "God's chosen people."

In our land, Christians have carried the banner of partnership with Muslims, without a nationalist or sectarian concern that would overshadow the spirit of partnership with Muslim fellow-citizens. From the Ottoman Empire to Arab nationalism, Syrian nationalism, or Lebanese citizenship, we find that the Christians adopted these things because they bring them together with Muslims and do not separate them from them. We have a shining example of this in the Orthodox Patriarch Gregorius IV Haddad (d. 1928). He supported the Ottoman Empire, then subsequently supported the Arab movement, "and this was not an ideological choice for him, as it was for the secularist intellectuals," according to Dr Tarek Mitri. Patriarch Haddad said in his speech on the occasion of the Recruitment Act (1908) that made Christians equal to Muslims in the Sultanate, "Praise be to God who brought us together in humanity and citizenship and united us in the Ottoman Empire." He then himself supported the Arab movement, without any contradiction with his previous position since the basis upon which he built both his positions was partnership with Muslims and not conflict.

When the Jews strove for their own ethno-nationalist state on the territory of Palestine, the Christians engaged in universal, secular nationalist options and rejected any sectarian or religious isolationism. Is not the return to religio-nationalist options a betrayal of the mind of Christ Himself who put an end to Jewish ethno-religious nationalism, then the Jewish religious establishment killed Him because it regarded Him as a danger to the Jewish people? Do they not kill Christ a second time by going back to the closed-off walls of their sect? Do they not betray Christ who said, "You are in the world but not of it?"

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