Friday, February 3, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh on Trump's Muslim Ban

Arabic original in an-Nahar here.

Mr Trump: Mind Your Own Business!*

We are not concerned by the decision of Mr Donald Trump, president of the United States of America, to prevent the reception of citizens of certain countries, including Syria, except insomuch as it distinguishes between Muslims and Christians. His decision is a purely sovereign American matter and only Americans have the right to debate their president and to ask him whether or not his decision is correct. What concerns us, then, is the impact of this decision on relations between Christians and Muslims in our country.

When Trump exempts Christians from his decision, he is regarding them as "minorities" in a state of danger. He plays the role of the protector of persecuted minorities, but at the same time he wants to build a wall to separate from "Christian" Mexico. Why this zeal for Syrian Christians while expelling Mexican Christians? So what concerns Trump isn't the future of Christians and Christianity in the Middle East, but rather American interests. That's his right, since he's the president of the United States of America and not the Pope or the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Most Syrian Christians do not want to be regarded as minorities. They are the people of the country. They were so before Islam and remained so under it, without favors from anyone. Their relations with Muslims have ebbed and flowed from one era to another according to the temperaments of rulers, governors and invaders... but they have proven that they are an essential component of the country. Their presence extends from the furthest north, from Aleppo, Lattakia and al-Hessake, to the furthest south, to Hawran and "Provincia Arabia," passing through Hama, Homs, Tartous, Wadi al-Nasara and Damascus. Therefore it is not possible to discriminate between Syrian Christians and other Syrians.

Syrian Christians do not want Mr Trump to treat them as "Syrian Christians," but as Syrian citizens. Preventing the reception of Syrians in his country is fine, but it's not fine to exempt Christians. Moreover, the decision implies that there is a crisis between Christians and Muslims, that the Christians are persecuted by the Muslims, and that their future in the region is threatened... and this is not true. The crisis of Christians and Muslims began before the appearance of extremist Islamic groups. It began with the tyranny practiced by the current regime. The crisis of Middle Eastern Christians, then, is the same as the Muslims' crisis and one cannot be solved without solving the other. Their fates are inextricably intertwined and it is only in vain that we go searching outside this framework.

There is no doubt that Mr Trump's decision contributes to pouring oil on the fire of racism, prejudice and hatred that is devouring the entire world. But the decision also serves those who the United States and Russia claim to be fighting: ISIS, Nusra and other such terrorist groups. How is it possible to fight Islamic extremism on the basis of regarding all Muslims as a danger to the international community? Is not preventing Muslims from traveling to the United States tantamount to accusing them of being terrorists simply because they are Muslims? Moreover, how can Mr Trump ignore the fact that ISIS does not discriminate between Syrian Muslims and Syrian Christians in their terrorist operations? In this regard-- and only in this regard-- ISIS seems better than Trump, since they don't practice racial or religious discrimination!

This hypocrisy practiced by Mr Trump in his dealing with the situation of Christians in the Middle East isn't new. What did the United States do in order to help the Christians of Palestine and Iraq remain? And what did the West in general do to prevent the Armenian Genocide, or to prevent the Turks, during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, from expelling the Greeks from western Turkey, the Syriacs from Mardin and Diyarbakir, and the Rum from Antioch?

Christians will not be pleased to be pawns in the hands of racists. They are masters of their own fate. They have passed through years and centuries that were much leaner than these days and they were not eliminated. They are here. They shall remain here. This is their country and it shall remain their country. But to Mr Trump we say: mind your own business!*

*Literally: go sew with a different needle.


Tom said...


Forgive me asking a question not relevant to this post, but I don't see a separate "Contact" option.

I'm looking for Arabic versions of the Chalecedonian Definition/Creed and of Leo's Tome. Do these exist in Arabic?


Fr Michael Laffoon said...

Fr George is of course entitled to his opinions, however having had many conversations with Syrians who have immigrated to the U.S. it is clear that they considered themselves to be part of a minority in Syria, and very often the term "second class citizens" is used to describe their status. I also find it rather sad that he resorts to the "racism" meme. It is most helpful when use terms that actually mean something rather than labels designed to elicit reflexive negative responses. Mr. Trump is not of a different race than Fr. George or virtually any person in the country of Syria.

On the one hand, Mr. Trump is castigated for wanting to exempt Syrian Christians from his travel ban and then on the other "the West" is condemned for not assisting Christians in the past.

Mr. Trump's executive order (which is actually a suspension of immigration for 90 days) affect about 13% of all Muslims in the world. What kind of "Muslim band" is this?

As regards the "crisis" between Christians and Muslims," the English version on the blog is confusing. In one place it reads, "Moreover, the decision implies that there is a crisis between Christians and Muslims, that the Christians are persecuted by the Muslims, and that their future in the region is threatened... and this is not true." In the very next sentence, however, we read "The crisis of Christians and Muslims began before the appearance of extremist Islamic groups." Perhaps this is a translation issue.

Moreover, most Arab Christians that I know do indeed believe that Christians "future in region is threatened." I understand and sympathize with Fr. George in his dislike for Mr. Trump, and for American policy regarding the Middle East and Muslim/Christian relations, but too much blame is placed on America and "the West." Arabs, Jews, and Iranians must find their own way to peace and coexistence.

I pray that sanity, charity, forgiveness and reconciliation come to Syria and the all too many other countries of the world.

Elias Nasser said...

Fr Michael Laffoon, when Fr Georges refers to racism he is not referring to the technical term "race". As you well know there is no scientific concept of race.

Fr Georges is referring to the collective stereotyping of peoples; for example in the US presidential election campaign Mr Trump referred to Latin American people collectively as rapists & criminals.

In the same way Muslim people have been subjected to collective stereotyping. When you state that the entry ban from the Muslim majority countries is not a ban on Muslims then I take it you did not hear Mr Trump state explicitly in the election campaign that he indeed wanted to ban Muslims from entering the country. Your statistical slicing & dicing is sadly not convincing.

With regard to whom has the better gauge of what Syrian Christians on the ground think, I would sooner seek Fr Georges advice than your limited sample size in the US.

I too wish for sanity & reconciliation; unfortunately sanity is not a descriptor that fits well the current occupant of the White House

Fr Michael Laffoon said...

Dear Les,

Hating or even disapproving of Mr. Trump and/or his rhetoric on the campaign trail is not the issue. The rhetoric of political candidates or even elected officials is often hyperbolic, even absurd.

I too believe that race is a subjective category, but "racism" is a label that is too easily applied to people who disagree with a given policy or point of view. Calling someone a racist ends a true conversation rather than furthering one.

Stereotyping is a universal problem, and is something we all do. Have real conversations with others helps us overcome our biases.

Some degree of accuracy in terminology is something for which we must strive. A suspension of immigration from a handful of countries for a limited period of time is not a "ban." One can speculate that such a policy may to a real ban, but labelling it as such is intellectually dishonest.

If you believe that anyone who speaks as crudely or hyperbolically as Mr. Trump has is not sane, then you must consider the vast majority of politicians on the planet in the same way. You might be justified in this, but writing them off as crazy will not convince them to change their rhetoric or their polices.

In peace,
Fr Michael