Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fr. Georges Massouh: "Every Fallow Field is from the Christian"

Published originally in an-Nahar. The Arabic original can be found here. The essay Fr. Georges is responding to, in the very widely-read pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat can be found here in Arabic.

At this time when Islamist extremists are occupying the highest levels of power in most Arab countries, especially those in which flowered the Arab (or is it Salafi?) Spring, and at this time when they have reached the apex of their power, the journalist Hazem Saghiyeh has come out against us with an article entitled "Christians against Sunnis" (al-Hayat, April 8 2012). The minimum that can be said about this article, provocative from A to Z, is that it oozes distortion and slander against the role of Arab Christians and their ideological inclinations.

Saghiyeh opines that "Middle Eastern Christians have not forgiven," from the time of the Arab Counquest to the fall of Constantinople, their removal from the power that the Byzantines had and that "Rum" [i.e., Byzantine or Greek] Christians still long for "rule that has been obliterated by the centuries." Likewise, he attributes Middle Eastern Christians' adoption, since the time of the Arab Nahda (would there have been an Arab Nahda if not for Arab Christians?), of secularism, socialism, Communism, Arab nationalism, and Syrian nationalism simply to a desire to fight Islam and to remove it from power.

This cockeyed reading, focusing on lame historical events, requires much evidence in order to be proven and seen well. Middle Eastern Christians, over fourteen centuries of Islamic presence, have not had any ambitions for empire or for rule and have never made alliances with westerners against Muslims. Even during the Crusades, they were expelled from their patriarchal sees and suffered just as the Muslims suffered from the Frankish occupation. In the modern era, they resisted the foreign mandates alongside the Muslims, while the Muslim kings and elites conspired with the colonialists against their brothers in (naturally, Islamic) faith.

For two centuries, Arab Christians have had no other concern than to develop an acceptable formula for participation in full citizenship along with Muslims. They wanted to pull their countries out of the intellectual, political, and social decline that they experienced under the Ottomans, and bring them to the horizons of civil law and the modern state. Yes, they were against religious government, the caliphate and so forth. But they did not appeal to a foreign army to replace one religious government with another religious government. The majority of Christian intellectuals were not practicing "Christians". Some of them were atheists, but they adopted non-sectarian, secular ideologies. However, their thinking appealed to the majority of Christians who found in "the separation of religion and state" the ideal solution for a flourishing and promising future.

Middle Eastern Christians do not harbor dreams of an empire for themselves. Islamists, across their different positions and varying degrees of Salafism, are the ones who harbor dreams of a caliphate for themselves. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is among those who entertain these dreams. Christians want to live with dignity in this beloved Middle East. They do not want to return to the "dhimmi" system, even if this system puts on the turban of citizenship and equality, or the tarboush of a "democratic and civil state" that they are promoting. There is no civil citizenship to it, just grasping at air.

"Christians against Sunnis," no Mr Saghiyeh. Christians against Shi'a, again no. Christians against extremist Islam that wants to take our countries back to the Middle Ages, yes. Christians against the Wahhabi Saudi Arabia or the Iran of "wilayat al-faqih" being the dominant model in our countries, yes. Christians with Sunnis and Shi'a and Allawites and Druze for the sake of equal rights and responsibilities, yes. There is a Lebanese proverb that says, "Every fallow field is from the Christian." This is the tone of Saghiyeh's article. But the fact of the matter is that desertification is a trait of most Arabs and Muslims. It is in that desertification that you should search for the root of the affliction and find its cure.

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