Friday, December 20, 2013

Carol Saba: Enough with the Discourse of Protecting Middle Eastern Christians!

Arabic original here.

Enough with the Discourse of Protecting Middle Eastern Christians!

Seventy years have passed since independence, and there has been no bold critical review of the Christian experience of holding power in Lebanon and the regressive paths that led to its loss. Seventy years have passed, and there is no forward-looking and pioneering Christian vision that is distinct, bold, proactive and based on a sound reading of the dilemmas of Lebanon and the diversely-constituted Arab societies, the crisis of governance in them, and the requirements of political modernity for those being governed.

Seventy years have passed, and the deadly sectarian colors that struck the experiment of the Lebanese national pact and of promising secular constitutionalism in the Middle East are still firmly lodged in our minds. This Ottoman millet tendency that we inherited from times of intellectual slavery and insularity continues to colonize our historical self and to influence how we demarcate our values and choices.

An alliance of minorities here, an alliance of majorities there and what's more, the movement these days around the dilemma of protecting Middle Eastern Christianity, where verbal enthusiasm and political posturing is multiplying and proper, un-selfinterested approaches are diminishing. This movement does not constitute a critical awakening or a perceptive vision. Rather, it reveals the depth of Christian division and fragmentation and the inability of this Christian elite today to rise to a single, universal strategic reading that unites the Christians and rises above narrow political interests.

Describing the pain of the current reality on the ground is one thing, but charting the features of the hoped-for land and the paths to reach it is something else. Despite the trials and tragedies, Christians continue to see themselves as a minority in need of protection, internal and external. The only protection that is to be found is in a constitution, the civil democratic state, and the protection of basic rights and freedoms equally for all. The problem with the minoritarian mindset is that it is a suicidal path, killing the minority first and then the nation. This is what happened to Christians in Lebanon and it overturned the plan of a civil state there, a state based on citizenship that embraces and protects all. There have been sectarian fragmentation and deadly policies from political Maronism to political Sunnism to political Shiism. The Christians have not yet learned from the deadly experiences in Lebanon that the minoritarian experience, whether holding power or not, is not the solution but the problem. Instead of us strengthening the nascent national value from the time of the national initiatives of the great Fakhreddine, we have strengthened the sectarian value and since independence we have dealt with the Lebanese state on the basis of holding on to authority in order to protect the minority. We held authority without strengthening and developing frameworks for Christian-Muslim partnership in order for us to gradually progress together, Muslims and Christians, within a state of citizenship from mutual distance to coexistence, to a single common life, from sectarian partnership to national partnership and true citizenship. Despite having lost power, today in a kind of political blindness we continue to speak as Christians and insulate ourselves sectarianly, instead of speaking in national terms and putting the breaks on sectarianism, so that we may be the national bridge that helps all to cross over to the state, rather than being a factor for the development of the Sunni-Shii confrontation that is killing everyone.

Today has many similarities with the end of the 19th century. A flaccid Arab regime resembles the flaccidity of the Ottoman sick man before his fall. Sectarianism is rampant in all parts of the Arab body. Christian fear after the painful events of 1860 and the search for foreign protection. Warring sectarian majorities and minorities. Interested great and regional powers lie in wait for the revolutions of the strategic Arab world, looking for local clients that can be used under different pretexts for a foothold and bases for extending their authority and influence and safeguarding their interests and permanent presence.

An elite minority of Lebanese and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, conscious and enlightened with the lights of the Arab Nahda, realize that the game of nations and interests is to decide to fuel sectarian strife in order to prevent the creation of a promising modern state based on law in the Arab world. They called for a Middle Eastern secularism that is open to religion and for a constitutional civil state that protects all equally in rights and responsibilities as the solution to the dilemmas of the ambiguous and negative relationship between religion and politics in the Arab world.

Today exactly like yesterday, everyone is fighting with everyone through local tools and the Arab citizen is the only one to pay the very high price for this. What is needed today is a bold vision that frees Christians from the sectarian, minoritarian approach and the shackles of the Ottoman millet system, that takes them off the path of sectarianism and places them on the path of citizenship. What is needed today is talk from Christians about national and pan-Arab challenges and what they require more than talk about Christian challenges and what they require.

More than any time in the past and despite the dangers and suffering that surround them, if Christians unite around the project of a civil state that embraces all, then they will continue to be the key figure in the Lebanese and Middle Eastern equation. Their most powerful weapon, whose importance, effectiveness  and power they have not realized, is that they are the guarantee of the "pact" for the diversity of these societies in the world today, where all political unilateralisms have fallen.

Religious extremism in the Arab world will not last. Religious and sectarian strife has no political prospect because in today's globalized world it cannot form an effective state capable of ensuring people a dignified life. The crisis in the societies of the Arab world is not today a crisis of minorities and majorities. It is not a crisis of religious conflict, even if on the surface it is religious in nature. Rather, it is a crisis of governance, a crisis of true democracy, a crisis of reproducing the universal modern state that protects all through law and preserves diversity in unity.

If they unite and use the weapon of the "pact", which is the opposite of political dependency, Christians alone are capable of overturning the Sunni-Shi'i confrontation and saving the Arab world from suicide. Will they rise to the challenge instead of weeping over ruins and searching for protection, so that Lebanon and the Arab world do not miss for a second time at the beginning of the 21st century like they did at the beginning of the 20th, the opportunity to enter into political modernity and the world of democratic values that respects man, his freedom, and the dignity of his life? Let us pray to the Lord!


The Anti-Gnostic said...

In other words, she wants property rights and the rule of law.

Most nationalities don't think in such terms; most nationalities think in terms of a tribal Big Man fairly divvying up the nation's bounty. That is generally how Arab nations are run.

The idea of self ownership and thus property ownership is Aristotelian (Greek), and Arabs are in a continuing process of purging all Greek heritage from the Middle East.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Actually, reading this again, all she's really calling for is that old-time Ba'athist religion, which is a pan-Arabic, parliamentary veneer on the tribalist model.