The situation in the Middle East, especially after the derailing of the so called Arab Spring, has taken a very dangerous turn, marked particularly by a sharp rise in Muslim fundamentalism. This trend has culminated in the emerging of the so called “Daesh” or ISIS and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In this whole process the Christians are ending up paying the heaviest price; and their very presence in the region, dating back to the time of Christ, is now in real jeopardy.
I shall offer first a brief description of the situation of the Christians, as it is probably known by many of you. Secondly I will suggest what we feel ought to be done, in order to help reverse the process and maintain, as much as possible, the Christian presence in the region. Thirdly I shall offer some solutions for the tragedies of the Middle Eastern region.
First: The situation of the Christians in the world today.
1 - The attacks on the Christians in the world today are now well documented facts, and they are a threat to the Christian presence in many countries and particularly In the Arab region, namely Egypt, Syria and Iraq, and under the umbrella of the so called Arab Spring, Christians are being attacked and compelled to leave their countries, where they have been living, as original and authentic citizens for the past 2000 years. This exodus is depriving the region of a great human, cultural, scientific, economic and national wealth. At the same time this is offering a distorted image of Islam by presenting it to the world as a religion that rejects diversity, persecutes those who are different. Over and above this distortion we witness an open incitement to a Sunni Shea sectarian conflict, leading to thousands of innocent victims on both sides.
This is a very painful situation and more painful still is the silence of the official regional and global stands, and more particularly painful is the silent attitude adopted by Islamic authorities, both spiritual and political, and the lukewarm international stand towards the events that have been taking place.
2 – The great tragedy nowadays is what has been happening to the Christians of Iraq, and more specifically to the Christians of Mosul and the thirteen villages of the plain of Nineveh, over and above what is happening to the Yazidi and other minorities. All of those were uprooted from their homes by Daesh and, very frightened, had to leave only with the clothes they had on their backs. They desecrated their churches, their shrines and their mosques, and they planted booby traps in their homes and mines on their roads. The Christians we are talking about are Chaldeans, Syriac, Assyrians, Armenians and Evangelicals. They were around one hundred and fifty thousand, now sixty five thousand took refuge in the Irbil [Erbil] district, and sixty thousand in Dahouk.. We wish to express our deep gratitude to all those who hosted them in Kurdistan, in their churches, parish halls, schools, private homes as well as government buildings. We thank also the Patriarchates, dioceses, religious orders, governments, institutions and individuals who offered them material as well as social and spiritual assistance of any kind. It is urgent now, as winter is approaching, to provide public houses for them and help provide educational facilities at both school and university levels.
Second: Some suggestions as to what could be done
1 – Put an end to the terrorist organizations. Islamic States cannot remain as silent observers, simply looking at the “Islamic State” and all the terrorist organizations, Daesh and others, as they are causing great harm to Islam itself. Both Sunni and Shea religious leaders ought to issue Fatwas that condemn attacks on Christians and prohibit the violation of their churches, homes and possessions.
2 – Create a military force under the hospices of the United Nations and the Security Council to put an end to the invasion by the terrorist organizations. We consider that the International Community bears some responsibility for the growth of the terrorist organizations and for the dramatic situation that the countries of the Middle East are experiencing. Everyone knows that those countries are victims of international struggle motivated by political, economic and strategic interests, related to the gas and the petrol in those countries.
3 – Over and above the two obligations mentioned, pressure should be applied by the Arab and International Communities on those who are financing those organizations or helping them with arms or training them, in order to cut off the sources of violence and terrorism. By saying this we are adding our voice to what His Holiness Pope Francis has been advocating.
4 – Support the Christian presence in order to protect inter religious dialogue as well as peaceful coexistence among cultures and civilizations. Christians and Muslims have lived together for fourteen hundred years. The Christians have always played a determining role in the educational, cultural, social, developmental, economic and national revival. They helped spread the culture of diversity, openness , respect and cooperation with those who are different. They helped also develop the concept of citizenship, and they promoted freedom and human rights. They lived in their countries with wisdom and prudence: they respected political authorities, obeyed the laws of their countries and honored their Constitutions. They tried to live as ideal citizens and this is why they gained the confidence of rulers, kings and presidents who opened for them possibilities of cooperation and work. If we consider today the attacks perpetrated by all the terrorist organizations on the Christians of Iraq we see that, despite the fact that Christians never took sides in the international and local, military, ethnic or racial conflicts, they still were victims of those conflicts that raged and are still raging in that country.
5 – Finally we have to note that despite everything, Christians remain attached to their lands, their countries and their freedom, as original citizens of those countries. They are committed to their gospel values and to the teachings of Christ, which guide their relations with the others and more particularly with their brother Muslims who are sharing the same citizenship with them. Christians are committed also to a communion in the formation of a national identity based on cooperation and equality among all the components of society, and on the rule of unity within diversity, away from any religious or ethnic discrimination. They are also committed to the witness through an untiring effort to promote peace, stability and human rights , and to promote particularly the freedom of expression, freedom of religion and conscience. They are also committed to respecting the freedom of the others who are different, and they consider diversity to be a source of richness and a means to complement and enrich each other.
All that will serve as necessary foundation for the building of democracies in the region.
Third: Proposed solutions for the tragedies of the Middles East.
1 – In order to find solutions for the problems of the Middle East one ought to deal with the causes. That is the only way to reach a just global and lasting peace. We all should work towards reconciliation among the various components of those countries and among denominations of the same religion. Fundamentalists and mercenaries should not be used in conflicts and they should not be financed nor armed. Those commit crimes against humanity and against God and they cover their crimes by claiming that they are acting in the name of God.
2 - Arabs and Muslims ought to ask questions about the failure of the Arab Spring, and how it came to be replaced by sectarian strife, and how the terrorist organizations developed and declared war against the regimes. They should ask themselves how those organizations sided up with the opposition and made the innocent citizens pay the price for those conflicts. Does this not reveal the fragility of those governments, of the countries and their geopolitical boundaries?
3 – In order for the countries of the Middle East to enjoy a just, global and lasting peace, they ought, with the help of the international community, to endeavor to separate religion and state and establish the secular State, according to the example of Lebanon which, along with separation, he pays homage to almighty God and respect to all religious as well as to their creeds and personal law. He promotes the freedom of religion and of conscience.
4 – The human tragedy that has struck the Christians of Iraq, the Yazidis and others who were expelled from their homes requires the international community, in cooperation with the Iraqi central government and the government of Kurdistan, to take quick and effective measures to facilitate the return of the displaced from Mosul and the plain of Nineveh, to guarantee their security under the United Nations supervision, making sure that they are not dispersed all over the world where they will lose their identity, their ancient heritage and wipe out their glorious history.
5 – That same human tragedy happened in Syria which enjoyed peace in the past. The Syrian hemorrhage going on for the past three and a half years ought to be resolved through dialogue; and a peaceful solution for the conflict ought to be found. Hence our call upon the International Community to look with fairness on the conflict and consider the danger of the spread of terrorist organizations. The Syrians have waited for too long for international efforts which never unfortunately bore any fruits. The Christians of Syria, like other citizens, were subjected, under the very eyes of the world, to killing and displacement, which ruined the Christian Muslim coexistence. We do not forget the kidnapping of the two bishops, Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi of Aleppo, which has lasted for over a year, with the total silence of the world. Text and image from the website of the Maronite Patriarchate.