PNN – Palestine News Network – 17.01.11 – 10:01
By Yusef Daher – Two massacres, one in Baghdad ending 2010 and another one in Alexandria to start 2011, were enough to ring the alarm again on Middle East Christians.
In the International community but mainly in the Arab world, governments, writers, and political parties started dealing with the issue as a fire ball throwing it from one hand to another. Both massacres came after the Vatican, representing the Catholic Church, was just getting through publishing its first draft of recommendations to the Synod on Middle East Christians, as if the church hierarchies in the Middle East were expecting something or trying to avoid something. It turned out to be unavoidable. The gates of hell broke up after they left Rome.
The Muslim and Arab world was disturbed even more than what we may call the Christian world by the recent incidents. Most of them panicked, some were defensive by being helpless, and some governments said they pledged amounts of funds for the protection of Christians in their own countries. More were disturbed to hear the criticism that they were not doing enough.
Many writers wrote of their own experiences. Some of them tried to blame religion or religious madness and some went deeper into the social fabric and education: one described how some people used to think that Arab Christians (or just Christians living among them) were dirty and filthy people by nature. Some described them as infidels. In one article, I read how some Egyptian countryside societies made it a custom for a Christian riding a donkey to dismount the animal when passing by Muslims.
Is religious affiliation behind what is happening now? Or is it political agendas? For how long was this hidden? What is the taboo in these relations and what are the remedies? Some writers questioned the difference between faith and religion, thus describing religion as the state of mind in people and the source of all negativity, while describing faith as an unbelievable belief more spiritually acceptable–thus believing is more positive when it comes to God’s teachings and words.
Human manipulation of religious literature or Holy scripts by one’s religion to attack the other or justify acts of aggression as commandments was in the center of the discussions between friends of different religions. I watched a lot of them on Facebook. Many just tried to hide the mountain with the hand, saying, “We are one no matter what happens!”
The taboo words of “oppression” and “being oppressed” were taboo no more. I heard it in the church and I watched videos with clerics from other religions issuing threats and giving ultimatums.
At the same time, as 2011 begins, the mostly Christian South Sudanese were celebrating in the streets their salvation and freedom from the North, from their historical roots as Sudanese. Now they can smell freedom from the North’s religious legislative system, and the whole world has begun to realize that south and north Sudan should have never been one.
In Iraq, Christians are being driven North into the laps of the Kurds and being settled in unsettled, disputed lands, if not outside the country altogether. Under threat, they are leave their properties in Baghdad and Basra, where their families have lived for hundreds if not thousands of years. Palestinian Christians are being driven out of Jerusalem by Israeli demographical ethnic cleansing policies, as well as residency restrictions and municipal actions.
Others are just leaving Palestinian occupied territories for better economic and social lives elsewhere. In Lebanon, Christians are split between two if not more political poles. When I hear some of them talking it reminds me of the old Agora in Greece and of Rome, where early philosophers and scholars started teaching us democracy and great literature. In Egypt, over 11 million Copts feel unstable and insecure after the incidents of the past several months. With this huge population, fleeing the nation is not an option; they have to live with it.
Some of them see their threats and persecution as the will of God; some are just trying to deal with it. In both Syria and Jordan, Christians feel more secure and distant from the ethnic threat due to strict control of the authorities as well as their greater degree of assimilation into political systems. Of course, sometimes living in the city differs from living in remote areas, where the balance falls more to the side of the majority.
The media plays a great role in spreading these messages. It is like a tsunami of information, news, videos, and articles, but no actions. Not a single noticeable public demonstration in an Arab or foreign capital succeeded in getting the attention of the mass media. In the midst of all this chaos, the fact remains that the Middle East Christians are indigenous to this region and preserving their continued presence here should be the norm.
Responsibly falls on every player in the region, even those from the outside. Protection is the taboo word of today, covering the face of the evil, which is ignorance. The way forward should be more awareness-building between the communities about the other and accepting the other as part, parcel, and partner in society. The peoples of the region should go out, speak out and publicly support one another.
Christians in the Middle East, who helped build nations in the heart of the Arab and Islamic world, feel betrayed by those nations and by the whole world.