• The Christian Presence in the Arab Region and the Need for Integration

    The Christian Presence in the Arab Region and the Need for Integration

    The lack of proper understanding of religion and the relationship with the “other”, whoever the other may be, provide an atmosphere rife for sectarian struggles to turn all positive aspects of difference and diversity into bloody violence that contradicts the essence of the divine religions
    By Sobhi Ghandour
    Special to Gulf News

    Published: January 6, 2014

    Anyone who reads some op-ed articles and editorials published in the west, whether in Europe or America, will discover an outcry over the plight of Christian Arabs and their survival in the Arab world.
    In Arab circles there are different interpretations of the loud cries in the western media about the condition of Arab Christians.
    Some Arabs believe that the western concerns are deliberately meant to fuel instigation of sectarian differences, which have recently been exaggerated with the aim of defaming Islam and Muslims. Others believe it is meant to justify further western interference in the Arab region.
    However, realities on the ground clearly indicate that the Arab Christians are suffering and are being subjected to abuse and displacement in more than one Arab country, where certain Islamist and religious groups are killing and carrying out acts of violence and destruction and displacing Arab Christians from their villages.
    The systematic killing and forced expulsion of Iraqi Christians are examples of the plight of Arab Christians. The same thing is now happening in Syria and Egypt where Christians are being threatened.
    It is important for the Arabs, regardless of their religion and sect, to realize that there is a scheme underway to divide current Arab countries and establish new states based on religious, sectarian, and ethnic grounds.
    The Arabs also need to know that the partition plan for the Arab world first requires displacing the Arab Christians — a move that is meant to recognize the legitimacy of countries based on religion so as to legalize Israel’s demand to be recognized by the entire world, specifically the Arabs and Palestinians, as a “Jewish state”.
    If Israel is recognized as a Jewish state, the Arab region will be turned into rival religious and ethnic principalities that will succumb to Israel — the strongest and most influential player in the region and the only party that will benefit from this partition design that will reshape the region’s geopolitical landscape and map.
    Should this occur, there would, inevitably, be no further talk of an independent Palestinian state or the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. The Arabs, then, would merely disintegrate into conflicting tribes – no longer people of one nation with multiple sectarian and ethnic backgrounds.
    Therefore, it is no longer possible to draw clear lines of distinction between what Israel really wants and these acts of killing carried out by the groups with different Islamic names.
    This raises serious questions about the true nature of these groups and their connection with Israeli intelligence services. These concerns become evident when one recalls the history of Israel, which succeeded in penetrating many Arab and Islamic organizations, just as it does even with its friends around the world where it has implanted a highly professional and well-trained spy network.
    Although the evil practices against Arab Christians have failed in other Arab countries, we see it beginning to happen now under the guise of new concepts and ideas that label Arab Christians as “strangers”, not as an integral part of the nation. They are also treated like the minorities who migrated to Arab countries from the geographical neighborhood, such as the Armenians.
    The Arab Christians have existed in the Arab region much longer than Islam and its dissemination across the region, and they are considered the original population of these countries, especially in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.
    Bear in mind that the Christian presence in the Arab region has coincided with the Islamic presence for more than 1,400 years – which alone is enough to be a testament for both the Muslims and Christians against those who call for separation or homogenization or displacement.
    The formula of “joint citizenship” that secures equal rights and duties is not the right of Christian Arabs only, and it is not a “duty” of Arab Muslims alone. Rather, it is a shared responsibility imposed by the divine. The Arab land was divinely chosen to be the cradle of all divine religions. Therefore, maintaining this formula will be the real test for all Arabs about how to achieve the proper understanding of religion and the common cultural identity, as well as their national affiliation and allegiance, and about how to prioritize national and Arab interests over other considerations.
    The current unjust and bad practices against Arab Christians in a number of Arab countries are not a result of foreign interference or the intervention of traitors and intelligence services alone. They are also a result of a misunderstanding -- by the majority Arabs -- of religion, Arabism, and the concept of the rights of citizenship.
    The matter is not confined to the bad relationship between Arab Muslims and Arab Christians, but is also between Muslims themselves throughout the Islamic world. The divisions among Muslims derive from multiple ethnicities and sects.
    If the divisive phenomenon is limited to the relationship between Christians and Muslims exclusively, then it would be related to the question of “the presence of the Arab Christians” only. But, the phenomenon of division has become like a disease that spreads to all cells of the Arab nation’s body, a fact that is expressing itself in different forms, reflecting the ethnic and religious mosaic that makes up the fabric of the Arab nation.
    Undoubtedly, there are numerous reasons behind the common fear, expressed by both Arab Muslims and Christians, for the present and future. Some reasons are external and fabricated, while others are domestic Arab phenomena that reflect the intellectual and political backwardness prevailing at this stage of the nation’s history. These reasons definitely have nothing to do with the problem of “the rights of citizenship” of the Arab Christians, but are the problems of all Arabs with their religious and ethnic diversity.
    The plight of Arab Christians is an important and vital issue that affects the unity of Arab society. It also invites in foreign interference and past and present attempts to seize control of the Arab region, divide it, confiscate its natural resources, and change its identity under the slogans of “foreign interference to protect communities and minorities”.
    The lack of a proper understanding of religion and the relationship with the “other”, whoever the other may be, provide an atmosphere rife for sectarian struggles to turn all positive aspects of difference and diversity into bloody violence that contradicts the essence of divine religions.
    Religion calls for unity and the rejection of separation; likewise, Arabism means integration and refusing partition and nationalism is a symbol of the real meaning of citizenship and national unity. Where are we, the Arabs, in light of all this?
    As the entire globe recently witnessed Christmas celebrations, we recall the words and teachings of Jesus who said, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth”. This saying combines the inevitable (Glory to God) over which human beings have no choice, and the duty owed by human beings to achieve peace on earth.
    It is said that, to be a believer in God and his glory, one has to work for good and peace on Earth. Just as in the Islamic faith, this is the correlation between faith and good deeds.
    However, there is a vast difference between the increasing number of practitioners of religious rituals and the number of those who apply the values and perform the good deeds called for by the divine messages and the duty to spread the spirit of love and peace among human beings.
    This is clearly evident by the wars and conflicts that occurred and are still taking place under the “religious slogans” in more than one place in the East and the West. Those who promote wars and strife are hiding behind arguments based on the alleged link to religions.
    It is true that the divine religions establish many regulations and rules to control human behavior towards the “other” and “nature”. However, man, who has been privileged by God to be able to choose between good and evil, does not always choose the good and the right. Humans are mostly driven by desires not values, interests not principles, and greed not morals. Each man looks at the other in a negative manner, not in terms of human values or cultural and national affiliations.
    All divine religions call for justice and reject injustice, tyranny, greed, corruption and enslavement of man. They acknowledge the right of the deprived and underprivileged to a dignified life.
    How many wars and bloody conflicts have transpired over the years due to differences in terms of ethnicity, religion, and sect? The warring factions probably never even knew each other.
    * Sobhi Ghandour is Director of the Arab American Dialogue Center (Al-Hewar Center).
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