Secularism, Sunni-Shia Divide, ISIS Are Wiping Out Christians From the Middle East

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Beirut -- Gone may be the days when indignation followed Pope Benedict XVI for apparently endorsing those who associated Islam with violence when in fact all he did was to quote Manuel II Palaeologus.

Yet, that violence, banned from official history, now appears on YouTube, in the form of people tortured and crucified, whole communities dispossessed and uprooted, women raped and sold, prisoners tortured and decapitated. Now it is up to Muslims alarmed by the rise of Islamophobia to mobilise and rectify what the whole world, especially a West conditioned by media, claims to be "the true face of Islam."

The four Lebanese soldiers and police officers murdered by the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State near our eastern borders are there to show that we cannot cop out of this fundamental issue for the future of the region. In fact, it is not. Abdellatif Derian, Lebanon's Grand Mufti, was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where a symposium on the 'Criteria of conflict in Islam and their contemporary application' was held yesterday. What can be more topical than this given current events. Before that, he attended a conference against extremism and terrorism, organised by al-Azhar in Cairo, a few days after Pope Francis' call in Turkey to "condemn the violence that harms Islam".

Father Fadi Daou, founder of the Association Adyane, and Mohammad Sammak, co-chair of the Islamic-Christian National Dialogue Committee, are back from Abu Dhabi, where a forum was held for promoting peace in Muslim societies. One of the religious luminaries of the Muslim world, Sheikh Abdullah el-Bayyah, issued the following challenge to his coreligionists: "Islam cannot build peace outside the Muslim world if it fails to build it first within," especially between Sunnis and Shias.

Things could not be said more clearly. This is evident in those parts of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State. Based on laws from another age, the group wants to restore Islam to its "purity". So far, it has only managed to create a new barbarism, a uniformity for which Shias have paid the price as well as Christians, Yazidis and other minorities. The only peace that group has managed to impose is that of "moonlit cemeteries". Clemency, mercy, patience, generosity - associated sometimes by the West to some parts of Arab civilisation - have been all but forgotten. What is left is only terror as an instrument of supreme justice: the opposite of the principle of the humanisation of the world.

Some thought to blame this tyranny on Arabs' "nature", and their "resistance to democracy." This is pure racism. To speak this way is to ignore history, which includes progress as well as regression. To think about history differently means falling for the most blissful positivism.

In the meantime, Arabs are far from being the only ones involved. A researcher would find much in common in the policies promoted or followed by the Islamic state, Iran, Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood: the same quest for ideological and cultural homogeneity, the same ruse vis-Ã -vis liberties, the same contained racism, the same search for absolute power on people, the same quest for state power, the same imperialism. Examples from other continents also abound.

Given the violence that has set in - which the King of Jordan did not hesitate from referring to a "third world war" - dark voices announce the end of Eastern Christians. Conversely, in Cairo, Riyadh and in all capitals of Islamic moderation, insistently call on Christians in the Arab world to stay put. "Expelling Christians from their homes is a very serious crime," read the final statement issued by the al-Azhar conference. "We appeal to them to remain in their homeland, to fight together this extremism. We reject the solution of emigration, which completes the final objectives of the aggressor and causes tears in our society civil".

Without questioning the sincerity of these calls, nor the resolve of the condemnation of extremism by Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb Al-Azhar, the great advice we can give to the defenders of this option is to hurry up before other parts of the Arab world are also emptied of their Christians, as Nineveh Plain, Mosul and Qaraqosh have been; and as Lebanon would be if empty sectarian souls continue to ban aid volunteers from entering a mosque on the grounds that they wear the sign of the Red Cross.

Incidentally, we know that Syriac Catholics have just held their annual synod in Rome, since they were unable to meet within their patriarchal territory, in Baghdad or Damascus, capitals currently in the grip of war, or even in Lebanon, which some bishops in the Diaspora now hesitate to visit.

During his meeting at the Vatican with Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Pope Francis urged Syrian-Catholic authorities "to adapt to the evolution of their Church." Could he have said something different? Could he have encouraged Christians, not yet swept away by the wave of departures, to stand firm? We are now entering a period of heroism.

The Church of our time faces two great enemies: secularisation in the West, and persecution in the East, as John Paul II said in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope (a must read). In the East, these two aspects compound each other. Persecution attacks Christians from without; secularisation from within. Therefore, we shall have to stand firm and be twice as heroic.

"The demise of Eastern Christians will come from Christians themselves, from their regression, before coming from the Islamic state," a Maronite priest told me, speaking especially of his Church. "We are not living up to our presence, our mission," he explained, deploring "the lack of strategy, values, sense of mission, warmth, our love for money and careerism," which he believes undermines the Eastern Churches, especially the Maronite Church.

The bitter display of political divisions among Christians and the memory of the civil war that pitted people against each other confirm this pessimistic diagnosis. Case in point: Lebanon has been without a president for seven months now because of a failure to reach a political deal, above all within the Christian camp, since in a country like Lebanon, unique in the Middle East and the Arab world, the head of state has to be by law a Christian.

The passions that are tearing apart the Churches and the communities that represent them in sociocultural and political terms are, so to speak, "internal enemies". The latter are just as ruthless as those who mutilate their souls by beheading captives in front of a camera. This is something that we have to talk about some more in the not so distant future.

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