Categories
Christianity Today Europe Published Articles

Will Caucasus Conflict Come Also to France?

Image: Courtesy of Gilbert Léonian
Gilbert Léonian and his wife in front of their Paris church.

Throughout the six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian diaspora rallied in support of an ancient Caucasus mountain homeland they call Artsakh.

Overall, they donated $150 million in economic and humanitarian aid.

In California, they blocked freeway traffic to protest the lack of news coverage.

In Lebanon, they hung banners against Azerbaijani and Turkish aggression.

And in France, they successfully lobbied the senate for a non-binding resolution recognizing Artsakh’s independence. (International law recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory.)

The symbolic vote angered Azerbaijan, which called for France’s removal from the Minsk Group, co-chaired with Russia and the United States and tasked with overseeing negotiations with Armenia since 1994. Turkey has petitioned for a leading role.

But the consequences go beyond regional politics. The controversy could threaten the French social peace, already riled amid President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign against Muslim “separatism.”

Azerbaijan, and especially allied Turkey, also have an extensive diaspora throughout Europe. And last month, their supporters led demonstrations in Armenian neighborhoods in Lyon, vandalizing the Armenian genocide memorial.

France then banned one of the more violent groups, the Grey Wolves.

To gauge the situation, CT interviewed Gilbert Léonian, a Paris-based pastor and president of the Federation of Armenian Evangelical Churches in Europe. Of the roughly 500,000 French people of Armenian origin in France, about 3 percent are evangelical, worshiping across nine churches.

(Like many French pastors across all ethnicities, Léonian studied at the well-known evangelical seminary in Vaux sur Seine, near Paris. He recalled reading CT in the 1970s, as he studied under the renowned theologian Henri Blocher.)

Léonian discussed relations between the ethnic communities, his fears for the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh churches, and his personal struggle to love his Azerbaijani and Turkish neighbors:

To what degree are the Armenian, Turkish, and Azerbaijani communities integrated into secular French society? Do they maintain their respective faiths?

The first Armenians arrived in France in the early 1920s, following the genocide of 1915–1918.

Others came to France in different migratory waves due to insecurity in their countries of origin: Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and more recently, Armenia, following the 1988 earthquake.

Today in France, the Armenian population is mainly established along a south-to-north line from the Mediterranean port city of Marseilles, where the majority of original immigrants arrived and settled, through France’s second largest city of Lyons, and up to Paris.

The Armenian people are deeply religious, and were the first people to accept Christianity as their state religion, in 301 A.D., 12 years before Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Tolerance in 313 A.D. In France, 90 percent belong to the Apostolic [Orthodox] community, in 24 churches. Catholics represent 7 percent, in five churches. Very few Armenians call themselves atheists.

However, we are seeing a major secularization of religious practice, reflecting the general trend in Europe. For many Armenians, the church is more the place where the diaspora maintains its identity and culture, rather than a place where Christian piety is nurtured. There are about 800,000 Turks and 50,000 Azerbaijanis in France, and overall they try…

(Interview and translation by Jean-Paul Rempp.)

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on December 8, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Europe Middle East Published Articles

France’s Free Speech Makes Arab Christians Squirm

French authorities insist that “Islam is in crisis.”

A teacher was beheaded in the streets last month. Three Catholics were knifed at church.

And around the world, Muslims are protesting religious cartoons.

The French reaction has been firm.

“We will defend the freedom that you taught so well, and we will strongly proclaim the concept of laïcité [secularism],” President Emmanuel Macron said of Samuel Paty, the slain teacher who used the infamous Charlie Hebdo caricatures of Muhammad in a class discussion about freedom of expression.

“We will not disavow the cartoons, even if others recoil,” Macron added.

And the official reaction has been swift.

A mosque that shared a video venting hatred toward Paty—prior to his murder—was shut down for six months. A Muslim charity linked to extremism was dissolved.

Meanwhile, a recent poll indicated 87 percent of the French believe that “secularism is in danger.” An additional 79 percent believe that “Islamism has declared war on the nation and the Republic.”

Muslim world leaders responded in outrage to Macron’s rhetoric.

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan called for a boycott of French products. Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia, said Muslims have the right to “punish” the French, and “kill” them for their past atrocities.

Ahmad al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar, led the Abu Dhabi–based Muslim Council of Elders in a call to sue Charlie Hebdo. The crisis has renewed the Muslim cry for an international law to ban the defamation of Islamic symbols. Others would broaden it to ban defamation of religion in general.

CT spoke with eight Christian leaders in the Arab world about the controversy, as well as a representative of France’s evangelical community.

The latter—also sometimes beleaguered in France—stands with Macron. “French evangelicals, like moderate Muslims, support…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on November 10, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Expression

God,

You created this world through the power of your voice.

You revealed your will through the light of your word.

You made us, God, to do no less.

Teach us to articulate well.

With our tongue we bless and curse.

From our heart, our mouth speaks.

We will give account for every word.

Some used these words against the French. Muslims rebuke the insult given their prophet.

Some used these words against the Turks. Armenians condemn the war waged on their people.

Some used these words against the Israelis. Lebanese question the lines drawn into the sea.

And perhaps they are right to do so.

Perhaps they please you in their stance.

Their voice is strong. Their will revealed.

But is there power? Is there light?

A word alone is only vapor.

And so some kill. And so some weep. And so some shrug.

What can be done against the mighty?

God, make us mightier still?

Maybe.

Your power is perfected in weakness.

But it is power still.

Power to hold the tongue. Let freedom rule, but honor reign.

Power to bless the enemy. Establish justice. Prevail with peace.

Power to negotiate well. An equitable share, of your free bounty.

God, let our words create.

An apple of gold in a setting of silver.

And let them speak of you. The very words of God.

Let Lebanon be known through them, an expression of your love.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Rotation

God,

Is Lebanon simply spinning its wheels? Could success come instead by rotating portfolios?

A deadline to form a new government has passed. Agreed by political parties with France, France then said there is no deadline.

Will then the pattern of negotiation return? Will it be months until government forms?

Months in extension of Lebanese suffering.

Following US announcement to sanction their allies, Shiite parties insist on keeping the Finance Ministry.

Sunni parties say all ministries should rotate. No sect should have exclusive claim.

But finance is money, and money is power. Power to place or withhold a signature.

No government policy proceeds without it.

In possession do they dominate, God? In absence are they squeezed?

What is fair? What is right? What is good?

Not the paralysis that stymies formation. Not the insistence that prevents reform.

God, weigh the intentions of all foreign nations. Bless them accordingly, to the degree that they help.

But weigh also each sect in its various politics.

Do they seek domination? Do they need to be squeezed?

From abroad, from the people, from their consciences, God, help them find consensus.

For profit, for power, for patriotism, God, lead them to what is right.

Your principles of service, of sacrifice, of sharing.

Of salvation.

God does Lebanon run, only in circles? Is it only a gear, turned by agenda?

Plant her cedars, make them strong. May the birds of the air come and nest in their branches.

And may the people rest in their shade.  

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Pulse

God,

Can there still be life?

One month since the explosion, a search and rescue team from Chile believes it found a pulse.

Buried deep under the rubble of a collapsed building in Beirut, the dig requires utmost speed and all precaution.

Just like the rescue of Lebanon.

One month since the cabinet resigned, a reform or sanction president from France believes he has a plan.

With a schedule full of specific details, his roadmap requires difficult consensus and political sacrifice.

And to welcome his efforts, political leadership rallied to appoint a new prime minister.

Like the one before him, he is a political novice without popular backing. He pledges swift formation of a small cabinet.

Can he rescue Lebanon?

The protest movement rejected him as the next desperate patchwork solution of a discredited political class. But as their street mobilization wanes, they celebrated a civil society victory.

The World Bank pulled back funding for a controversial dam. Dismissing their fears over environmental impact, a politician lamented that Lebanon would one day need the water.

God, is Lebanon’s pulse at the level of thirst?

As inflation and poverty continue to plague, give each man his daily bread.

Give wisdom to the new prime minister. Increase his authority, as he follows your roadmap. Help him judge how it fits with the French.

And may Chile discover someone alive. But it now appears the pulse has faded. No survivors.

Thank you for hope, God, however fleeting. You rallied so many Lebanese behind them.

They long for a miracle. Give them living water. Give them new life.

Utmost speed with all precaution, God. Difficult consensus and personal sacrifice.

Keep Lebanon alive.

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

Categories
Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Competition, Good and Evil

Flag Cross Quran

God,

There is pleasure in struggle, but spite is so easy. Egypt found a long-lost joy, an international opportunity, and a rare but familiar reminder.

For the first time since 1990, the national soccer team qualified for the World Cup. Frequently the African champion, the streets filled and horns honked after the stoppage time winning goal.

God, thank you for the popular release. Times have been tough, and sport matters little. But you have been pleased to give us diversions. Let the unity created last.

For the first time ever, an Arab nation could have led UNESCO. Egypt and Qatar vied with France to head the UN cultural body, but both fell short. Still at odds with the wealthy peninsula, Egypt threw her support behind Europe, in the end.

God, bless the work of international cooperation. There are rifts in the Gulf, rifts with America, and controversy over Palestine. But place culture above it all. Let it, in unity, craft.

For the first time in a long while, a Coptic priest has been murdered. Visiting an area in lower-class Cairo, an assailant stabbed him to death. Details are unclear, extremism is suspected.

God, comfort his family, his church, and his country. Rid Egypt’s specter of sectarianism, protect her streets from violence. Some see religion as contest, while others are offended. Let not her unity pass.

The fight is worthwhile, God. We prove ourselves against others. Let the winners be humble, the vanquished esteemed.

But not all is competition. Good or evil, there is always better.

Bring Egypt together, and the world with her. For our greater pleasure, and in us, for yours.

Amen.

 

Categories
Personal

Hijabs, Burkinis, and Assumptions

Burkini
A woman wears a Burkini in the south of France Credit: PA (via ITV)

A quick word to not judge by appearances, or to make assumptions about religious values.

Our family took a vacation to the Red Sea recently, at a hotel with a healthy mix of European speedos and Egyptian burkinis. It was quite the contrast.

From what we could tell, everyone behaved respectfully and enjoyed themselves.

While nowhere as revealing as a traditional bikini, the burkini is quite shapely. One night at dinner two Egyptians rose to dance to the folk band that came through. One was bareheaded, the other wore a hijab. Both knew well the techniques of belly dancing, and took no mind of the onlookers.

Was one a Christian, the other Muslim? If hijabed, why would she dance so? And while the burkini is an innovative development to help conservative Muslims enjoy the beach, is it conservative enough?

Within this discussion a recent article at CairoScene took my attention. A popular Egyptian comedienne decided to take off her hijab: 

Mostafa stated through her official Facebook page that she had been wearing the hijab since she was in primary school up until high school, and she believes that, in the beginning, it was internalised by her as ‘normal’ because it was just part of the way you’d look in the society and community she grew up in. However, when she really started asking herself if she was wearing it for herself, God, or people, she realised she was doing it out of pure conforming to society – “The concept of God wasn’t there,” she stated.

Mostafa started wearing it in different ways, like the fashionable turban-style hijab that has been more prevalent lately in Egypt and around the world for hijabis. But, that did not go well because she was once again attacked for wearing hijab “the wrong way,” though she asserts is something a lot of girls do in terms of their choice in clothing that is only coupled with a scarf over the head.

Her decision to take off the hijab came to her when she refused contradicting herself. She states that once she takes it off, which is what she is comfortable doing now, perhaps she will become convinced of the concept of the hijab on a personal level, and if that happens, it’ll be the right decision because it’ll come from within.

[Read on to discover the largely negative reactions to her post.]

As you encounter Muslim women in your everyday life, be careful not to make assumptions. Some wear the hijab because of their culture. Some wear it because of their husband or father. Some wear it because of piety. Some wear it as a political statement.

What they actually believe, and their personal character, may bear no relation whatsoever. Or maybe it does.

We were in church the other day and a hijabed lady came in with an uncovered friend. This is unusual in Egypt, but it doesn’t have to be a scandal.

My daughter asked, surprised, “Daddy, is she a Muslim?”

“I don’t know,” I told her. “Some Christians cover their heads in church.”

My daughter protested. It was clearly a Muslim hijab.

“You’ll have to ask her,” I said, smiling wryly.

My daughter didn’t like that answer either. It is sort of an awkward question, both in Egypt and America.

Unfortunately, it is much easier to make assumptions. What we need is conversation. When you next encounter that hijabed woman going about your daily life – yes, it is awkward – do your best to say hi.

Who knows what assumptions will be undone next.

 

Categories
Personal

Photos from the Salafi-Jihadi Protest at the French Embassy

There are several strands of Salafism in Egypt, and the differences are not easy to understand. The group which is called Salafi-Jihadi – they do not necessarily call themselves this – is differentiated easily by the second part of their moniker. While many Salafis have joined the political, democratic process in Egypt, these reject it outright. Instead, they favor the continuation of a violent struggle against the Egyptian regime, of which they see the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafis as selling out to the world anti-Islamic system.

This group held a protest on January 18 against the French military intervention in Mali. In Mali criminal-cum-jihadists have piggybacked onto a tribal Tuareg rebellion in the north. The central government, along with many surrounding Arab and African nations, has sanctioned France’s effort to resist them through force of arms. Salafi-Jihadists, however, support them due to their desire to implement sharia law.

I hope to write more about Salafi-Jihadis soon, but for now, please enjoy the protest through these pictures and video.

Click here for the first video. It is only two minutes long because it represents the length of time necessary for their full march to approach the site. There were only a couple hundred protestors in total.

Click here for the second video. It also is only two minutes because this was about the length of time the protestors jostled with police who had set up a barricade preventing them from reaching the embassy. After that they accepted their place about 100 yards further down the street.

Crowd Pressing

Next to the man in the police cap is Ezzat al-Salamony. He is a leader with the Islamic Group, not the Salafi-Jihadis, and worked to restrain the crowd. He later gave a rousing speech against the French, though, calling for jihad in the lands of the infidels.
Next to the man in the police cap is Ezzat al-Salamony. He is a leader with the Islamic Group, not the Salafi-Jihadis, and worked to restrain the crowd. He later gave a rousing speech against the French, though, calling for jihad in the lands of the infidels.

 

Eventually a car drove up with speakers to serve as a platform for speakers. The police maintained their line, but were left in peace from then on.
Eventually a car drove up with speakers to serve as a platform for speakers. The police maintained their line, but were left in peace from then on.

As speakers condemned France, other protestors set up their banners. This one reads: Jihad will continue until the Day of Judgment.
As speakers condemned France, other protestors set up their banners. This one reads: Jihad will continue until the Day of Judgment.

After a little while the star of the show arrived. Mohamed al-Zawahiri is the brother of Ayman, the leader of al-Qaeda. Everyone pressed around him.
After a little while the star of the show arrived. Mohamed al-Zawahiri is the brother of Ayman, the leader of al-Qaeda. Everyone pressed around him.

As he hung around for hours, eventually the crowds dissipated around him. Here is awaits giving an interview to al-Jazeera.
As he hung around for hours, eventually the crowds dissipated around him. Here is awaits giving an interview to al-Jazeera.

Around 5pm, the police relented and allowed the protestors to advance and demonstrate in front of the embassy, though the police presence guarded it and otherwise surrounded them. Graffiti and other banners were hung in the area, this one across the street on the wall of the Giza Zoo. Pictured are Osama bin Laden and Mohamed's brother Ayman. The sign reads: God have mercy on the jihadists. They are the men who gave victory to God and his prophet. Where are you?!
Around 5pm, the police relented and allowed the protestors to advance and demonstrate in front of the embassy, though the police presence guarded it and otherwise surrounded them. Graffiti and other banners were hung in the area, this one across the street on the wall of the Giza Zoo.
Pictured are Osama bin Laden and Mohamed’s brother Ayman. The sign reads: God have mercy on the jihadists. They are the men who gave victory to God and his prophet. Where are you?!

 

Related Posts: