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Current Events

The Middle East Needs America to Reconcile

Lebanese Voices:

This post was submitted by Rev. Joseph Kassab, president of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon

Current demonstrations in the United States have exposed a rift in society, very similar to the gaps found in the Middle East. In both regions, governments have failed to guide their pluralistic societies toward harmony, peace, and reconciliation.

In the United States, these rifts take on the forms of black and white, rich and poor, and between non-integrated ethnicities. Economic prosperity and the high standard of living has papered over them for a long time, but only postponed the explosion.

As for the Middle East, underdevelopment and a deteriorating economy intensifies the contradictions, making them more violent. Our weak governments do not have the capacity as modern states to regulate conflict. In addition to rich and poor, our rifts occur as Shiite and Sunni, Christian and Muslim, along with various ethnicities that feel robbed of their homelands, with less sense of belonging to their country of residence.

At the grassroots level, the situations are substantially similar. But surprisingly, the similarity is beginning to extend to the level of leadership.

Three weeks ago, President Trump visited a church and lifted the Bible in an iconic photo op. Whether it was to appease his evangelical supporters or contain ongoing demonstrations and violence, he also hinted at involving the army in the restoration of calm.

Middle Eastern leaders often act similarly in their times of crisis.

When Saddam Hussein’s regime was threatened, he added the Islamic phrase “God is Great” to the national flag. He employed the army and chemical weapons against the Kurds, when they attempted to revolt against him. Religion and violence are the magic used to contain the anger.

Since government is responsible to guard national security, I believe it has the right to use the army if vitally necessary. But conversely, the United States should have the integrity to understand and permit this right when protests erupt and threaten the stability of other nations.

But it cannot be acceptable in any pluralistic country, and especially for the United States, to use religion as a weapon to solve its problems. It is the tool of ISIS, in their pursuit of “Islamic peace.”

The world recognizes America as a superpower, looking for it to lead the world by example. Many Americans are angry, whether demonstrating in the streets, or frustrated in their homes. Lifting the Bible is not the solution—living the Bible is.

These protests have much to teach us in the Middle East, where many governments rule by majority mindset. It can be difficult for God’s vision of justice and equality to result in full benefits of citizenship for underprivileged minorities. 

But when we witness massive crowds of white citizens protesting for the rights of blacks, it inspires us to believe that the American dream is still alive. The whole world is watching, some wishing the nation to fail. Others, like us, will find hope the US transcends its differences, and reconciles.

For our sake, then, America must be as great a democracy in times of trouble, as it is in times of peace. The Middle East also needs to breathe.

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Current Events

Trapped in Lebanon, Sudanese Students Find Refuge at Seminary

Image courtesy ABTS

While Liberty University came under criticism for allowing students the option to stay on campus during the coronavirus outbreak, many other schools were also faced with a dilemma concerning the 1.1 million students who came from abroad.

According to a Quartz survey of 36 universities who host a third of the United States’ international students, 26 told those students to leave campus.

Penn State gave three days notice. Harvard gave five. Duke, among others, offered emergency financial aid to help international students return home. Princeton allowed their residency to continue—until the end of the semester.

But Sudanese students at Lebanon’s Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) did not have a choice—even with tickets in hand.

Lebanon was one of the first nations to implement COVID-19 restrictions. Its first case was recorded on February 21, and by March 9 schools were shut down.

Four days later, at a regularly scheduled seminary picnic, Bassem Melki prepared to break the news.

“It was a joyous atmosphere,” said the ABTS dean of students, “but I had sadness in my heart because I knew what I had to say.”

Founded in 1960 and located in the mountains overlooking Beirut, the seminary…

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

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Current Events Religion

When You Can’t Return Home

Can't Go Home

We had just prepared our letter to loved ones in America.

Corona is spreading everywhere, I wrote, but we are on lockdown, and perhaps safer here than we would be in the States. We have money, food, and good relations with neighbors. We plan to stick it out here.

And then the announcement was issued by the government: The airport and all borders are closing in 48 hours.

Suddenly, my stomach dropped. All my earlier confidence felt like bravado. Unspoken, there was always the assumption that if things get bad here, we can leave. Now, it would be impossible. And given the unprecedented nature of this virus in our modern world, who knows when the opportunity to travel would come again.

The nation we live in is not known for its stability. What if it gets really bad?

After dropping, my stomach turned. Should we quickly uproot and return to America? I hadn’t yet sent that letter.

The complications to normal life would be terrible. The airports would be crowded Corona-factories. And who would receive us back home save for parents who must be extra careful against the virus?

I didn’t want to leave. But what does wisdom suggest when faced with a last chance? The reasons against leaving are clear, but they were not what I needed.

My earlier bravado disappeared.

I longed for a deeper confidence.

Stepping away from our own story, here are four reminders that helped buttress my spirit. Perhaps they will also be an encouragement to others.

  1. You have a job. Some foreigners are tourists, and others were sent overseas by their employer. But for many, the choice to live in a foreign nation was deliberate. We earn our salary, we enjoy cross-cultural experiences, but we also believe that our work is helpful.

Remember that. Corona will change the nature of your job, but not its essence. Keep at it, for the good of your adopted country.

  1. You have allies. If the section above applies, we are likely not squirreled away in an expat compound in isolation from national neighbors. We have probably learned at least a little bit of language. In all likelihood, we have friends.

Remember that. Corona is devastating them also, but they know how to live here. Rely on them, encourage them, and fit into their cooperative networks.

  1. You have providence. With proper humility, you can likely look back upon your journey to your country as a series of circumstances that somehow all fell into place. We studied, we planned, we decided, but we may have also prayed.

Remember that. Corona is upsetting many circumstances, but nothing eternally known. God “determined the times set for humankind and the exact places where they should live.” Rest in this truth.

  1. You have a mission. Our jobs are not our life. What we do is helpful, but who we are is unique and transformative. As we learn from others, they do from us. If offered humbly, we have much to contribute.

Remember that. Corona changes nothing of your essence. “As the Father sent me [Jesus], so send I you.” Find the good you can do, and do it.

Finally, my stomach settled. But to keep our confidence from becoming a spiritual bravado, two final reminders are necessary.

One, we remain foreigners. We retain privileges. We are guests.

Two, we are all foreigners. We receive grace. We are ambassadors.

Corona reminds us all of the transience of life and the fragility of the world. Our norms have been shaken, our illusions shattered.

But we remain human, and beloved of God. Abroad or at home, we will all return to him. Our deeper confidence can only be this: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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Current Events

Soleimani’s Death Doesn’t End Iran’s Influence on Middle East Christians

Soleimani Funeral
(via Fars News Agency)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on January 28, 2020.

Middle East Christians might shrug their shoulders. They might even fret and worry. But perhaps Qassem Soleimani got what he deserved.

“We regret what happened. We do not want anyone to die, because Christianity wants the good of all,” said Ashty Bahro, former head of the Kurdistan Evangelical Alliance.

“But a person leads himself to his own destiny.”

Soleimani, head of Iran’s special operations Quds Force, was killed by a US rocket strike on January 3. It was a rapid escalation following the Iran-linked death of an American contractor, a retaliatory attack on the responsible Iraqi militia, and the storming of the US embassy in Baghdad.

According to the US State Department, Soleimani, who reported directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, was responsible for 17 percent of American deaths in Iraq from 2003 to 2011.

He also enraged Sunni Muslims by engineering the subsequent Iranian defense of Syria’s regime, led by President Bashar al-Assad. With Russia and the Iran-backed military wing of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the shelling of rebel-held cities resulted in the displacement of thousands during Syria’s civil war.

But Soleimani was also acclaimed for his role in fighting ISIS, personally directing Iraqi militias from the front lines.

Thus, Middle East Christians have mixed feelings about his death—and the immediate aftermath.

Some Syrian believers see no benefit to anyone.

“Iran was working with the US government in certain agreements. Why did you destroy them?” asked Maan Bitar, pastor of the Presbyterian churches in Mhardeh and Hama, noting both the fight against ISIS and the nuclear deal.

“This will prompt a severe reaction that will hurt…”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

Should Lebanon’s Christians Join Protests? Viral Sermons Argue Yes and No.

This article was first published at Christianity Today on November 27.

Lebanon Protests
Anti-government protesters chant slogans against the Lebanese government as they hold Lebanese flags during a protest in Beirut, on October 26. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Does a revolution need a leader?

As the rocks rained down near the tent of Ras Beirut Baptist Church’s effort to discuss the question, suddenly the faith of the Christians gathered there was put to the test.

For the past month, Lebanese evangelicals have debated Scripture, sharing sermons online. One viral effort urges believers to stay away from widespread demonstrations in submission to authority. Another licenses participation in the popular push for justice.

Trying to find a third way, RBBC has visited the protest site weekly at Beirut’s Martyrs Square to discuss issues related to the revolutionary movement.

“We are not supporting a political agenda, but listening to people about why they are coming down to the streets,” Joe Costa, RBBC youth leader, told CT. “You cannot evangelize people if they are hungry or hurt. You have to be with them where they are.”

And this time, the church’s tent was at the front line as dozens of Hezbollah flag-waving partisans approached on their motorcycles.

Since October 17, citizens of Lebanon and its multi-confessional democracy have shed their religious identities in largely peaceful demonstrations against their political leaders. Some politicians have responded by justifying the violence of their followers, without authorizing it. Other politicians have expressed sympathy, asking for trust to make things better.

But long seen as the untouchable defenders of their communities’ interests, over the decades many political leaders have become wealthy.

“Corruption is like decay in our bones,” Hikmat Kashouh, pastor of Resurrection Church of Beirut (RCB), told CT. “No single person doubts it, including those in authority today.”

The current protest movement is leaderless and has no formal demands, but in general seeks…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

Split the Cedars of Lebanon: Evangelicals Balance Prayer, Protest, and Politics in Ongoing Uprising

Lebanon protests
(via Shahen Books)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on November 8.

At first, it was two high school girls.

The education minister in Lebanon had just canceled classes nationwide due to an explosion of popular anger at proposed taxes. Public squares in Beirut and other cities swelled with demonstrations. The two students asked Steve White, principal of the Lebanese Evangelical School (LES), if he would join them and protest too.

White, a Lebanese citizen since 2013, became principal in 2000, succeeding his English father who’d held the post since 1968. Founded by a British missionary in 1860, LES preaches the gospel clearly and is one of the top schools in Lebanon. But it bucks the sectarian trend of community enclaves as 85 percent of its students are Muslim—most coming from the Shiite community. Discussion about religion and politics is forbidden.

The protests began October 17. At the height of student interest, White arranged four school buses for a unique civic education. Though he knows his students well, he couldn’t tell their breakdown by sect: Sunni, Shia, or Christian.

Which fit perfectly with the protests.

“I got excited because it was not religious,” said White. “It was nonsectarian: all of Lebanon together, no flags, no parties, they were cursing everybody.”

White did not approve of the cursing. But he did of the “everybody.” The slogan adopted by protesters: “All of them means all of them.” It targeted the leaders of Lebanon’s multiple religion-based political parties, accusing them all of corruption.

Transparency International ranked Lebanon No. 138 out of 180 in its 2018 corruption perception index, listed from clean to corrupt.

Traditionally viewed as the guardians of each sect’s interests, Lebanese political parties would regularly voice vague charges of corruption against unnamed colleagues. But unlike previous protest movements, which carried the banners of each party, this one hoisted only the Lebanese national flag with its distinguishing cedar tree.

Accordingly, White forbade students from bringing the flag of LES.

Whether inspired, sympathetic, or threatened, political leaders had little choice but to express solidarity.

According to the World Bank, one-quarter of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty. Citizens pay exorbitant fees for privately generated electricity, as the tiny Arab nation of 6 million on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea has the fourth-worst public provision in the world. Smaller than Connecticut, public debt is 150 percent of GDP. Prior to the protests, strikes threatened to cripple bread and gasoline services, as the US dollars needed to import materials dried up from the market.

People started to fear economic collapse.

In order to unlock millions of dollars of promised international investments, the government announced new taxes—including upon WhatsApp, a popular free messaging service— to lower the deficit. An austerity budget loomed, with some effort at reforms it was long unwilling to tackle. Sectarian political squabbling had prevented an agreed-upon national budget for the prior 12 years.

The subsequent protests caught the government off guard. Promising a solution in three days, officials hastily agreed to cancel tax increases, fix the electricity sector, slash their own salaries, pass laws to fight corruption, and impose a one-time tax on lucrative banks in order to balance the budget.

It wasn’t enough.

“We’ve had the same names and parties for 30 years. Why should we give them another chance?” said Nadim Costa, head of the Near East Organization, an evangelical ministry serving the poor, marginalized, and displaced across the Arab world.

“There is a spiritual dimension to what is going on…”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

The Game of Thrones Christians Should be Watching

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi during their meeting in Riyadh
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi during their meeting in Riyadh, November 14, 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

This article was first published at Christianity Today on November 16, 2017.

Before the crown prince of Saudi Arabia stunned the world with his sudden arrest of dozens of fellow princes and millionaires on corruption charges, he stunned many Christians with his stated desire to moderate its version of Islam, commonly dubbed Wahhabism.

Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 as an alliance between Bedouin warriors of the al-Saud tribe and strict Salafi Muslim scholars following Mohamed ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Discovering oil six years later, it also became one of the Muslim world’s wealthiest nations. The combination has led many religious freedom advocates to blame Saudi petrodollars for funding a worldwide rise in Islamist extremism.

But last month, Mohammad bin Salman said his conservative Muslim country would return to “what we were before: a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world…”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Mashrou3

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Some people have a project. Others like to project.

And some just like to sing. Judge between them, God. Their intentions and their cause.

An upscale district in Cairo invited a popular Lebanese band to a concert festival. The lead singer is well known as a homosexual.

Some in the crowd raised a rainbow flag in solidarity. Shared on social media, the firestorm began.

Talking heads and politicians continued the hubbub. Seven concertgoers were arrested, with investigations into the organizers. The band may yet be banned.

God, all praise to you for the gift of music. May your creation craft creatively in honorable imitation.

But some creation, yours and ours, deviate from the norm. Give wisdom, God, in what to do.

You esteem freedom, God, but not license. You create diversity, but not deformity.

Guide your creation in knowing where to draw the line.

For those on the wrong side of society’s norm, may they find mercy within judgment.

For those on the right, may they respond with the right. At times, the law. At others, grace.

For those who wish to erase and adjust, may they know well your will. If in one direction, give them compassion. If in the other, courage.

For all, may they know your love for all creation. Your love embraces, but also transforms. Bring all to your desired end.

You have the best of all projects, God. Creatively change us. Bring us to sing.

Amen.

note: Mashrou3 is Arabic for “project” and is part of the name of the Lebanese band, Mashrou3 Laila.

Categories
Culture Religion

Should Christians Join Muslims in Breaking Ramadan’s Daily Fast?

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on June 22, 2017.

St. Andrews Iftar

For most American Christians, Ramadan is a novelty; something heard of, but rarely seen. For Middle Eastern Christians, it is everywhere.

For some, it is an annoyance. The month-long fast from sunrise to sunset can make for a cranky Muslim neighbor. Productivity tends to slow. Religiosity tends to rise.

But for other believers, it is an opportunity.

“The Evangelical Church of Maadi wishes all Egyptians a generous Ramadan,” proclaimed the flowery banner hung in the southern Cairo suburb. Such signage is not uncommon (and Muslims also display Merry Christmas wishes for Christians). But saluting “all Egyptians” is a statement.

“I want our brother Muslims to feel that we are one [as Egyptians], and it will make him happy in his heart,” said pastor Naseem Fadi. “We both celebrate Ramadan.”

Beside the need to have good relations with Muslims, Fadi also emphasized his biblical obligations. “Our faith tells us to love everyone,” he said. “And when we reach out to others, we teach them about ourselves.”

Across the Middle East, Christians join in the festive spirit—often by hosting an iftar, the traditional fast-breaking dinner…

Please click here to continue reading at Christianity Today.

 

 

Categories
Current Events

They Will Know We are Christians by Our Drinks

This article was first published in the April print edition of Christianity Today.

Muslim World Alcohol

The deadliest incident faced by the persecuted church last Christmas wasn’t radical Islamists. It was alcohol.

Liquor mixed with aftershave killed about 50 people at Christmas parties in a Pakistani village, and sickened about 100 more.

In Pakistan, as in many Muslim-majority nations where Shari‘ah law forbids drinking, alcohol is closely identified with Christianity. The nation’s primary alcohol producer, for example, riffs on the Bible in advertisements. Founded in 1860 by the British, Murree Brewery’s slogan, “Eat, drink, and be Murree,” echoes the repeated biblical idiom for short-term pleasures.

Perhaps as surprising as the existence of a Pakistani brewery is the fact that 12 Muslims were among the victims of the fatal Christmas parties. But in 2007, then–Murree CEO Minnoo Bhandara told The Telegraph that 99 percent of his customers are Muslims. And in the Middle East, alcohol sales increased 72 percent from 2001 to 2011, according to market research.

Still, in most Muslim countries only Christians may buy or consume alcohol. But not all do. Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, estimates that about half of Pakistani Christian men drink. Roman Catholics are slightly more inclined; Protestants less so. But the women of both branches of Christianity, he says, are fully opposed.

Chowdhry, an evangelical, believes alcohol is licit for the Christian; but in deference to his wife, he does not drink. Common arguments in Pakistan will feel familiar to Americans…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

Baghdadi, the Prince of Criminals

Abu Bakr Bagdadi

In traditional Islamic terminology the caliph is known as amir al-mu’mineen, or, the prince of the believers. In this new music video, Shaban Abdel Rahim adjusts the Arabic slightly to call him amir al-mugrimeen, the prince of criminals.

The video blasts the Islamic State for its conduct, and declares Islam to be innocent of their crimes. But there is political commentary also. Baghdadi is asked how much money he is receiving from Qatar, and the world is asked why Egypt is being left to fight its local terrorism alone.

These concerns are not unique to Egypt but certainly reflect much popular sentiment about the group. The video also hails the Egyptian army for its role in fighting terrorism in Sinai, where Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) has pledged its allegiance to ISIS. Egypt, however, has committed no troops to the coalition effort in Syria or Iraq.

In my opinion neither the song nor the satire is all that good, but the message is not missed by Baghdadi. According to Paul Attallah, to whom thanks are given for sharing the video and adding English subtitles, Abdel Rahim has already received death threats for his mocking.

Here is another humorous offering, from the Lebanese band, the Great Departed. It is called ‘The moulid of Sidi Baghdadi’, using phrases that laud him as a Sufi saint, an interpretation of Islam he vigorously opposes. The crowd laughs in delight.

Thanks to Arabist for this link, as well as a partial translation:

The song starts out showering traditional blessings and titles on Baghdadi, but quickly takes a turn into mockery. It has lines like this:

علشان الإسلام رحمة، رح ندبح ونوزع لحمة، وعلشان نخفف زحمة، حنفجر في خلق الله

عشان لا إكراه في الدين فلنقض عالمرتدين والشيعةوالسنيين والنصارى يا خسارة

(In Arabic it rhymes. My awkward translation is “Because Islam is merciful… we’ll butcher and hand out meat/To make it less crowded/We’ll blow folks up/Because there’s no compulsion in religion/we’ll kill unbelievers..and Shia and Sunnis and Christians, what a loss!”)

Arabist makes an interesting point. There is no doubting the cruelty of the group and its desire to be feared. Perhaps the best remedy, therefore, is not to take it seriously. Deny ISIS the strength it seeks.

Surely there are other more practical responses, but the response of humor to crisis is a particularly characteristic Egyptian trait. Military and religious efforts have their place, perhaps, but the cultural struggle may be paramount. It is here these two videos offer their contribution.

 

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Jayson Religion

The Deeper Meaning in Oriental Orthodox Colors

If you’d like a look at me in action, a friend found this video from a few months ago. I simply stand, and mouth the words to the Nicene Creed along with the rest of the Syrian Orthodox congregation.

The occasion was the installment of Pope Tawadros; representatives of this sister Oriental Orthodox Church were in attendance. Before traveling back to their own countries in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, they had a joint service together in downtown Cairo.

My appearance is at about the 7:00 minute mark. It is worth a few minutes of your time, just to enjoy the different and vibrant color schemes of each church. In attendance with me was the former head of the Middle East Council of Churches, who I’m sure could explain the differences.

I remember at the time thinking I would write about the experience, but other projects placed it on the back burner until it was forgotten. But now I recall the fun, the boredom, the familiarity, and the small differences between these ancient adherents of the faith and their Coptic brothers I have come to know.

On the one hand, they seem utterly irrelevant. They are small, declining churches surrounded by violence and conflict. They have funny hats and peculiar beards. They did have a good time together, as did the small congregation of a hundred or so worshipers.

But of what value are these churches, these dresses, these colors, to the people of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq? What difference does this faith make to those suffering, to societies in collapse, the remaining faithful?

Perhaps the question can be what good is this faith anywhere? Does it transform, does it serve, does it save? There is no peculiarity to the Arab world.

But this faith is ancient, and those privileged to existentially wonder about it from the comforts of Western experience would do well to learn. I only wish I knew what the lesson is.

Is that the point? There are Christians in this world in the lap of luxury, and others in the deepest poverty. There are some who preside over the greatest military power in history, and others who are stomped upon by the weapons of war.

The world has made it possible for these worlds to connect, only adding to the complication. But for centuries it was such, and each slice of the Christian world had only slight knowledge of the extended family.

So what good does it do Syria to have a Christian costume party in Cairo? What good does it do America to have a Christian rock concert in a movie theater? What good does it do you to see a transplanted American in their mix, who assaults you with these questions?? What good does it do them that I was there at all?

Of course, each of these questions presupposes the ‘good’ of Christianity is for this world. It is, right? I would so like it to be.

But the Oriental Orthodox churches remind amid their colors and pomp and circumstance that worship probably has very little relevance to what good this world needs. More poignantly for me and probably most readers here, what I as an individual need.

But with God you cannot say it is what he needs, either. So what is the point?

Still, I have no lesson. Can faith and humility be ok with this? They must, lest you throw it all away.

Here, there is no certainty, there is no peculiarity, there is no victory. God can grant them each at other times if he wishes.

Instead, we wonder, we reflect, we appreciate. If all is well, we share, we worship.

If we like, we wear funny colors, or do interpretive dance.

And if he leads, we welcome marauding militias, or sign petitions against hovering drones.

And if he leads, we fight against oppressive regimes, or lobby against oppressive taxes.

But in the end, together, we mouth the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one God…

And we trust, in the end, it will be good.

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Current Events Jayson

Reconciled in Lebanon: A Muslim-Christian Appeal to Egypt

Muhi al-Din Shihab (L) and Assaad Chaftari (R)
Muhi al-Din Shihab (L) and Assaad Chaftari (R)

From my new article in Arab West Report:

Egypt is not Lebanon. Though the political transition leads increasingly to polarization and bouts of violence, almost no one seriously warns of a fate resembling Lebanon in the 1970-80s. Lebanon is a conglomeration of religious sects concentrated in distinct geographical areas and topographical terrain. Egypt is one people, with Muslims and Christians interspersed everywhere along the flatbed of the Nile.

Even so, former combatants from Lebanon’s civil war – now reconciled – are very concerned.

Muhi al-Din Shihab was a leader in one of the Sunni militias, while Assaad Chaftari was the number two man in the Falange, a Christian militia.

“We wanted to kill the Lebanese ‘other’, which was primarily the Christian,” he [Shihab] said. “But as the war went on we discovered more and more ‘others’ we had to fight – Israel, multinational forces, and various Islamic sects.”

“I went to see the Christian quarters and saw the results of the violence,” he said. “I had seen them as the enemy, as conspirers with Israel and sons of the Crusaders.

“But I was surprised to see how ignorant I was. Most of them were opposed to Israel. They were not wealthier than we were; they were not semi-French. They were Arabs just like we were.

“I thought I was engaged in jihad,” he said, “but who else was responsible for this bloodshed?”

Chaftari also tells his story:

“Our civil war was built on the prejudicial thoughts each one had toward the other,” Shaftarī said. “We thought Lebanon was ours because the French gave it to us, while they thought of Lebanon only as a transitory country until the Muslim ummah is established.

“We viewed Muslims as our guests. We called them our brothers, but accepted them as lesser brothers.”

“Eventually I looked in the mirror and stopped seeing myself as good and perfect.

“Instead, I saw the ‘other’ in the mirror. He had a name, a life, and a family. Like me, he loved Lebanon.”

But the most insightful comment concerning Egypt was a confession by Chaftari:

“I deliberately created spins and lies, especially filtering the data about our enemies,” he said. “I disregarded what did not help my cause and accepted, amplified, and spread data that confirmed my political vision of the others. I did this because I believed it was necessary to create fear of the other.

“Then I would turn fear into hate, and use hate to turn people in fighting machines.”

The article then briefly considers the contradictory narratives when Muslim Brotherhood members and opposition protestors clashed at the presidential palace in December:

Obviously, someone is lying. It is not the point here to determine the guiltiest party – there is testimony and video evidence aplenty on the internet. But like in Lebanon, locked in desperate political struggle, parties play fast and loose with the truth to support their objectives. It is an all too common human characteristic.

May God bring all guilty parties to account, but then, as in Lebanon with Shihab and Chaftari, to reconciliation. Lebanon has yet to fully recover, and Egypt is yet nowhere near its example.

The parallel, however, is worrisome.

Please click here to read the full article on Arab West Report.

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