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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

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Dogs, Slaves, and FGM

Flag Cross Quran

God,

As is fitting, we love our own. All too often, we fail to love others. Not infrequently, we degrade and discriminate where instead we should honor.

And in Egypt this week, examples confirm what is found in all men. Help the nation root it out.

During UN sponsored environmental meetings, a Kenyan official circulated a memo accusing her Egyptian counterpart of referring to sub-Saharan Africans as ‘dogs and slaves’. After an investigation, Egypt’s foreign ministry called the accusation a lie.

Racism is in the room, wherever the truth. But wherever the human, racism is in the heart.

God, may these nations cooperate to determine what happened. May they hold accountable the one at fault.

But may they also address the sentiment that deems the Arab over the African, or vice versa. May many examine themselves, and repent.

Hold true, God, the proper love of nation, tribe, clan, and self. May the people of the region find harmony in their many identities, ever widening their circles of concern.

Widen also the circles of trust. A cultural lack resulted in death for a victim of sexism, a close cousin of race.

Though Egypt and her religious institutions denounce FGM, a young girl died during her female circumcision. Inherited over the centuries, one justification says it is necessary to curb sexual desire.

God, may the tragedy cause her family to reflect. Forgive them the blind repetition of their fathers. Transform them to defend the wholeness of your creation.

May the neighbors learn, may the nation enforce. But may an entire mindset be changed.

Gender and race, God, and other divisions may be added to the list. Help Egypt, help us all, to esteem each other rightly.

Amen.

 

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Current Events

An Israeli Solution to the US Racial Crisis?

Lieberman Race Protests

With America gripped by conflicting rhetoric over the nature of race relations and police performance, has anyone yet suggested this solution: Just get the African-Americans to go back to Africa?

If so, surely it would be from the political fringe. If anyone knows of a more mainstream source among right-of-center bulwarks like Fox News or Rush Limbaugh-type radio programs, please comment below.

But essentially, this is a talking point on racial issues in Israel. And it is not a marginal viewpoint, but from the center of current government.

A little over a week ago, according to Reuters:

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman proposed on Friday that Arab citizens of Israel be offered financial incentives to leave the country and relocate to a future Palestinian state.

“Those (Israeli Arabs) who decide that their identity is Palestinian will be able to forfeit their Israeli citizenship and move and become citizens of the future Palestinian state,” he wrote in the manifesto, entitled Swimming Against the Stream, published on his Facebook page and his party’s website.

“Israel should even encourage them to do so with a system of economic incentives,” he said.

Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel, Our Home), captured 11 of 120 parliament seats in the most recent elections, as part of the winning coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

Encouraging Arabs to leave is not official government policy, but apparently leading Israeli politicians believe it is good rhetoric to rally their base, at the least.

America did have a moment in history when such views were put forward. Certainly the context in Israel today is different than America, both then and now.

But America, despite its faults and residual, often unconscious biases, has forged a society establishing full racial equality in law and in the mindset of most its citizens. The protests today are demanding improvement of an already present good.

The sometime (perhaps often?) poor administration of this good speaks to the widespread triumph of the ideal. Comparing it to other contexts reminds about how fleeting an ideal can be, and how easily it can be threatened.

Israel seeks to navigate two principles not easily combined given its demographic makeup. It wishes to be both a Jewish and a democratic state. As I wrote in an earlier post summarizing the critique of Stephen Sizer, especially as concerns the Occupied Territories, one of these principles seemingly must slide.

Perhaps not. But fortunately America can sidestep the question. It is not a nation for whites, blacks, Jews, Arabs, or anyone in particular. It is a nation for citizens.

Cultural questions still seek definition by many, or perhaps, there should be no definition, for many others. This debate is warranted, within the scope of the Bill of Rights.

But Lieberman’s debate is not. Certainly not in America; morally not, I and many Jews would argue, in Israel.

Or should those who disagree be sent to exile instead?