Father Dr. Michel Jalakh, Secretary General of the Middle East Council of Churches, explains GLOBALO readers:
As we are on the eve of the year 2016, and the Middle East continues to struggle with the waves of extremism and conflict posing under the name of religion.
The distortion of religion has defaced its true mission of love, tolerance and convergence. We are left with dread, feeling as if someone is deliberately leading us towards destructive conflicts and endless bloody wars.
All the tragedies and killing we are witnessing today – all the destruction, displacement and harassment of thousands and thousands of Christians in Syria, Iraq and Egypt – is the best proof of that.
The religious contention in multiethnic societies, which is based on religious identity and loyalty, contributes to the outbreak of violence and conflict. In recent years, it has been pushed to the forefront – aimed at urging the world to plunge into new wars, using religious belief and identity as rationale to sacrifice innocent blood in battles fought for political and financial interests. In fact, playing on the threads of religious differentiation in society not yet up to the level of separation of religion and state is a lethal and effective weapon.
This is what is happening in the Middle East, where such conflicts have been created for countries to impose their hegemony and projects, and to control – as much as possible – the means of wealth in this region.
I do not enjoy conspiracy theory, and we have to always start from the mea culpa. However, we can not deny the fact that there are agencies and ‘black kitchens’ that have spent billions of dollars to unleash religious extremism that breeds violence and terrorism in the most horrific and barbaric manner in the name of conflicting religions.
There are several instances of international intelligence agencies confirming their contribution to creating the expiatory terrorist organizations industry (ISIS, al-Nusra, etc.). One main proof of that is what was said by the American Vice President Joe Biden concerning the suspicious alliances of the United States with countries that fed and nourished extremist ideas and funded wars between Shiites and Sunnis. Or just listen to Hillary Clinton talking about the US responsibilities in creating and funding fanatical mujahidin. Tony Blair recently confirmed on CNN that the West’s involvement in the Iraq war in 2003 contributed to nourishing ISIS and extremist movements.
The West has nourished a wolf to fight its battles. It shouldn’t think itself safe from the consequences! The events of the 13th of this month in Paris sadly demonstated this in the most shocking manner.
Because of the persecution, the Christians in the Middle East suffer daily. Many of them left, yet many remain in their country, either because they feel a strong connection to their land, or because they are unable to flee. Syrian Christians have endured a forced migration to neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. The majority of Christian refugees, however, is approaching churches or relatives and friends for help, in order to avoid the camps. Recently, there has been an increase in migration – legal and illegal – to European countries, although most know how dangerous the journey is. Still, for many, the risk has been preferable.
Looking at the numbers, the situation of Christians in the Middle East undoubtedly gives reason for grave concern. In Iraq, reports indicate that the current events and religious fanaticism of the Islamic extremist are threatening to empty the country of its Christian population within the next few years. According to a report recently published by the British newspaper «Express UK» the number of Christians fell to about 260,000 from 1.5 million before 2003, and that ISIS can terminate Christianity in Iraq within a mere five years.
As if this expiatory extremist anti-diversity current were not enough, Iraqi Christians were forced to witness the introduction of the so called National Card. Iraqi Christian politicians and deputies warned of the consequences of adopting this law because it imposes religious affiliation by «coercion». The Iraqi parliament last month passed the national card law, after withdrawal of Christian forces who protested against a paragraph which obliges children of Christian parents to embrace the “best” religion (Islam) in the event that one parent followed Islam. This led the Iraqi Chaldean patriarch to call on the international court to fight the law of “Islamization of children“.
From Iraq to Syria, the situation is exacerbated by Western and Arab interventions in the name of eradicating terrorism, dictatorship, and tyranny. As a consequence, innocent people remain in the the grip of death and oppression,. Christians, especially are suffering from displacement with many having to leave their villages. Moreover, thousands of innocent people – through military invasion and terrorism alike – have fallen victim to shocking acts of violence at the hands of those who invoke religion in order to justify their inhumanity. Since last August, a new wave of kidnappings began in Syria, affecting a large number of Christians and devastating the Christian area of Homs.
The invasion resulted in the displacement of about 90.000 Christians, this corresponds to 90% of the Christian population in the area. Christians in al-KUSAIR have suffered from racist harassment and persecution. In KALAMOUN and in al-RAQA it was also Christians paying the price. MAALOULA was for a long time under fire from al-NUSRA and was eventually invaded. Before the outbreak of the conflict, the population of the city of al-KARYATEIN was 18.000 people, including Sunni Muslims and about 2.000 Christians. According to a Christian source in the village, the number of Christians fell to about 300 people just after the war. This can be attributed to the fear of kidnapping shared by many Christians, mostly women and children, in the villages of North-Eastern Syria. Moreover, we cannot forget the impact of the abduction of the two bishops of Aleppo whose fates, two and a half years later, still remain in uncertain.
Today, more than political and military solutions – which have actually led to more killings, migration and mass destruction – what we need is an intellectual, religious and cultural awakening. This will help save religion from exploitation – particularly the Islamic faith – in a time when the history of the world is going through a very difficult stage of rivalry and conflicts, sectarian divisions and religious wars. We are subject to shady deals, dirty wars, and unnecessary mistakes spinning out of control. What can we expect from countries such as Iraq, Libya and Syria, who´s governments have been totally demolished? What can we expect from the American strategy of “creative chaos” in the Middle East?
In the short term, dialogue between religions remains the first step in the right direction to reach a Middle East openly embracing the different religions under the banner of love, coexistence and peace.
In the long term, the cultural and educational system constitute a more effective framework for living together on the basis of freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of belief, and respect for others. We must work towards a citizenship on the basis of equality, dignity, rights and duties.
Hence, several questions should be adressed, most importantly:
- Who is the beneficiary of what is happening in our Middle East? Who benefits from the deployment of religious conflicts?
- What is the fate of the Christians and how can we as churches and organizations work for the reduction of migration?
- Are we doomed to experience either a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations? If we continue like this, will we experience a clash of cultures tomorrow, a clash of generations afterwards , and later a conflict of languages, etc.?
- Why can’t we actually move from the vicious spiral of conflict to enjoy the positive circle of peace?
- Do we have to wait for the catastrophe to happen before Russia unites with Sharm el-Sheikh, and Paris with Beirut? Are we really unable to prevent tragedies?
- And why not look beyond the status of the criminal and ask what drives young people to use religion to join this hysteria that is called “takfirism” (infidels, apostasy)? From which darkness, despair, ignorance, hatred, spiritual and cultural emptiness do they come from? Which religious institutions, associations, governments, ideologies have brainwashed their minds?
Perhaps these are too many questions. Maybe, but unfortunately they are not rhetorical. Addressing these issues will help us not only to analyze the situation, but also to go beyond and reflect on the sources of this phenomenon; otherwise, we are doomed to suffer the consequences, unaware of the deeper causes.