Is the Islamic environment in the Arab world now driving out its Christian communities, which predate the emergence of Islam in the East? Do we have a problem regarding coexistence that we need to face, or is the panic and religious fear that exists among the Christian and non-Muslims in our society exaggerated? The problem is real, though we may differ in the interpretation of the threats and the methods that should be used to confront them. Condemning the targeting of Christians is no longer sufficient, and the calls for brotherhood, coexistence, speeches and the organization of conferences have merely become formalities!
Perhaps the problems are not related to a societal conflict as much as they are related to incomplete or truncated citizenship. Additionally, the problems are connected to the absence of the principles of equality and partnership. As such, there is no right against religious, gender, racial, language or class discrimination when seeking top-level employment. The lack of freedoms — particularly the freedoms of expression, thought and religious expression — is the basic element of these problems.
Some of the reasons behind the increasing sensitivity of non-Islamic groups — and Christians specifically — are discrimination, inequality and the growing presence of extremist religious and sectarian trends in the last three and a half decades. This has led to the marginalization of freedoms, reductions in the level of tolerance, which at one time was both automatic and spontaneous. These groups have practiced a form of oppression and spread intolerant propaganda against other religions and even other Muslims.
There is no doubt that political, social and cultural factors that are related to coexistence are behind this Christian isolation. These factors contribute to their declining role and their often forced “choice” of emigration. This has increased their sense of community alienation, even though they played honorable roles throughout history. Their sense of marginalization and exclusion has increased particularly since they have been treated as a “minority” in its negative sense. In other words, they have been treated as a minority group that accepts the logic of the “decision-making” and ruling majority. Sometimes, this majority controls the power by virtue of its quantity rather than its quality, competence, experience or dedication.
Perhaps the absence of a supreme political will that respects human rights — and particularly the principles of equality and citizenship — is what is aggravating the social tension. The extremist religious forces are especially lacking this respect, as they are close-minded and want to impose their own views on society. This is not to mention their lifestyle, behavior and way of thinking.
Thus the current Arab-Islamic environment has become repellent to the other religions in the East that have coexisted, interacted and communicated with each other. Eastern Christianity has an especially long and historical relationship with Islam, particularly in regard to Arabism. Christianity contributed to the first Arab renaissance and played a leading role at the intellectual, cultural, literary, artistic, economic and social levels. Arab Christian contributors include the immigrant poets who founded Al-Rabiṭah al-Qalamiyah [New York Pen League] in the United States and the “Andalusian League” in Latin American countries.
In the contemporary Arab state, Christians have also played an important role through their political and intellectual positions, particularly regarding the Palestinian cause. The Zionist movement targeted them and pressured them to leave Palestine. They sought to deport or evacuate them in order to categorize the conflict as a Judaic–Islamic one, rather than a Palestinian one that includes Islamic, Christian, Jewish and even Druze forces against Zionism.
Israel has always been worried when it comes to the Vatican’s position on this issue — which has been in favor of the rights of Arab Palestinians — and had sought to change these positions ever since the [1947 United Nations Palestine partition] resolution. The Vatican’s stance had a positive impact on Catholic countries such as Spain, Portugal, Ireland and some Latin American countries, and they opposed Israel’s policies and did not build any diplomatic relations with it until after the signing of the Camp David agreement and the solo peace of 1978-1979. The declining role of the Arab countries [in the international community] — which negatively affected 30 African countries that severed ties with Israel between the 1967 aggression and the 1973 war — also contributed to these Catholic countries eventually building ties with Israel. Likewise, former Soviet countries restored their relations with Israel in light of their reduced role, and some were even granted the privilege of being the “most favored nation.”
Even today, the Vatican is still occupied with the future of Islamic-Christian relations and views it from the perspective of Eastern Christians. This was reflected in the Conference of the Synod, which explored the issue by looking at the escalating wave of violence and terrorism against Christians and the continued erosion of the principles of citizenship, equality and coexistence. The discussion also touched upon the issues of migration and international conflict.
Christians have been targeted in a new wave of militancy, extremism and fanaticism by al-Qaeda and other fundamental Islamist groups. This coincides with the terrorist and criminal events of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. These events fractured the idea of coexistence as many churches, monasteries, Christian figures and ordinary citizens were the targets of bombings and acts of violence. This happened in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, Alexandria, Cairo, Homs and other places as well.
After the outbreak of the Arab Spring, this wave of violence became even more intense as shadowy forces exploited the chaos for destructive and inhumane goals. They targeted Christian communities and carried out unbridled acts of violence and terrorism with the aim of forcing the Christians to emigrate. These Christians are an oppressed group that has no militias and does not practice violence. The West will continue to try to intimidate us by pushing the theory that Muslims refuse to corexist with Christians in the Levant, which they use as further proof of their theory that Muslims are extremist and intolerant.
According to some Islamist trends, the “other” is a stranger, and every stranger is suspicious and an enemy or rival. This is especially when the logic of Islamologia and the claims of possessing the truth and adhering to the principle of preference prevail. In this manner, public and private discussions on war and peace have emerged, and there are those who are now asking the Christians to either pay taxes or leave. This might tear the social fabric of the communities that have a long history of coexistence and lead to the emigration of Christians, which would eliminate their presence from our society!
The West will benefit from all of this to justify its Islamophobic claims — which it has long been propagating — to prove that Muslims do not want to coexist with the Christians of the West. Thus, this makes the over 15 million Muslims in Europe suspicious. The West will justify its actions by claiming that Islam is a religion that advocates exclusion and incites terrorism against other religions. This is the message that Israel is using to frame the conflict with the Palestinians and the Arabs as merely a religious one that exists because of Islamic intolerance. At the same time, Israel seeks to hide the truth behind the core of the conflict, which chiefly revolves around the issue of uprooting the native people, who should have rights, by Zionist usurpers who want to transform Israel into a pure Jewish state.
The reverse message that Zionism sends to the world exploits the targeting of Christians, saying that Arabs and Muslims are not prepared to accept democracy, especially in light of the low level of public and private freedoms. Even after the outbreak of the Arab Spring, the West is still skeptical about the prospects of democracy [in the Arab world]. The loss of the Christians will result in further losses to scientific and social potentials in the social fabric of the Arab world.
These issues were the focus of a serious debate among an elite group of Arab intellectuals. The group included Christians and Muslims who are united by the idea of coexistence and a cultural and intellectual fear [of the recent sectarian trend]. The meeting was organized by the “Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies” in Jordan and sponsored by the Arab Thought Forum, which is headed by Prince Hassan bin Talal. The meeting’s goal was to continue the civil, scientific, critical and pragmatic dialogue between the two communities and highlight their common factors and the joint values and ideals, which have been the essence of religions and philosophies throughout history.
Thus it is essential to urge the decision-makers to take critical positions regarding equality, citizenship and non-discrimination. They must work toward creating a positive legislative environment and an appropriate educational atmosphere that would guide the youth onto the right path. The curriculum should be void of anything that might be directly or indirectly sacrilegious, and children should be taught the principals of brotherhood, solidarity, tolerance, equality. non-violence and common values, thus increasing the status of humans and developing privacy rights.
Perhaps this will pave the way for religious institutions and other entities to adopt the rhetoric of unity, equality and human dignity. Also, it could lead to enhancing the fundamentals of positive media in order for it to play a role in supporting coexistence, understanding and non-discrimination. At this level, civil society can play a positive role by providing our society a unified and diverse identity that entails both privacy and pluralism. The decision-makers should use their political will to champion these issues at the legal, educational, media and civil levels. The possibility of creating social harmony, civil coexistence, respect for human rights, fair citizenship and equality would be even more likely — and welcome.