Have the Lebanese Christians lost the plot?


Last week Maronite Patriarch Bcharra Rai made some highly controversial comments from Paris in which he suggested that Bashar Al Assad was an open minded ruler who was never allowed to implement the reforms he wished for. Mr Rai also linked the Palestinian struggle with Hezbollah’s arms, asking for international aid to free the occupied lands.

While he did later say that his comments were taken out of context, this still presented a shift from the traditional stances of the Maronite church creating confusion among many in the country who saw in him a safe torch bearer of the Lebanese plight. It is without doubt that the Christians in Lebanon have been feeling left out for quite a while due to various local and regional circumstances, what is surprising however is the way the Christians have been reacting to this pseudo isolation.

The alarming prospect about this reaction is that it is not limited to official Christian representation; the Lebanese Christian public have made headlines recently on various issues. Last month a budget clothes retailer in Beirut’s Ain al-Remmaneh neighborhood, was forced to close its doors by locals as it was accused of insulting Christianity by selling beach sandals which had an imprint of a Christian cemetery with crosses on it. A couple of days back a facebook group was formed aiming to prevent American band LMFAO from performing in Beirut next month because of one of the group’s music videos in which Jesus was portrayed as a funky dancer. Needless to say the comments on the group’s page are racist, anti-Semitic, bigoted and quite vulgar.

It is understandable why the Lebanese Christians might feel uncertain during these times, but the almost paradoxical issue is how the majority of Christians in Lebanon, long time leaders of the Arab enlightenment, have been mostly silent over most of these developments, especially with regards to the Patriarch’s comments. So is the issue that the Lebanese Christians have let go of their principles? The answer is hardly, Samir Gaegae alongside the wide spectrum of March 14 Christians were very swift in getting quite vocal over this exact point, and in a country where men in religious uniform are seen as sacred this was a refreshing change. As Gaegae so eloquently put it, the Christians cannot but stand on the side of democratic change. Indeed, it would be unwise for the Christians to remain idle, or worst yet do as the Patriarch did, in the face of the evil that is spreading in nearby nations.

In Syria, the regime has been brutally cracking down on the peaceful demonstrators for around 7 months now. And while it should be said that an earlier stand by March 14 would have been preferable, their reactions are in parallel with the official Arab reaction, which is solace enough.

Judging by the sensitivity of the current Lebanese situation, coupled with the traditionally relatively reserved stances of the Patriarchy, especially when abroad, it is highly unlikely that the Patriarch threw his words in vain. One theory suggests that he is seeking to make amends with Aoun and bring the Aounists back to the embrace of the Maronite church; Aoun’s recent visit to the Patriarch to commend him on his “national stances” only goes to further support this theory. But he could also be calculating his odds and favoring a survival for the Assad regime and their allies in Lebanon, and in a post Syrian revolution world where Assad survives, no one wants to get on his bad side. This might also explain the less abrasive but equally dismaying position of the Sunni mufti, who has refrained from any comment on the Syrian bloodshed since the revolution began.

The issue is then quite evident; it is not whether or not the Christians have the lost the plot, it is that the clergy in Lebanon are becoming highly opportunistic at a time when a moral stance is the least thing they could do as spiritual leaders. Unfortunately the Lebanese system does place these clergy high up on the public influence ladder, and their opinion, no matter how morally repugnant it may be, often gets adopted as sacred in society, manifesting itself as laws, or as was the case a couple of months back when the Muslim clergy forced Parliament to abandon its bill to protect women from domestic violence, non laws.

The Christians are therefore not the issue here; it is the sectarian system that gives priests and sheikhs such power over their supposed followers. It is expected out of the Christians, like the Muslims and others, to show compassion and solidarity with the people of the region who are fighting for their freedoms with their bare bodies in the face of blood thirsty regimes that the Christians, alongside all their other fellow Lebanese, are all but too familiar with.

In Lebanon the brutality of the Syrian regime was experienced hands on, and it was the largely Christian Lebanese student movement of the late 90s, and the subsequent brutal crackdown by the Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus, that flared the early sparks of the Cedar Spring which was a massive inspiration to the Arab spring. This was then followed by the historic stance of the Maronite church in 2000 and the subsequent reconciliation in Mount Lebanon between Jumblatt and the Patriach in 2001. These historic events cannot but be mentioned at a time when the Maronite church might be deviating from its principles, the principles that have been preserved by the church for decades and made sure Lebanon’s freedom and sovereignty were respected. These are the principles that Syrian people are fighting for right now, and for that the Lebanese must be very supportive, especially the Christians.


* London

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ibrahim Tabet
ibrahim Tabet
12 years ago

Have the Lebanese Christians lost the plot?
Le patriarche craint sans doute que les chretiens de Syrie ne subisse le meme sort que ceux d’Irak si le regime Assad venait a etre renverse. Mais il aurait pu exprimer son inquietude d’une autre maniere. Sans absoudre Bachar el assad. Sans s’abstenir de condamner les violences. Et surtout sans justifier l’armement du Hezbollah. Enfin avoir fait ces declarations en France est une faute impardonable. Il aurait mieux fait de se taire


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