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When the Axis of Resistance Responds to the Maronite Patriarch

When the Axis of Resistance Responds to the Maronite Patriarch

Monday, 3 May, 2021 - 09:45

Whenever the Maronite Patriarchy voices an explicit position opposed to that of the axis of resistance, the response to it is accompanied by the phrase: “This is not new.” The old habit recurring anew being referred to is Patriarchs, alongside Maronite politicians and intellectuals, defending opinions opposed to those of today’s resisters regarding the conflict with Zionism and Israel, especially Lebanon’s position in this conflict. They have been doing it uninterruptedly since the 1930s, then.

When only resisters’ positions are virtuous, opinions voiced by those who disagree are rendered pure sin. The latter is seen as beneath meriting an opposing opinion regarding their nation and citizens, including those who follow their church.

The current Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai’s call for the neutrality of Lebanon worked up the appetites of the critics who are relentlessly suggesting that it would be akin to betrayal. However, the institution whose treachery is being implied does not represent a handful of people or a pile of dust that can be removed with a finger. It is a Patriarchate whose emergence dates back to the seventh century, an institution that has played pivotal roles in the history of the region and a foundational role in the establishment of Lebanon itself.

The phrase “this is not new”- or its equivalent- assumes the soundness of a stereotype invalidated by minimal familiarity with the Maronite Patriarchate’s history. If we were to go only as far back as the independence era, disregarding the preceding epoch, we would find that two patriarchs, Paul Peter Meouchi (1955-75) and Anthony Peter Khoraish (1975-86) adopted positions that run against those traditionally associated with “political Maronitism.” Before them, Patriarch Anthony Peter Arida had endorsed the demand for independence from France and deserved to have “Patriarch Arida, the beloved of Allah” chanted to him in Damascus, though, mind you, a large segment of the Maronite and Christian communities had divergent opinions and sentiments. As for the current patriarch, al-Rai, it was not until early last summer that he settled his ambiguous stance on the controversial issues at hand.

This seems aimed at painting differing political opinions with a Maronite brush and condemning their supposed origins, a purely sectarian stance even if it is dressed in “secular”, “patriotic” or “leftist” clothing. On the other hand, one could easily point to divergent points of view in the Arab world that have nothing to do with the Maronite Patriarchate. We know, for example, that the 1919 Paris Peace Conference saw Faisal I, the son of Sharif Hussein, and Haim Weizmann, the head of the World Zionist Organization, sign the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement. We also know that when the Hebrew University opened its doors in Jerusalem in 1925, some Arab political and cultural figures sat in the front rows during the opening ceremony. We know about President Anwar Sadat’s 1978-79 accord, the Madrid and Oslo conferences that followed 1991 and 1993 respectively and were then succeeded by the 1994 Wadi Araba Treaty before the most recent wave of normalization and peace agreements that encompassed four Arab countries... They hurled insults at them all and accused them of treason; however, they did not point to religion, sect, or denomination to explain their deplorable behavior.

Thus, we can say that the critique we are talking about, which traces what it is criticizing to an entrenched past and a basic nature, treats its Maronite rivals like potential traitors who rise to the surface and are exposed from time to time. They have an irreparably defective core. This habit, we should remember, became most inflamed with the eruption of the Two Years War (1975-6), when the ‘National Movement’ coined the term “patriotic Christian,” whereby the “Christian” can’t be swallowed unless he is accompanied by a dose of “patriotism” that makes him palatable (exactly like the famous Arab Nationalist disclaimer: Although Salah el-Din al Ayyubi is of Kurdish origin, he liberated the holy land…)

The Maronite Church is, of course, not above criticism and debate. Discussing its positions is always required, as is the case for any influential faction, be it temporal or religious. Debate and the contemplation that necessarily follows reveal the depth of the schisms that divide Lebanon and the Lebanese on issues everyone sees as fundamental. They also show that the homogeneity of some Lebanese subcultures is not an obvious fact that can be taken for granted. However, they also warn that only by reaching a compromise on these issues can the country remain a country. A compromise demands, by definition, a degree of parity among its parties, not to mention recognition of the right to an opinion of the party with a divergent opinion.

What the axis of resistance does is attribute righteousness to itself and attribute treachery to others, whom it intimidates with weapons. In return for de-escalation of tensions on controversial issues, they add a dose of betrayal to the existing tension, and in return for curbing conflict-fueling indoctrination, they add issues that leave no room for coexistence. However, the axis of resistance in Lebanon would not exist without armed sectarianism that “discusses” things with others through accusations of treason and subjugation enforced by weapons. This had been the case before, and this is the case today.

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