Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

The Institution of Violence and the Threats it Poses to the Region

The Institution of Violence and the Threats it Poses to the Region

Monday, 4 October, 2021 - 10:30

It is worth taking a moment to examine the document entitled “We Choose Life: Christians in the Middle East, Towards Renewed Theological, Societal and Political Options” that was released last week. Launched from Antelias in Lebanon, it was drafted by an independent group of theologians and specialists in the humanities, geopolitics and social sciences from Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, with consultations from counterparts in Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

The incentive for delving into the issues facing Christians in the Arab world generally and Lebanon, especially at this time, is the increasingly loud voices of some Christian factions propagating what has become known as the alliance of minorities, which, knowingly or not, furthers a national, ethnic, and sectarian Iranian agenda. They do so out of a conviction that this strategic framework safeguards their presence in the region and their role in confronting what they consider a Sunni majority that does not care about these communities or their role.

Moreover, it seems that the region is witnessing a sort of institutionalization of violent extremism following the Taliban’s swift return to power in Afghanistan. It is the first time an armed religious organization seizes control of the state and enjoys what looks like international recognition, be it direct or indirect. We have already experienced over the 42 years in which the mullahs have ruled Iran the consequences and repercussions at the domestic and international levels, with disastrous ramifications for the Iranians themselves and neighboring countries in the region.

The case of Lebanon presents a particularly pertinent model for summing up the mechanisms of Iranian expansionism and how it imposes a status quo that takes its course. Hezbollah and its allies were able to privatize security, establish a parallel economy and monopolize decision-making on questions of war and peace, regardless of what remains of a state in form. It has imposed its will on the political class, subjugating it at times and terrorizing it at others, destroying the county’s public administration and undermining the public good, and it now poses an existential threat to Lebanon’s democratic identity, freedoms, and human rights. The same applies to Yemen, Iraq and Syria, though there are structural and practical distinctions in how this expansionism operates.

It may appear to some that this all boils down to political conflicts and competition over influence, but that is a superficial assessment that disregards the truth of the conflict in the background of what is happening, as Iran is leading a civilizational fight for the identity of the Middle East and its communities. Iran has propagated, in what is a discourse that intersects with that of Israel, the philosophy of the “alliance of minorities” through its utilization of targeted countries’ local communities, and it has mainstreamed the idea that these minorities need protection.

Before mainstreaming this notion, it built an ideological structure that relied on historical grudges by feeding sentiments of victimization among communities that are part of the national fabric in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, with extensions across the region and the globe. This occurred place in parallel with the rise of radical Sunni Islamist groups like ISIS, and so there emerged a vicious alliance against both Islam and Christianity, as well the national identities, Arab and Levantine, of these religions’ daughters and sons. We cannot overlook, in this context, Israel’s Jewishness, but delving into that is beyond the scope of this article.

Killing off Arab national identities and disintegrating countries’ social fabric, as well as entrenching neuroses about “minorities,” promoting the “alliance of minorities,” and mainstreaming the conviction that it is best to seek the protection of ideological totalitarian regimes, be they secular or religious, all demonstrated the civilization background of the conflict in the region. Strengthening sectarian tensions and bringing forward memories of sectarian clashes did away with the project for an Arab renaissance and its modern formations. The murder and repression machines have vanquished all the options for building civil states that are based on active citizenship.

How sources of legislation, be they Muslim, Christian or Jewish, are understood needs to be developed. The lack of such development has rendered elites’ participation in public affairs ineffectual. Even the revolutions of the Arab Spring, in which lofty slogans were raised calling for freedoms, human rights, justice, citizenship that cuts across communities and accepts differences within the framework of a constitutional state of laws, were soiled. These revolutions were destroyed by an implicit understanding between religious and political authorities and exclusionary political Islam. The hope for a civilized, humane and modern Arab project was killed.

This systematic execution killed the civilizational role of Christian Arabs or Middle Eastern Christian, as well as that of Muslim elites. From here, the “alliance of minorities” necessarily intersects with that of “heading east” and replacing the term “Arab Christians” or “Middle Eastern Christians” with “Levantine Christians,” provocatively removing them from their context. This latter term is connected to what Russia had done to create the Eastern Question in the 19th century, when it crowned itself protector of these and those sects, which reinforced violent options, as it did with its destructive intervention in Syria. Here, there is no distinction between it and Iran.

In everything above, the need for a rational and critical geopolitical approach for allowing the Christians to retrieve their partnership with the Muslims of the Middle East and the Arab world is evident. The needed partnership must be founded in active citizenship that embraces diversity, disregarding the assumptions of the “Eastern Question,” “heading East,” cozying up with repressive regimes, and surrendering to involvement in a deadly alliance of minorities.

From here, we hope that the We Choose Life document plays its role in the dialogue to dismantle the institutionalization of violence and ward off the dangers it poses to the region. True, it is a step on a thousand-mile journey to reinvigorate a positive Arab Christian role, but it also needs to spread as broadly as possible among Christians, on the one hand, and Muslims, on the other hand. Consistency, endurance and diligence are all we have left for the fight against the narratives sweeping the region from all sides amid the dubious neglect of forces that claim to defend freedoms and human rights and resist tyranny.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks