Friday, November 5, 2010

Religious And Cultural Desertification

By Husam Itani
This comment was published in al-Hayat on 5/11/2010
The crimes committed against the Iraqi Christians, the last of which was the massacre of Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, do not only threaten to transform the Arab region into an ethnic and religious desert, but also herald the death of the remaining cultural plurality in this region.

If the constant attacks on Iraq’s Christians are added to the expansion of the threats of Al-Qaeda organization to the Egyptian Copts against the backdrop of some “popular” practices shrouded in the cloak of political Islam, as well as the attempts to push Lebanon’s Christians toward choices which are all bitter and dangerous, the future of the Christians in this part of the world appears to be bleak – with immigration as the only way out of it.

However, the bleak future of the Christian minority appears as bright as day when compared with what awaits the Muslim majority and its different sects and varieties. Indeed, while the fate of the Christians in the Arab countries was isolated from the general deterioration and collapse of Arab society and culture, and while the catastrophes affecting them were depicted as being events which solely concerned them and the communities close to them, this does not reflect the reality of the Arab situation in which the areas of tolerance and the acceptance of the other political, sectarian and religious opinion are rapidly narrowing down.

The monitoring of two Arab conditions - in Egypt and Iraq - shows without the shadow of a doubt that the restraints imposed on the independent media and the intellectual and personal freedoms, are proceeding hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder with the rise of the voices and the hands that are hostile to the Christians and the other religious minorities (such as the case of the Baha’i group, the pursuit of those who converted to Shiism and the bloody attacks on the Yazidi villages in Iraq, to name but a few).

The talk about the importance of preserving the minorities whose rights were long disregarded may not carry more than good intentions. But on the opposite end of these intentions, it is becoming clearer by the day that the immigration of the Christians from the Arab countries - in which many other minorities were wiped out during the last century - is coinciding with the immigration of countless numbers of people enjoying vital specializations for any serious developmental projects in the region. Moreover, a considerable number of Arab intellectuals are now permanently living abroad and in remote places of exile, while perceiving any call to return to their homeland as being a blunt call to commit suicide.

The idea saying that Israel is reaping numerous benefits from the transformation of the region into an arena of sectarian wars that is under the hegemony of one group is old. What is important today is not the prevention of Israel from reaping the fruits of the Arab weakness and retreat and from exploiting our crises, considering that this will happen anyway. What is important is to shed light on the existing link between our countries’ transformation into a land that rejects plurality and the West’s imminent announcement of its relinquishing of the policy of cultural and ethnic plurality which has been prevailing over it since the end of World War II.

While rightful objections rejected the talk about “the clash of civilizations” which placed the world in the context of a pattern of conflicting and opposing provinces and cultures, it is sad today to see this hostility toward religious and cultural plurality gaining new grounds, in both the East and the West. Still, there is a major difference between the two, since at a time when the West has economic and cultural alternatives allowing the extremist right-wing parties that are on the rise to beautify the policies of isolation and introversion, we in the East lack that luxury, along with all other types of political and economic luxuries.

Yet, a faction of us still wishes to commit massacres in places of worship while threatening to expand its activities and kill more innocent people without any regard for the depth of the abyss toward which it is rushing, while leading us all along with it.

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