January 31, 2011

Christians 'Indispensible' To Middle East Societies

January 29, 2011

A leading commentator on Middle East issues has said that faith and civic leaders in the region have a responsibility to challenge "regimes that muzzle and polarise their peoples" along with the "religious totalitarianism" that fuels violence, discrimination and hatred towards minorities.

Writing on the website of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, which promotes nonviolence and conflict transformation, Dr Harry Hagopian says (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14037) that the Middle East as a whole "stands on shifting sands" because of the interconnected growth in toxic religiosity and rejectionist politics.

But although the situation is serious, with murderous attacks against Christians and others, Dr Hagopian says that a fragile hope remains. "The overwhelming majority of ordinary Arab men and women of all persuasions - Christians, Sunnis, Shi’is, Kurds, Druze, Baha’is and others - are inherently decent people who simply wish to earn their daily bread and are eager to co-exist with their neighbours."

This is why, he suggests, popular movements to challenge top-down political rule and concerted efforts by faith communities "to educate their peoples to accept and respect the other, rather than kill or ostracise" are both vital.

In his research essay, 'Politics, Religion and the Middle East', Dr Hagopian (an ecumenical, legal and political consultant who is a former executive secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches) unpacks eight factors which are exacerbating the drift towards violent exclusionism and the marginalisation of minority communities in the region.

These are the decay of secular Arab nationalism, the brutal suppression of freedom and dissent, the feeding of regressive religious radicalism, the distorted and hegemonic policies of some Western countries, the failure to address the Israel-Palestine question justly, an inhospitable environment that alienates Arab Christians from others, wrangling and abuses of power within religious communities, and the aim of movements such as al-Qa’eda in provoking a confrontation between the Arab world and the West.

It is the combination of these factors, rather than blaming any one in isolation, which is so important, says Dr Hagopian. "Middle East Christians remain an indispensable alloy in the fabric of Arab societies. Historically predating Islam, they have as much claim to the region as any other religion, ethnicity or belief. They are co-equal citizens with their Muslim compatriots, with Jews in Israel and with those in the occupied Palestinian lands."

The true diversity of the region needs to be acknowledged, celebrated and protected by law, Dr Hagopian concludes.