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This is our country, and Jesus is from here

Examine the contributions of members of different religions and sects in achieving independence from the Ottoman Empire or the French mandate. Don’t use minorities to inflame feelings of insecurity in Syria 

When approaching the Syrian crisis, the issue of religious minorities has been pushed by news agencies and ‘concerned’ foreign ministries to the forefront, delaying clear positions and specific policies.  From Clinton’s statements regarding the importance of reassuring minorities in the case of any democratic political transition, to Lavrov’s threats concerning Christian protection, to contradictory statements from the Vatican that sometimes highlight concerns about the future of Christians after regime change and at other times deny that Christians face any harm from those who call for freedom.  We also find that statements by some official church representatives, who are appointed after security approvals, not only feed into these fears but also inflame feelings about an imminent danger, and thus urge support for injustice and despotism because it protects minorities.

Perhaps the political opposition was late in producing clear texts about a shared future for all Syrians, and spelling out reassuring statements to specific minorities.  It seems that the choice was to address the Syrian citizen and not the Syrian Christian or the Syrian Alawite … etc.  This narrative has become clear now in the political literature of opposition forces, including religious ones.  It must be admitted that some of the practices of parts of the militant movement helped to feed these fears of an unstable future that will face those who do not follow the religion of the ‘majority.’

But it is no longer useful simply to recall a glorified past that points to the rise of Christian names in the public sphere, without discrimination, in order to clinch the argument for the current management of Syria’s cosmopolitan society.  This nostalgic invocation has been overly used in such complex times that carry a lot of new factors.  Authoritarian regimes managed diversity by attracting representatives from all regions, using and strengthening divisions, and developing extremism. Instead, those who follow the Syrian situation must closely study its contemporary political history and citizen participation in state/nation building before its premature breakdown by authoritarianism. Doing this would enable one to examine the contributions of members of different religions and sects in achieving independence from the Ottoman Empire or the French mandate, and establishing political parties, professional journalism and civil society. 

The statements of some of these official church spokespeople place Syria’s Christians in the ‘foreign’ category, calling on them either to be neutral or to support an authority that is practicing repression against different members of the public.  As days go by, a deep gap appears between them and their congregations who are as concerned with the future of this country as other Syrians, as well as between them and their priests who are carrying on great humanitarian work that collectively support the people’s peaceful movement.  Christian Syrians don’t need testimonials proving their national credentials to anyone. They do not need representatives on their behalf to detract from their distinct experience in Syria and the depth of their engagement, in such a way as to end up forgetting the message of Abdulrahman Al-Kawakibi in The Nature of Despotism: “Let us agree on similar principles like “Long live the nation, long live the country, let us live free and cherished.”

This article first appeared in Arabic in Shorouk News

Special thanks are due to Wafa Alsayed for translating this piece from Arabic

About the author

Salam Kawakibi is deputy director of the Arab Reform Initiative


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