Middle East Christians, Between State Islam and Fundamentalism
Kirkuk -- The changes in Middle East countries in recent years threaten to foment fundamentalism. Mgr. Louis Sako, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk, says the Christian minority there, accustomed to living under state Islam, should dialogue with its Muslim fellow citizens and explain that it is possible to live side by side with reciprocal respect and dignity. With regard to the Arab springtime and attempts on the part of the West to export its own model of democracy, the Archbishop affirms: such attempts are ineffective, it is better to focus on educating youth.
For years the political geography of the Middle East-- in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya… -- has initiated and suffered changes. These changes are a source of acute concern for religious and ethnic minority groups, mainly Christians. A Middle East divided in different ethnic nations, so often proposed, would destroy a mosaic of millenary pluralism without bringing a solution.
In actual fact, our Middle East Christians have discovered a way of life, more or less positive, under state Islam. For 14 centuries we have lived in peaceful, although conditioned, co-existence. We, Christians of the near East, are aware of our future in these Muslim majority countries. Without either over-simplifying or exaggerating, we know that for Islam State and religion walk hand in hand and cannot be separated. Even in countries, so-called, secularised, there has never been a separation of the two powers, as in the case of the West.
However today the situation has changed completely. Fundamentalist Islam is growing and becoming an increasingly concerning phenomenon. Extremists want Islamic law, (Shari'a) to be the basic law of the State, to protect their religious and ethnic identity (umma, community of true believers) from the "atheist corrupt" West. The Koran teaches Muslims that Islam, the religion taught by Mahommet the greatest of all prophets, is the only true and complete religion. This is why they preach the necessity of holy war (Jihad) to protect and to propagate their religion. But this could become extremely dangerous.
The Arab springtime has brought with it a powerful demand for democracy and recognition of the human rights of the individual. But, putting aside international propaganda, this idea, unfortunately, is something formal, belonging to theoretic principles rather than concrete reality. For the time being Europe's democratic model cannot work in the Middle East: it will take a long time for it to be applicable and it will demand a new culture and the formation of youth.
If we, the Christian minorities which have always lived in these countries, are to obtain a better future we have to rely only on ourselves, knowing that the West is led only by financial and political interests, all connected with oil. We must make it clear to our Muslim fellow citizens, frankly and without ambiguity, that we are an integral part of the population. We are native to these parts: we contributed greatly to the formation of Muslim culture, during the Caliphate of the Umayyads and the Abbasids; we were chief players in the renaissance of the Arab nation in the 18th century; today, we intend to maintain our role side by side. We must tell them: we respect you and we love you because God who is love, loves us all . For our part, we ask you to respect us as we are and to respect our religion. Only in this way will we trust one another and strengthen our relations.
Therefore it is necessary to discuss together the reasons for our fears and for our hopes. With courage and sincerity, we must discuss our common destiny with fundamentalists, Muslim Brothers, Salafis, Sunni and Shiite authorities. We must show them our sincerity, our commitment and our determination to live side by side with respect and with dignity.
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