Acutality on Moslim and Christian relations
March 1, 2000

Though I really have no wish to restart a heated debate, becaue
online debates about sensitive issues can be too theoretical and
too detached from reality sometimes, and can end up being no more
than rhetorical battles - which I want to do my best to *avoid* -
I feel it is my duty to make a few important points about the
situation of Christians in the Holy Land, a situation that is
often misunderstood,  underestimated, and even utilized for
publicity and commercial purposes by some.

First, it is true that we have an admirable heritage of coexistence
and tolerance. Christians and Muslims, for many centuries, worked
and lived together, shared the good and the bad, and fought outside
agressors (regardless of who they were) hand in hand.

It is also true that Christians feel at home with a predominantly
Mulim culture. Christians learn Islamic history, read Islamic
literature at school, and grow up appreciating and fully identifying
with Islamic traditions and symbols. One can talk a lot more
about different aspects of cooperation between the people of the
two faiths. Muslims also are quite familiar with Christian
traditions, and in many cases even celebrate Christian feasts,
especially Christmas.

Frictions and tensions did arise from time to time, mostly due to
irrelevant teachings by some, and due to ignorance. But soon they
faded away and the usual harmony was restored.

Now, however, the situation is more complex than many people assume,
especially non-Christians. I will soon tell you why.

Let me say that our culture in general has some some tough problems
and shortcomings, which affect all people regardless of their faith.
Especially now, we are simply passing through a major cultural
collapse. One very important sign is the pathetic situation of the
Arabic language, the language of the Quran which has protected our
collective identity.

We have a tribal culture, and unfortunately our tribalism is
increasing, especially its negative aspects. Often one's well-being,
personal security and protection depend on the support of the
tribe. If your "tribe" - extended family, friends, supporters... -
are weak or simply not there, in certain areas and instances you
become a target, no matter to which faith you belong. It is
very unfortunate that in certain cases the only thing that shields
you from threats and violations of your rights is the visible
and immediate support of your tribe.

Very often, those who enjoy this kind of support, and take it for
granted, do not easily recognize or appreciate the vulnerability
of those who lack this kind of support. Things are not the same
in all towns and villages, but the general problem is there and
becoming clearer.

In many cases whole Christian families have emigrated. Many Christian
families have been slashed to one third or less, much less. Now
regardless of the reasons of immigration (which is a full topic in
itself, also often misunderstood) the immigration has weakened
Christians and did make them vulnerable - in many cases extremely
vulnerable. In the real world, the suffering of the weak is real.

The Islamic movements are also a cause for concern. Though indeed
these movements in general do not target Christians, and most of
their members are grassroots who know nothing about bigotry, the
harmful teaching of few leaders and activists put a lot of pressure
on Christians, and sometimes mobolize the innocent against them.
You should read the anti-Christian leaflet that was distributed in
Nazareth some weeks ago (I have a copy somewhere under a pile of
papers.) It was really *very very* bad. It was directly targeting
Christians, mocking and severely insulting the Christian faith,
and including clear, direct, and unequivocal threats against
Chritians. There has also been several anti-Christian incidents
in different places especially Jerusalem.

Though of course zionists have every reason to divide us and play
us against each other, we cannot really dump all the responsibility
on zionists, unless we choose to close our eyes to important facts
and happenings. The spirit of tolerance in our land, under extreme
political and cultural factors, is eroding. It is true that many
ordinary people, busy earning their bread, far from being bigots or
anything like it, do not notice this. But it is high time to open
our eyes and protect our society.

In Jerusalem I did notice that some Christians were insulted in the
street, told bad words by some reckless youth. Yet I know these
same youth do not dare to insult others the same way.

The spirit of tolerance and coexistance cannot simply be assumed.
It is something that needs continuous nurturing, support and
renewal. It is high time to recognize the true plight of Christians.
This can shed important lights on the regrettable incidents in
Nazareth and elsewhere, especially the continous attack on some
Armenian holy places on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. For
information on this particular issue, you may contact the Armenian
Father Avedis Ipradjian at   avedis@alquds.net

-Issa Sarras
March 1, 2000
 
 

Response: I know that my good friend Issa Sarras did not send his message with a hope
for a long-winded exchange. However, I could not let his comments go without
reaffirming my support for them.

I am proud of the fact that in the history of national movements, the Arab
national movement is one of the few that was not racist or bigoted against
people of a certain colour or religion. Averse as I am to nationalism in
general, I find myself proud of being an Arab because it is not in
opposition to some other peoples. A blond Arab Christian and a black Arab
Muslim are still ARABS. Thank God for that.

It is good that the Christian members of the Arab nation feel comfortable in
a culture that is predominantly Islamic, although not completely so( indeed,
many parts of that culture are anti-Islamic. Such as the increase of a
tribalism, which was supposed to have been eradicated by Islam). Muslim
members of the nation should accomodate them; not because of some stupid
piece of paper called the UDHR that means nothing, but because the essential
values of our culture DEMAND that we look upon people such as Labib Kobti
and Issa Sarras as our brothers.

Some Muslims are indeed quite familiar with Christian traditions, although
in the light of colonialism, imperialism and neo-imperialism many have
associated these traditions with the tyrant and occupier. A shame, but
something that will fade away insha'allah.

The Muslim movements have many challenges. The Muslim religious revival must
be able to accomodate non-Muslims fully if it is to become a revolutionary
revival as opposed to a reactionary one. I see signs of that happening, but
it is still too early to make a judgement. I will not accept any religious
movement that does not include the full rights and duties of all citizens;
we shall see.

Christianity is not my faith, although I studied and continued to study it
for some years. However, the followers of Christianity believe themselves as
do I to be a follower of Christ, and a lover of the Divine, and in that much
, we are brethren.

Arab Muslims must be able to look upon their Christian neighbours as their
compatriots; as we have done for centuries, and as we must continue to do
so. Unity is not only our strength, but a reflection of the principles of
the religion propounded by Christ and Muhammed; peace be upon them. If we
love them, we must love each other.

Any attacks on Christian Arabs due to their religion is not merely an attack
against them but against all Arabs, Muslim or other. Christian Arabs are not
the 'other'. 'They' have as much a right to be here as 'we' do. WE are one.

Hisham al- Zoubeir