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Christians often exploited by Arab dictators
By Ray Hanania
The civil war in Syria has forced Christians and Christian Arabs to carefully re-examine their often apathetic approach to Middle East politics.
Traditionally, Arab World Christians remain aloof from regional and local Middle East politics. We know that our existence in the Middle East depends on a large part on the whims of the larger power elites that are both political and religious that control the nations where we live.
Oftentimes, those elites appear to be protective of Christian Arabs, when it suits their objectives. That has created a false sense of Arab Christian support for some of the dictator and tyrannies.
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In the Muslim World, Christians are considered a “protected” people, but their freedoms are also limited.
During Ramadan, the Holy Muslim Month of fasting, Christians are expected to adhere to Islamic practices including not eating in public during daytime hours, and restraining their public activism. Christians are also discouraged from celebrating in high profile public manners.
Although Islam does not impose a restriction on Christian Arabs, extremists in the Muslim community who are rarely called out by the larger more moderate Muslim community, often confront and even punish Christian Arabs for their actions.
The examples of challenges are too numerous, but must be discussed in public if Christian Arabs are ever to achieve parity with Muslim Arabs and other religious elites, including and especially in Israel where Christians and Muslims are oppressed and threatened by Israel’s extremist policies and by settler terrorists.
InPalestine, for example, Christians in the only all-Christian village in the West Bank, Taybeh, are constantly threatened and harassed by religious extremists. The vehicles of Christians in the village have been destroyed by arson in response to the village’s celebration of “OctoberFest,” a popular Western seasonal celebration.
Taybeh is the home of a popular alcoholic drink called Taybeh Beer. Although many Muslims consume alcohol, religious extremists target the Christian Arab practice of enjoying the light alcoholic drink.
In Jordan, one of the most moderate Muslim countries in the world,, a Christian Arab cannot be elected to public office without being slated on a “special” ballot specifically created to only elect a Christian candidate.
Syria has become the focus of this phenomena. Although Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has committed some of the most egregious war crimes against other Arabs, acts that exceed even the war crimes of Israel against Arabs, Christians, who by religion oppose violence, are supporting him.
That support doesn’t originate from their belief that Assad is a benevolent dictator. It comes from their fear of the rise of extremist Israel. The Arab dictators, most of them, are secular and share the Christian Arab concern of rising Islamic fanaticism. They share a fear of the same enemy.
But when that enemy is not a threat, their differences come out often.
The perception behind the fear of rising religious extremism that fuels Christian Arab support of the Assad regime is that Assad will defend Christians if only as a result of his default opposition to Islamic extremism.
Yet Assad is the ally of the worst Islamic extremists in the Middle East including the Iranian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas. But the Arabs, Christian and Muslim, are bi-polar on these groups. While Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas represent the most threatening and growing extremism in the Arab World, they also represent the only effective counter-balance to Israel, which engages in a sophisticated form of ethnic cleansing against both Christian and Muslim Arabs.
When Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are standing up to Israeli war crimes and violations of international laws, the secularists cheer. When the focus shifts to the rising religious extremism, which threatens moderate Arab existence in the Arab World, they jeer.
The problem of course is that not everyone cares about Israel’s international transgressions. Years of extremist violence by Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists have eroded the automatic rallying of support the Palestinians enjoyed during the last century. These days, their base of Arab support has shrunk, much of it because of their own doing. Palestinian activists desperate to stand up to Israeli successes have turned to the religious extremists for support. In the short term, it has given them a stronger voice. In the long run, it has diminished support for the Palestinian cause, which today is no longer the number one priority of the Arab or Muslim Worlds.
Religious extremism is a cancer. It is a disease. It corrupts the fundamental basis of righteousness, morality and principle. And, when you corrupt principle, no matter how innocent you might be, embracing unprincipled movements reflects on your own movement for justice.
That’s why the majority of Arab Christians support the Assad regime. Despite Assad’s brutality against its own people during his reign and during his equally brutal father’s reign, the Christians have turned the other cheek, for the wrong reasons.
They are willing to accept Syria’s transgressions because they recognize that despite representing the majority of the Arab and Muslim Worlds, the moderate Arab and Muslim movements are weak and in disarray.
The small pockets of religious fanatics are louder, more committed and more active. They appear to be larger than life. One act of violence overshadows into the deepest darkness acts of secular moderation. The extremists feed into the cultural weakness of the Arab and Muslim Worlds, their emotions, while secular moderates are incompetent when it comes to rally public support.
The Arab Christians support Assad for the wrong reasons. There are better ways to stand up to the rising religious extremism in the Muslim World than to stand with a strong tyrant who murders little children.
Let’s not forget that the Syrian civil war began when some Arab children were tortured for vandalizing pro-Assad property. Rather than punish the offenders, Assad instead allowed his corrupt regime, filled with his family, to punish those who protested demanding justice for the tortured children. That grew in the atmosphere of the “Arab Spring” into a full scale war.
And to reinforce support from the Christian Arabs, Assad openly encouraged the al-Qaeda and religious terrorists to enter Syria.
Regardless of politics, no Christian can forget what Assad’s Syria has done to Lebanon, once the only remaining bastion of Christian Arab authority in the Arab and Muslim Worlds.
The Assads engaged in the worst violence that targeted the Christians and their Muslim allies including the moderate Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The Assad regime engaged in assassinations, bombings, violence and military oppression to subjugate Lebanon.
The Christian obligation is to turn the other cheek and put faith in Jesus above Worldly political alliances. But they can still do that without turning their back to truth, justice and principle.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. Reach him at www.TheMediaOasis.com and on Twitter at @RayHanania.)
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"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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