The war against Syria, planned by the United States, France and the United Kingdom for mid-November 2011, has been blocked in extremis by the Russian and Chinese vetoes at the Security Council. According to Nicolas Sarkozy, who informed the Maronite Patriarch of the matter during a stormy meeting at the Elysée Palace on 5 September 2011, the plan contemplates the expulsion of Middle East Christians by the Western powers. In this context a press campaign is underway in Europe to accuse the Christians of the Orient of collusion with the dictatorships. Mother Agnès-Mariam of the Cross, mother superior of the monastery of James the Mutilated in Qara (Syria) responds to this war propaganda.
Thierry Meyssan: The special synod for the Middle-East affirmed the Arabic character of the Christians of this region, which marks a rupture with the 20th century where Christianity, even though it was born in this region, appeared as the religion of the colonizer. This ideological turnover led the Holy-Seat and the Churches of the Orient to support the Palestinian cause and the forces of the anti-Zionist Resistance, including Syria. This evolution had been anticipated in Lebanon by General Michel Aoun and his alliance with Hezbollah. Have the Christians of the Orient become enemies of the westerners?
Mother Agnès-Mariam of the Cross: Yes, the synod affirmed emphatically the Arabic character of the Christians of the Orient through immersion and symbiosis with their historical and cultural environment.
Let us not forget that the Christians of the Orient were the pioneers of the Arabic Renaissance called Nahda, vis-à-visthe Ottoman colonizer. It was them, together with certain eminent Muslim figures, who rekindled the Arabic language and its universal influence through translations, to or from Arabic, by great intellectuals as there were in Aleppo, Damascus and in Mount-Lebanon. The first Arabic printing presses in the Arab world were pioneered by Christians, such as Adballah Zakher. However, with the pan-Arabic movements at the beginning of the 20th century and certain tensions at the dawn of the independence, Christian factions were led to distance themselves ideologically from their Arabic brothers of other confessions. This was very patent during the war in Lebanon when some Lebanese Christians vociferously recanted their membership to the Arabic world, claiming to have hypothetical Phoenician, Cannae, or other roots. The Christian defeat in the Lebanese war reset people’s hearts to a right measure with regard to history and identify. The Christians rediscovered their mission on the land of their forefathers - from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean, through the banks of the Nile - to convey their hopes to their Muslim brothers, whom they had welcomed as liberators against the Byzantine colonizer during the Islamic wars. We need to remember the work of the late father Corbon, author of a book that greatly influenced the pastors of the Christian Churches to embrace the Arab cause and identification. The title of his work, which I disagree with, is The Church of the Arabs.
The Vatican has always supported the Palestinian cause, not because of any political alignment, but out of a sense of justice. Today this position has been adopted by all the Christians of the Orient, including the former anti-Arabic militants. However, the unjust interference of the westerners — the United States and France on top — in our regional affairs, one which has already sufficiently and bitterly been experienced during the war in Lebanon, and which still prevails in Iraq, led the Christians, pontiffs on top, to be extremely prudent. We don’t want to become enemies of the westerners, but we have to realize once and for all that the survival of the Christians of the Orient can no longer depend on some protectorate or Sublime Gate; our future depends on the earnest marriage between the Christians and their brothers that cohabitate with them in the Middle-East, in whom they recognize their blood brothers above any confessional differences, which aren’t as big as they appear.
The Christians have always been used as the cultural windbreak for the West. When the Ottomans, the sick man of Europe, didn’t have any other alternative but to welcome the various western consuls who came with their missionaries to Aleppo (French, Italians, Venetians, Dutch, Austrians, English, etc.… ), the Christians were the interface who permitted them to adapt themselves to the mysterious Orient. In the end, the Christians are the enemies of no one. They welcomed the Westerners as well as the Muslims. In any case, after so many setbacks they have earned the right to criticize the blunders, the shortsightedness, or the inauspicious rage of the West which promotes its own interests to the detriment of the multi-secular presence of the Christians and other ethnic-cultural components of the Oriental socio-demographic fabric. Either we accept the democratic principles and they take our point of view into account, or we must accept that we are once more facing an imperialistic system that demands us to keep silent and compels us to obey.
Thierry Meyssan: The western Catholic press is staging an all-out attack against the new Maronite Patriarch and his hostile reaction to an international intervention for regime change in Syria. His detractors accuse him of collaboration with the “dictatorship of the Assad’s”. Is it true that the Christian minority in the Middle-East is afraid of democracy?
Mother Agnès-Mariam of the Cross: I am disappointed by the Catholic press which blindly follows the tendency dictated by the masters of the world and that just repeats like a parrot what the mainstream media spreads. It is sad that in these difficult times we first have to explain ourselves to our Christian brothers who are completely caught up in misconceptions, misunderstandings and disinformation; a part for a few exceptions whose courage I salute.
The West has got used to being the judge, the authority, the sponsor and guardian of the Christians of the Orient. This is due to too much complacency among among ourselves towards an alternative culture which has been too eagerly adopted. Moreover, it is one thing to be French-speaking, it is quite another to allow the French — or other westerners — to set themselves up as educationalists and guardians of the Christians of the Orient. The Maronite Patriarch stated what he thinks, in unison with his colleagues, the other Patriarchs of the Middle-East. He didn’t do it in complicity with a dictatorship, but in harmony with what he believes is in the line of justice and in the interest of the Christian communities. Of course, the words of the Patriarch thwart, in a very authoritative manner, the maneuvers of the international community aiming to establish at whatever price an alternative puppet regime in Syria like they did in Libya. The fact that they are so interested in Syrian affairs — oh! if only they had been so interested during the Lebanese war when we were being massacred in silence! — to the point of hitting the headlines in the media of the New Totalitarianism on a daily basis should attract the attention of every free and critical person.
To claim that the Christians of the Orient and their pastors are hesitant to join the Arab revolutions because they fear democracy is downright slander. Christians everywhere have always been the pioneers of the freedom of speech, of equality among citizens, and of people’s dignity. It is false to say that we culturally ignore the meaning of democracy, that our families are authoritarian and that in general, there is no democracy in the Church. This is a simplified and superficial reading of the reality; why not talk about the love that reigns in our families? Thanks to this harmony, we don’t need a majority to rule since consensus is our daily reality which welds together the various members of this congregation. As for the Church, it is the communion that supersedes the relations between such members. To treat the family and the Church in a democratic manner is to politicize realities that are infinitely more profound than the interests of the Polis. I am surprised that priests who organize fast and prayer seminars are in reality centered on a one-sided political view of the family, the Church, society, to the point of becoming voluntary consultants who dictate, like the colonizers of old, their flawless opinions like oracles from above to the poor Syrian masses, regarded as inferior, uncultivated, blind and powerless.
The West is so full of pride that it cannot imagine a different civil order could possibly exist, even though theirs is facing an insoluble social, economical and moral crisis. In traditional societies loyal to the ancestral system inherited from biblical times, there are other ways, other parameters to organize the everyday life of the society. I am thinking about the patriarchal system. I am thinking about the system based on alliances among families, tribes, cities, regions and countries; a federal system based on freedom and the particular interests of the family, the tribe, attached to the land of the ancestors. Unfortunately the West has swept away the concept of belonging to the land, the family, the ethnic group, in short the ontological identity. The Western model is not based on the acknowledgement of the individual but on external interests. It is in the name of what is economically expedient that they sacrifice — for the benefit of the multinationals — the principles of the homeland, the family and personal identity. We don’t realize that we are caught up in a much more unbridled and evil totalitarianism than the small authoritarian regimes which they seek to overthrow. The latter at least have the merit of availing themselves of the social, identity, family, tribal and clan network of our mysterious Orient. I am conscious of the fact that, seen from a distance, our happy life is completely incomprehensible for the West.
Thierry Meyssan: The Syrian National Transitional Council (SNC), which was constituted in Turkey, is dominated by the Muslim Brothers. The Brotherhood has always been severely repressed by Damascus and their historic stronghold cities are now at the heart of the protests. The Muslim Brothers want to impose a modern version of the Sharia. Doesn’t their concern for restoring moral values coincide with the aspirations of a lot of Christian movements?
Mother Agnès-Mariam of the Cross: I deplore the fact that the so-called opponents didn’t accept President Bashar Al-Assad’s invitation to debate with him the series of reforms which he is in the process of carrying out. Instead, this opposition turned its back on all negotiations, not only by their declarations, but by taking up arms, by perpetrating bombing attacks, and other violent acts. The SNC does not represent a natural emanation of the real aspirations of the Syrian people for their legitimate rights, but as the artificial product of a secret collaboration with interests going beyond Syrian borders.
The Alliance between the Muslim Brothers and the West is a scandal for the Christians and the Muslims who don’t want religious matters to encroach on their civil rights. In secular regimes, established after colonialism amidst the pan-Arabic frenzy, everybody was relieved to see the establishment of a certain distance between religion and state. Now, while the Westerners rightly reject the overlap of state and religion at home, they see fit to promote it here to overthrow secular regimes! That’s what frightens the majority of the Syrian people. The implementation ofSharia law in its entirety, as advocated by the Muslim Brothers, will lead to regimes which are theocratic, obsolete and obscurantist, like that of Saudi-Arabia. How can we accept such a regression in the 21th century? And what kind of modernization can the Muslim Brothers bring to the Sharia which, being of divine nature, cannot be mitigated or rectified by any human power?
I suspect that there is a hidden collusion between the neo-colonial interests of the West and the mental violence exerted by way of the Sharia. In spite of their democratic pretenses, the Western powers unfortunately have to rely on a system which helps them to subjugate the masses on the pretext of piety or fidelity to religion. In short, the Western powers are afraid of the Christians who, according to the teachings of the Gospel, are free to choose to do Good or Evil and are left with their dignity as reasonable human beings, responsible for their thoughts, words and actions, which is not the case in Muslim fundamentalism.
Thierry Meyssan: Certain Western clerics living in the Arab world fervently committed themselves to the “Arab Spring”. They stressed that the Europeans should not be privileged, but that it is everyone should be entitled to the Western standard of living and to benefit from democracy. Yet, you and the Patriarch seem to be concerned about the Syrian revolution. In the end, do the Christians have a common viewpoint on this subject or are they politically divided?
Mother Agnès-Mariam of the Cross: I really think that the Western clerics living in the Arab world are only mentally committed to the Arab Spring; they are revolutionaries on paper only. Moreover, they didn’t make the effort — being strangers to the social network and to the Oriental identity construction — to listen to the real wishes of the enormous silent majority of Christians and Muslims.
These Western clerics are the first to have been misguided and to demonstrate their contempt for the Oriental values they claim to defend since, through the power of their overwhelming conviction, they seek to introduce western standards as being the only universal and viable norms for the well being and the dignity of the human being. Let us look at these standards, with Oriental eyes: where is the importance given to the family, which has crumbled to the point that gender identity is being debated at the UN? And what about Western morals which Orientals find totally repulsive and, while we’re at it since we are free to express ourselves, why not mention that in the Orient we would never have accepted the trivialization of abortions or the isolation of elders outside their families.
It is obvious that Western standards are a reference only for those Orientals who are alienated from their own identity and who live in a virtual world allowing themselves to be fashioned in the image of their idols. It’s not the revolution that frightens the Patriarch or the Christians, but the interference by the West which suggests that we are facing a conspiracy or a hijacked movement rather than an entirely spontaneous event.
The Christians can be divided politically, it’s their right. They have always been pluralistic, much to their honor. Because of the freedom inherent to their religious formation, they are the craftsmen and, I would say, a reference for all revolutions worthy of the name.