Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Arab world must face its demons

Attacks on Christians are a wake-up call for fragmented Arab societies where disenfranchisement breeds bigotry.

Lamis Andoni

".....This Western show of concern is not only hypocritical and damaging to social cohesion, but could serve to further ignite the growing wave of sectarianism sweeping the region. It was, after all, Western colonial powers that planted the seeds of the divisions that haunt the Arab world to this day and the US invasion and occupation of Iraq that unleashed the sectarian strife from which it is reeling.

As an Arab Christian, originally from Bethlehem, I am offended to hear Western leaders pretend to defend Arab Christians, while they either do nothing to stop or actively support Israeli violations of the human rights and dignity of the Palestinian people - Muslim and Christian alike.....

The vast majority of Christians in the Arab world are Arabs and those of other ethnicities are an integral part of their countries, although it must be noted that southern Sudan is a more complicated case.

Even under the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi president, Chaldeans were protected, not considered outsiders. In Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, the Armenian minority enjoys the same rights as Muslim citizens.

But this also means that Arab Christians as well as Christians of other ethnicities suffer the same repression by Arab governments as their Muslim brethren....

Growing mistrust

Sectarianism and prejudice is not confined to extremist or misguided Arab Muslims. Hostile views of Islam are also on the rise within some Arab Christian circles, some of which - either out of fear or to receive Western funding - act as though they are an extension of the West.

This growing mistrust is evident in some of the mushrooming Muslim and Christian satellite channels, which foment spiteful stereotypes and broadcast chauvinism to millions in the name of religion. Many of the Christian channels involved in deepening sectarianism are funded by Western donors. And while it is not clear who funds the Muslim channels, some governments have used radical Islamists to counter the Muslim Brotherhood - the dominant opposition force in many Arab states.

Arab governments are more likely to censor opposition media than bigoted channels that help to divert attention from the real social problems facing their people.

This creeping sectarianism can be found not only in relations between Christians and Muslims but also between Muslims. Colonialism has left Lebanon with a sectarian system that pits Shia and Sunni Muslims against each other as well as against Christians. The invasion of Iraq has left the country with a sectarian and ethnic conflict that has now been institutionalised in the form of sectarian power-sharing. Sudan is splitting over ethnic and religious divides.

The West is not honest, but we Arabs are equally as guilty. Sarkozy and other Western leaders can save us their speeches. The Western outcry over slaughtered Christians, while it is engaged in killing Arabs in Iraq and Muslims in Afghanistan, could only preclude a real introspective discussion about the Arab role in creating fragmented societies and it is time for us to face our own demons."

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