PERSPECTIVE – A Storm in the House: the Middle East in the vicious circle
*Perspective proposed by Dr. Mehessen Macary
The huge area of dry grasslands and rich fertile river plains, with many different types of climate and landscape, the Middle East was the natural home to the first agricultural agglomeration. The region where large parts are covered by desert or grassland; elsewhere there are highlands and mountains covered by forests. Running through all these zones are long rivers, especially the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, and the Nile in Egypt.
The highlands of the Middle East are the natural habitat of grasses, such as wild wheat and barley, and it was almost inevitable that agriculture based on these crops, which would eventually cover so much of the world, would begin here, around 10,000 years ago. Farming had spread around the Middle East by 6000 BC, and was gradually pushing westward into Europe and eastward into India and South Asia.
Large parts of the Middle East lie within a hot, dry zone, where rainfall is insufficient to grow crops such as wheat and barley. The melting snows in the high mountains and the spring rains in the hills carry fresh water and silt down into the lowlands, flooding the dry river plains and depositing a rich mud for miles around, and Lebanon with its mountains witnesses on that. This means that the land surrounding the lower reaches of these rivers is potentially very fertile. However, it is too dry for farming most of the year – except during the spring and early summer, when there is too much water!
Farmers gradually mastered this challenging environment by developing irrigation techniques, beginning around 5000 BC. This created a wonderfully productive agriculture, lead to the rise of the first civilizations in world history, those of the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt in the Nile Valley, and certainly of the Phoenician Canaanite in Lebanese coasts.
Large parts of the Middle East lie within a hot, dry zone, where rainfall is insufficient to grow crops such as wheat and barley. »
The Middle East was by this time dominated by large and powerful states, and the relationships between them as they competed with one another for power and influence. For the first time in world history, a group of major powers were involved in a long-lasting system of alliances, in which sophisticated diplomacy regulated the relationships between them. This alliance system was underpinned by marriage agreements and exchanges of gifts, and the territories between the leading powers were partitioned into spheres of influence. When these alliances were not able to contain the aggression of one power or another, war broke out, on a scale not seen before. An exceedingly gifted and widely cultivated soil further pushed this region to become the cradle of civilizations.
The highest point of the Bronze-Age civilization in the Middle East brought with her two major cultural and technological advances: Iron and the Alphabet. Between Iron the symbol of war, destruction and death, and the Alphabet the icon of understanding, dialogue and Diplomacy the Middle East fall down in chaos and wars.
Phoenicians emerge, being a trading people, having literate merchants and craftsmen was a valuable asset, they pioneered long-distance trade routes as far as Spain, and even into the Atlantic, eventually reaching southern Britain. They grew prosperous and wealthy on the proceeds of trade, but they would also transmit the use of the alphabet to the peoples of the Mediterranean, they helped prevailing stable conditions in a puzzled region. Until two other people emerged into the light of history of that time: The Philistines had come to the region as part of the Sea Peoples, and settled in a confederacy of five city-states on the coast of Canaan, and the other were the Israelites. These had invaded Palestine sometime in the troubled times. They had formed a loose coalition of tribes before being united under one king. The Israelites had brought with them the first (as far as we know) monotheistic religion in world history.
In the Middle East, in the Semitic tradition, various monotheism values was born and which, beliefs “revealed religions”, claimed with universal and which, from the eschatological point of view, gave each other the mission of converting all humanity. Jesus and his disciples were taken in their God of the twelve tribes of Israel a religion intended for all the men and constituted it in Church. Later, to the 7th century, out of Arab ground, Islam preached a strict monotheism; being based on Koran, which, divine word, were not to be translated, its proselytism diffused a religion offering the ideal of a single human community. A religion is a set of principles that provides structure to that faith.
These religions however adapted to the historical circumstances and the national cultures which accommodated them. Buddhism, which disappeared then from the Indian sub-continent, extended to all Asia located east of Iran. The monotheism Christian (in the shape nestorienne of the Church of the East) and Manichean extended their Churches in Central Asia, in the cold steppes and as far as China; the Manichaeism became official religion of the kingdom Ouïgour to the 7th century.
But they yielded in front of the expansion of the Islam, which reached even the Southeast Asia to the 14th century.
The Middle East is the cradle of the three monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The common theme of monotheism, or the belief in one God, along with their shared History in the Middle East, has tied these religious traditions together. They shared a number of features outside this central tenet of monotheism, particularly in focus on law, social justice and eschatology (Life after Death). Furthermore, religion and religious have been a key theme in the Middle Eastern political life of today. The crisis in the Middle East brings matters of faith and religion to the front. In my opinion, the mistaken Arab conviction that faith is the belief that man isn’t the be-all and the end-all of existence and that knowing and doing God’s will is the purpose of that existence, is the key difficulty. The major monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, began in the Middle East and spread from there. Beneath the surface they play a major role in animating what’s evolving in the region now.
The Middle East is the cradle of the three monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The common theme of monotheism, or the belief in one God, along with their shared History in the Middle East, has tied these religious traditions together. »
Indeed the Middle East is not only the cradle of the three great monotheistic world religions; it also seems to be the area most intensely affected by the present global resurgence in religions. One of the reasons is undoubtedly historical, in the past, except for Turkey, secularization was either the product of colonial influence or failed political movements (Nationalism, Socialism). For this reason alone despite Westernization and Globalization, religious structures of thought and action have retained a central role in public consciousness and the self –identity of the state, both in the Arab-Islamic world and Israel, albeit for different reasons.
Late 19th century early 20th century the Arab awakening embark from Egypt to discover and reach its fertile soil in Lebanon. The Arab “Nahda” Arab Renaissance is often regarded as a period of intellectual modernization and reform, it was a cultural reform program that was as « autogenetic » as it was Western inspired, linked to the Ottoman Tanzimat and internal changes in political economy and communal reformations. The Egyptian “Nahda” was articulated in purely Egyptian terms, and Cairo was undoubtedly the geographical center of the movement. With “El Mouaalim” the Master Boutros El Boustany a polyglot, educator, and activist, he was a “tour de force” in the Arab “Nahda” centered in mid-nineteenth century in Beirut, from where he led an embedded astute procession for change and renaissance, and opened the door to an eminent number of Lebanese influential Christians in all living fields to offer the Arab world a spacious cultural and political outlook, to offer this region what once handled to world civilization. They were the only ones to hold such foremost pioneering mission, a mission that needed awareness, education and openness. Mastering languages, literature and philosophy they stitched an insightful cultural net with the west. They bring up about: Literature, arts, philosophy, sociology and politics. With them the region that hibernated for 500 years under the Ottoman Empire, in darkness, fear and isolation, started to see the sun. They brought and introduced theories and ideas, that shacked the entire Arab world, and we started to witness unorthodoxy in life education: religious debates, free newspapers and journalism, fresh bright literature, social gathering and Political speculation as well as some political parties, instigating: Nationalism, Arabism and Liberalism. Even though not fair enough and it appeared to be meaningless, Arab renaissance imposed some reforms, but led as a riposte to more restraining steps to reach inflicting death penalty and hanging on some free minds, enemies of the nation.
The enemy is always here, always present in the Arab mind, his shadow never leave this region, but what if? We will create one and certainly will be more ferocious and way lot more destructive:
“Trace onto the face of the enemy the greed,
hatred, carelessness you dare not claim as
Obscure the sweet individuality of each face.
Erase all hints of the myriad loves, hopes,
fears that play through the kaleidoscope of
every infinite heart.
Twist the smile until it forms the downward
arc of cruelty.
Strip flesh from bone until only the
abstract skeleton of death remains.
Exaggerate each feature until man is
metamorphasized into beast, vermin, insect.
Fill in the background with malignant
figures from ancient nightmares – devils,
demons, myrmidons of evil.
When your icon of the enemy is complete
you will be able to kill without guilt,
slaughter without shame.”
Sam Keen, Faces of the enemy.
For Arab rulers’ enemy-making and warfare are both social institutions and biological imperatives, they thrive on external as well as internal stages, and once the external is temporary out of sight the internal should be tolerable and should be confronted until vanished. Lot of sleeping viruses were implemented and injected, by Arab authoritarian regimes themselves, in the body of the Arab society consecutively to later on be extracted upon need and request.
With the extinction of the Ottoman Empire the “Sick man”, the internal enemy of Arab rulers’ has been modified more than once, fighting Sykes-Picot mandate, the annihilation of Arab monarchy, to the struggle against religious authority, to fighting the Arab traditional outdated minds, religious fundamentalism, the fear from Marxism, the refusal of liberalism… A fierce and bloody fictive war, that changed nothing other than it increased despotism, fears and death, moreover it diminished and reduced freedom and democracy. Almost all Arab public figures, in personal deficiency of factual democracy and looking forward to maintain authority, explored and legalized all twisted political means as their legitimate effective weapons. Not only they created an eternal internal enemy but they looked to an outward one, more powerful and lot more awful to fear of, from Sykes- Picot until nowadays Imperialism and Zionism maintained their ranking as the number one and only enemy of Arab people and I meant it, since both Imperialism and Zionism has shown to be the number one ally to all Arab defected regimes and Arab rulers.
Incorporated mistakes, integral oversights and first and foremost the lack of education and culture reigned over the region, dark gray clouds announcing the coming of Arab Autumn and the fall of tree leaves.
Personalization of the authority turn out to be the deficient product of ignorance, the governor is the one and only, the savior, the hero of all times and before all the erudite, his presence is the outmost public need, his dearth mean the annihilation of the nation and allow him to walk-off mean to leave civilians to befall victims of a potential ferocious beast coming from outside the borders as well as the one who lay down under our own skin. Beasts like Monarchy at first and came after: Nationalism, Communism, Liberalism, Fundamentalism…To preserve and maintain such award of personalization one need to develop some related skills.
A fierce and bloody fictive war, that changed nothing other than it increased despotism, fears and death, moreover it diminished and reduced freedom and democracy. »
The atomization and fragmentation of the society, one of needed skills, was the everyday pastime of Arab politicians and their closest circlet, cultivated scarce in a region of plenty, illiteracy in the land of civilizations, hatred in the cradle of religions, fears in the space of human convergence, giving birth to tribes with meticulous flags, tribes lead by the most powerful and wealthy one which is known to be the « State » in modern terminology and still the tribe in Arab terms. Unquestionably, Arab rulers seem more concerned about their political survival than exacting genuine societal reforms. Regimes in Arabic-speaking countries have demonstrated, however, an astonishing capacity for resisting meaningful political change and the question of succession preoccupy many if not all the rulers and the Islamist factions of opposition seem predisposed and inclined to cause further instability and tyranny, the Muslim brotherhood experience in Egypt adding up ISIS and El Nousra front between Syria and Iraq are a vigorous examples of an old despotism that had witnessed the Arab world.
In the daily drumbeat of Middle East news, there is one story of historic proportion that is nearly unreported: the growing persecution and systematic destruction in the Islamic world of some of the world’s oldest Christian communities. We hear when a Catholic bishop is murdered in Iraq, when machete-armed fanatics attack Egyptian Copt worshipers and burned churches, or when churches are torched in Hamas-controlled Gaza, about pastors sentenced to death in Iran. But what about the jailing in Saudi Arabia of foreign workers for holding forbidden Christian prayers? ISIS and the Christians of Mosel and Ninawa in Iraq? Or the continuing Islamic educational system that teaches the young that Christians (as well as Jews) are “the descendants of apes and pigs”?
Yet even in lands that are not under orthodox Sharia law, Christian communities feel the pressure of persecution. In constitutionally secular Turkey, a legally recognized Protestant church in the capital of Ankara is under threat of closure by local Islamist police. Across the Middle East attacks against the Christians and other religious minorities are escalating. Radical Islamists are targeting non Muslims, their homes and their places of worship for violence. The very existence of these ancient communities is threatened.
Many Christians in Islamic lands have become subject to such terror that they are fleeing the homelands their ancestors have known almost since the time of Jesus. Iraq’s Christian sects now feel forced to pray in secret. Others simply leave. Although they comprise less than four percent of Iraq’s population, Iraqi Christians now account for 40 per cent of its refugees. Lebanon’s once politically powerful Christian community has already shrunken almost beyond recognition. Thirty years ago, Lebanon was 60% Christian; today it is barely 25%. The growing political power of Iran-backed Hezbollah is encouraging further departures.
Even in the Holy Land, where Jesus walked, there is an increasing Christian exodus from both the West Bank and Gaza. Part of it surely stems from the continuing Palestinian- Israeli conflict. But much of it results from a growing Islamic campaign to force Christians to sell their property and leave. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was once 90% Christian. Today it has a 65% Muslim majority.
In a world where mostly are Muslims, minorities lost the feeling of belonging, lost being sheltered, precisely Christians, who has dropped dramatically over time, they became tired from years and years of persecution, of despotism, of intolerant ideologies, of being traumatized, of severe freedom violations, of a blare future and an uncertain fate.
Lebanon’s once politically powerful Christian community has already shrunken almost beyond recognition. Thirty years ago, Lebanon was 60% Christian; today it is barely 25%. »
The dilemma reside typically in the fact that the Christians has lost their major role and their leading responsibility toward this region, exhausted they gave up and they let themselves being exploited as governing apparatus in the hands of any authority or ruler even though such a role and at the long term turned against them and that is what we are witnessing at this crucial moments of the Middle East, allying themselves with the Arab secular dictatorship of the late mid nineteenth century made them the rivals of nowadays Arab Islamist fundamentalism, and they paid twice the huge price of their shortsighted planning and their false choices. With the firsts they lost the Freedom which is the oxygen of their life, with the seconds they lost their Spiritual Identity and losing both made them a skeleton with no soul, a walking dead. Nevertheless, Christians with no soul imply a cynical region and death sooner or later will reach over other constituents of the Middle East even those who believe that they own the land and who lives on it. Christians with no soul means a Middle East with no soul and with a defected body.
Facing every part of this bloody creepy puzzle, Christians must believe in themselves as being the roots and never as newcomers , as missionaries and not subjects, they must believe that they do not need to search outside the borders for any foreign protection stranger to the State and its principles and by no means on its expense, but what they truly need is to grasp what they have years ago missed, their pioneering « Peace Mission », they should cultivate: culture, understanding, dialogue and non violence.
Looking outside toward the west, a frozen international community with no compassion of no kind toward Arab issues: European overall handicap, however turning in the direction of the USA, one should keep in mind that we in this region of the world we are paying the price of a confused American policy, no other interests to the USA than protecting Israel and its allies between the Arab regimes even though Arab citizens are the ones to pay the enormous price, and we should never underestimate the huge economical interests of the Arab oil. Interests for the USA are what matters most and there is no place for human empathy and with no doubt Arabs were unable since Sykes-Pico and until nowadays to show and offer to the western world the civilized face and no essential values to human civilization, in other words Arabs couldn’t sell any of their products to the so called civilized world, the world of interests.
As John Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University said: « This is a watershed moment in terms of the issue of democracy, rights for all people regardless of their religion, including the rights of Muslims. … For people who are minorities, vis a vis the powers that be, they face a very tough time. »
Outside the box, Christians need to induce the west to work on correcting all defective, faulty decisions taken in the region, disband the eternal alliance with Arab Dictatorship and of what is remaining of it and I mean Assad Baathist regime, to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict that generated wars, extremism and injustice. Our true rescue would be in being all together.
Arab rulers who used to « cry wolf », they repeatedly tricked western public opinion and Arab citizens into thinking that the enemy is on the door and the wolf is attacking their flocks, when actually one of their injected viruses appeared and they called for help, no help came believing that it is another false alarm, false call for help, after all the virus ate the flocks and their shepherds.
But the question remains to know what we really need for the Middle East and the Arab world?
You know, « I would suggest to you to fly to the Middle East, come and see Israel for the embattled democracy that it is, and then take a bus tour, go to Libya, go to Syria, go to Iraq, and see the difference. And I would give you two pieces of advice, one is, make sure it’s an armor-plated bus, and second, don’t say that you’re Christians ».
A reality ensuing from gathering external mistakes as much as internal liabilities. Confused policy, conflicting interests, slighted human values, double standards, bargaining, money and influence are more than enough to describe last decades.
Two Thousand years of history are going to be wiped out because west cowardice and weakness, because Arab ignorance and arrogance. Christians and Muslims have the duty to face the current danger together, to transmit to future generations a Middle East free of such a curse, by illuminating the consciences and the intelligences and by inviting the faithful to respect the essence of religion, far from any exploitation that it can do so for personal reasons, or to achieve regional or international goals. Arabs, Christians and Muslims have no choice other than to regain the spirit of unity, to discover the benefits of the diversity which is the distinctive mark of our Levant and to accept each other in their different ways of life, in mutual respect and in the civic equality. The development of dialogue between moderate Christian scholars, intellectuals, and organizations and their Muslim counterparts, but dialogue is insufficient in itself and do not produce the magical solution; it must go above formalities and thoughtful procedures to deal with difficult issues that will eventually involve a fundamental change of perception in the Muslim camp, dialogue most unwrap and invade the danger zone, leading to an acceptance of Arab Christians as the political equals of the Muslims. Muslim clerics in turn need to pay more than lip service to interfaith dialog, their genuine work lies in promoting a new value system among their constituencies, one that sees religious differences as an individualistic privilege and as a source of cultural enrichment, not contention or antagonism. Christians must believe themselves as citizens not subjects, It also requires the recognition, that the Christians in the Middle East are an inseparable part of the cultural identity of Muslims, and the Muslims in the Middle East are an inseparable part of the identity of Christians. In this vein, we are responsible to each other facing God and history. Without a daring Arab public leadership willing to implement Democracy, Economic Liberalization and Human Rights, tensions will continue to increase and threaten the fragile fiber of Arab society. Genuine steps forward will only get nearer with legitimate political transformation. Participatory democracy, greatly lacking in the Muslim Arab world, is the real answer to minority problems. Democracy allows for pluralism, which enables minorities to fully immerse themselves in their own cultural and religious preferences, without losing touch with the larger political arena.
Arabs, Christians and Muslims have no choice other than to regain the spirit of unity, to discover the benefits of the diversity which is the distinctive mark of our Levant and to accept each other in their different ways of life, in mutual respect and in the civic equality.
Despite these long and deep difficulties, change is nonetheless possible. Christians and Muslims must work for a resilient Democracy, insightful Justice and an elaborated Peace. Arab Muslims must encourage and assist a foremost leading responsibility of Arab Christians, the Muslim political and religious elites have to initiate and to prepare the masses for this eventuality and prospect. Christians must light the Arab world future path, they must pilot and guide the caravan in this desert.
* Mehssen Macary is a Professor and a private policy consultant, negotiating strategy and diplomacy. He began his career as a lawyer, a profession he practiced for almost 8 years before getting into advanced training. Mehssen holds a BA from the Holy Spirit University of Jounieh, a Masters from the University of Beirut, a Masters in negotiation strategy and diplomacy of the University Jean Monnet (Paris-Sceaux) and a doctorate (PhD) from Harvard Law School.
Since January 2014, it is also Ambassador of Cultures & Beliefs in Lebanon. To contact him, please write us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mehssen Macary, « A Storm in the House: the Middle East in the vicious circle « , in: www.cultures-and-croyances.com, English Side – Perspective, in september 2014.