Middle East Christians: Turning the other cheek is not enough
Chaldean Detroit Times July 1, 2013
By Ray Hanania
Christians from the Middle East, Arab and non-Arab, are very tolerant people. We turn the other cheek when we are insulted by others.
But what do we do when we are ignored, marginalized and treated as if we don’t exist?
What we should do is organize. That’s one thing we really have failed to do. Although we have organized locally around our churches and through some organizations, Christians from the Middle East really have no distinct and clear voice to represent their interests.
That’s one reason why Christians are so easily abused, disrespected, marginalized and ignored.
As the hate and discrimination against Christians in the Middle East continues to escalate in Israel, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and in other countries, we need to set aside our differences and come together to defend our people.
Over the years, I have watched as the once secular Arab movement to defend the rights of all people in the Middle East has collapsed under sectarian pressures. Today, instead of having groups that broadly represent Christians, Muslims and non-Arab Middle Eastern peoples like Chaldeans and Assyrians, we have individual groups that are smaller and weaker.
We have seen the rise instead of a strong voice for Muslims under the Islamic banner like CAIR. Groups like CAIR have embraced secular issues like liberating Palestine and the fight for freedom in Iraq, but they have done it with a narrow religious focus that has excluded Christian participation.
Christians are victims of the problems in the Middle East so we need to be a part of the solution.
That means that if the Arab and Middle East groups are going to separate, then we need to come together as a Christian group to champion our rights.
What are our rights?
First and foremost is the protection of our religious institutions like our churches. Despite expressions of support from Muslim and Jewish groups, attacks against Christian Churches in the Middle East have increased dramatically.
Second, we must demand equality. If Muslims and Arab countries believe it is proper for a Christian to convert to Islam, then those some people must also recognize that it is the absolute right of a Muslim to convert to Christianity.
This is one of the most abused and sensitive issues we face. There is a double standard involving Christians in the Muslim World. Muslims often proclaim how Christians and Muslims are “brothers.” But when a Muslim converts to Christianity, they are immediately targeted, brutalized, slandered and even murdered.
This must stop.
Third, violence contradicts the teachings of Jesus, whom Christians believe is more than just a prophet. He is the “Son of God” who was sent down to Earth to assume the sins of the world to give people a chance for everlasting life.
That is a core principle in Christian belief. We don’t need to apologize for that belief. We don’t need to be ashamed of that belief. Instead, we should insist that our believes are respected.
That does not mean we look down upon Muslims or Jews. We do not. We respect them. We respect their rights. But we also respect the rule of law and the fundamental principles of civil rights, which is the foundation of true freedom. You cannot have Democracy in the Arab Spring if that Democracy does not embrace the rights of individuals to make their own choices about their own lives.
Additionally, the “Arab” is not a religious entity. It is a culture, a social existence. Arabs are neither Muslim nor are they Christian. That means that countries that claim to be Arab must give Christians equal status in their lands.
That means that Arab governments must recognize the rights of Christians not as a minority but as equals in the eyes of the law.
I don’t expect an organization like CAIR to champion or advocate for the rights of Christians. That is not their responsibility. It is the responsibility of Christians to speak out on behalf of themselves.
That means that it is no longer enough to simply have our religious leaders sermonize from the pulpit. They must become active organizers. They must become active advocates who will fight for the rights of Middle Eastern Christians.
When people criticize the anti-Christian attacks taking place in Egypt against Coptic Christians, it’s not enough o have Coptic Christian leaders express outrage. That outrage must be embraced by every Christian.
We need a Middle East Christian organization that brings together the Antiochian Orthodox Christians, the Maronite Christians, the Catholics, the Protestants, the Coptic Christians and even the Greek Orthodox Christians, and all of the other Christian and ethnic groups including Christian Arabs and Chaldeans and Assyrians, Phoenicians and more.
Our differences give us strength when we combine into one inclusive voice.
In the end, when it comes to advocating for Middle Eastern rights here in the United States, we must recognize that Christians from the Middle East have a special advantage above all others. America is a Christian country. Christians from the Middle East can better identify with the majority of Americans.
If Christians from the Middle East stand up and speak out for themselves, they can then use that power to persuade their American Christian brothers to better understand the real issues in the Middle East from Palestine to Iraq.
Let’s not just turn another cheek this time. Let’s turn a page in our history and fight for our rights with the power of the Christian spirit.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. Reach him at http://www.TheMediaOasis.com and follow him on Twitter at @RayHanania.)