We seek to keep you literally "updated" on movement in terms of truth and justice in the Middle East in general with a particular eye on Palestine. The links below will take you to various articles and websites that offer the perspective of leaders in the religious, NGO, and human rights communities. Additionally, Al-Bushra, ever vigilant, provides links to regular reporting as well as opinion pieces by journalists. The dates given here indicate when the link was posted; the most recent posting is at the top. Check the article itself for the date the information was released by the source.

Monday, May 28, 2012

We do not ‘exist’ but we are here. The life of the Catholics in Turkey

Interview with Msgr. Louis Pelâtre, Vicar Apostolic of Istanbul

We do not ‘exist’ but we are here.  The life of the Catholics in Turkey

How is the life of the Catholic community in Turkey proceeding?

I came here over forty years ago and I have been bishop for twenty years. The situation has greatly changed, evolving quite positively it seems to me, even if this does not mean of course that things are going in the direction in which we would like them to go. We have to be patient but there are some positive signs. For example, some days ago we were invited as Catholic bishops to participate in the consultations for the new constitution. Personally I do not have any particular hopes with regard to this, but the gesture in itself was highly significant: this invitation meant that they consider the fact that we exist, which is what we have been asking for some time now. At first they had invited the Orthodox and Armenian Patriarchs, while we Catholics had been ignored. Then the ambassador of Turkey to the Holy See pointed out this anomaly and asked for us to be consulted too. And that is how it was: we were received with great kindness and were able to explain our situation. Here in Turkey the problem lies above all in the question of the ownership of the churches, and not so much in the relations with the local population which are good. Our difficulties are mainly of a juridical nature: what we have been claiming for decades is the recognition of the legal status of the Catholic Church in Turkey, as we do not juridically exist here. Undoubtedly we must admit that the situation is similar in many other countries too. With respect to our repeated requests, they answered that what can be done and changed will be evaluated, but that it is a problem that cannot be resolved at the level of rewriting the constitution.

We shall wait and see how the question evolves, but we certainly cannot deny that this invitation was very positive. I am French and I notice many similarities between the Turkish constitution and that of France, which does not recognise the legal personality of the Catholic Church either and for this reason it is organised in the form of an association. This allows it to carry out various legal proceedings, like purchasing, selling, renting … These are not the privileges that the Catholics in Turkey are asking for, I would like to firmly stress, but rights equal to those of the other citizens.

The change that has taken place and is in a certain sense taking place also to the advantage of the Christians, has paradoxically been triggered off by a party with evident Islamic reference. What is your opinion about this? 

To a certain extent this is true, but the AKP, “of justice and development”, Erdoğan’s party, is not an ‘Islamist’ party. The media use this expression in order to simplify matters. Erdoğan and his party won by appealing to the people’s convictions and their Muslim identity. However this phenomenon can be better understood by considering for example what happened in France after World War I. We Catholics underwent great pressure and had to live as if we did not exist. The same thing happened to the Muslims in Turkey to a certain extent. Erdoğan bet on them, the Muslim Turks who are proud to be so, and used their attachment to traditions and won the elections. Does that mean that he is Islamist? No, it means taking cognisance of the fact that the believers too have had the right to express and show themselves in his favour…

What do you think about Erdogan’s party?

I can say that the AKP party is not homogenous as within it there are the right and left wings and the centre. The political leaders have to take the different currents into account everywhere. In Turkey’s case it must be said that Erdoğan is a clever politician who knows how to keep the various souls together.

Have you ever met him personally?

I only met him on a number of occasions when he was mayor of Istanbul. Our relations have always been cordial. In my opinion, if he has won the elections it is because he demonstrated that he was better than the others: he knows how to speak to the people directly and simply. Vast shades of meaning and difficult speeches are not what is needed to win the elections. Democracy is this: the population chooses the people that it wants to be governed by. The point is that they could do with a well-organised opposition, but unfortunately it does not exist. Turkey does not escape the universal laws of the democratic game.

Do you think that Turkey is completely democratic?

While the democracy is not that solid, it must however be said that over the last years regular elections have taken place. The population votes and yes, one can say that Turkey is a democratic country.

During your forty years spent in Turkey have you noticed an increase in religious fanaticism?

Today, with this government making state secularity and the laws modelled on it less rigid, one can see a certain change with respect to forty years ago when I came here: there is a more explicit showing of religious symbols, for example the number of veiled women has grown with respect to the past….

Do you think that this is harmful for Turkish society? 

Not for the time being. It is not dangerous if women wear a veil, but whether they are forced to do so by ideologies imported from abroad or even paid to do so. The true issue is freedom.

Are there really cases of women paid to wear a veil and to make propaganda therefore?

Some people say that even this is going on. But I am convinced that this level of fanaticism is not part of the real Turkey, but comes rather from other Muslim countries.

Are they so influential here?

They try to influence society, but for the time being they have not managed to do so. We must nonetheless be careful and always be ready to defend ourselves.

How do you consider the progress of Turkey’s adhesion process to the European Union?

The Turks were extremely motivated at the beginning, but now they are tired because they do not understand the European attitude and are asking themselves whether their adhesion is wanted or not. Some are asking the question: ‘If they don’t want us, why insist?’. Others think that a state like Turkey has no need to enter the European Union and consider the present situation a true injustice towards them. They do not understand why countries that applied for entry after Turkey like Bulgaria or Romania have already become part of the EU. The Turks are proud and feel humiliated by the behaviour of some states. A certain disinterest can now be detected among the people on this subject, while the government continues its march to obtain recognition. In any case many people believe that even if the formal accession to the Union is never reached, other ways will be found. For example I heard a businessman saying: ‘Turkey is already in fact in Europe, and it does not matter if it is not yet at the level of community institutions. The cultural, commercial and customs agreements that have been stipulated work well’. If Europe does not want to grant access to Turkey, these entrepreneurs claim, it will be Europe that will lose us and not Turkey. Islam is feared in Europe, that is the point’.

Do you think that the situation of the minorities might improve with the accession of Turkey to the EU?

Without any doubt. The Orthodox Patriarch Bartolomeos and the Armenian Patriarch have declared to be openly in favour of the accession of Turkey to Europe. And together with them we hope that the adhesion might foster the solution to our problems.

What does the fact that the Catholic Church is not legally recognised in Turkey mean for the actual daily life of the faithful?

In the ordinary life of the single faithful this does involve particular problems, while it makes the life of the Church difficult insofar as an institution. A simple example: I am the Vicar Apostolic here, Bishop of this diocese, but I cannot open up a bank account in the name of the diocese, as the diocese ‘does not exist’ legally. I am forced to open a personal account and this is rather inconvenient. The property situation is just as unclear: all our churches existed before the Republic, after which the situation got radically more complex. I am not even sure that a possible future legal recognition could resolve this situation in one go. All the aspects regarding ownership need to be clarified and regulated.

But if this recognition of the legal statute cannot be included in the constitution, what do they propose by way of solution? 

They propose to pass a law. But in my opinion it will be very difficult for this to happen. How can one imagine the parliament of a state as big as Turkey debating a bill concerning a minority which is very little known to the people outside Istanbul? I think that as Catholics we should pursue another way, based on the French example: in France the Catholic Church, which is not recognised as legal person, has established itself in diocesan associations having a legal status.

What is the situation like with regard to religious freedom?

We have freedom of worship, but religious freedom is more than this. Here we do not have the right, for example, to set up a youth association as it would have no legal value. In fact they force us to shut ourselves off in an enclosure and basically, in my opinion, they fear proselytism. The Turks do not want a Turkish Catholic Church.

Are there any converts? And do they have problems with their families?

Yes, the few converts have problems with their families of origin that do not accept their conversion.

Source:  http://www.oasiscenter.eu/en/node/8039

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Oasis is born, a subject, an instrument

Angelo Scola

Years ago in a meeting with some Catholic bishops from Islamic countries, the necessity of having adequate cultural tools to nourish Christians in those lands was revealed. Writings by thinkers such as Guardini or De Lubac, Guitton or Lewis, are for the most part not available in Arabic and access to them remains difficult. There is always English or French, often used by those with at least a minimum level of education, but these occidental languages are difficult to use for the necessary process of enculturation in the faith. Language is not a mere instrument for understanding, but an irreplaceable medium of comparison and an indispensable factor for personalization and communion without which it is difficult to give the faith substance and, above all else, to give body to a Church.

May 6th 2001, the Holy Father, during his encounter with the Muslim community in the courtyard of the Great Ommayyad Mosque in Damascus, affirmed that «places of prayer are dear to both Christians and Muslims as an oasis in which one meets with the Merciful God along the walk towards eternal life and with one's brothers and sisters in the bond of religion». The image of the Oasis as a place of rest, respite and peace, which allows us to meet with God and our brothers, is offered to us as a precise direction for work.

From these two circumstances the idea of creating a tool was slowly born: the review Oasis.

The original intent was to meet the cultural thirst of Christians living in Muslim countries, and this intent has gone on to develop further.

A preliminary enlargement of our objectives was what might be called the quantitative-geographical one. We thought about also using the Urdu language in order to reach people in Pakistan. Without renouncing recourse to other languages in the future (Indonesian, for example), this seemed to be a first, realistic compromise between an ideal perspective of diffusion and the current possibilities.

When the editing technicians went to work, we were progressively led towards a further enlargement of our horizons. Thinking of our audience, we saw that it would be useful to create four different bilingual versions, respectively Italian-Arabic, French-Arabic, English-Arabic and English-Urdu. This led us to make the initial objective qualitatively more precise. We discovered that Oasis should aim to favour an organic theological-cultural exchange between Christians (without excluding members of other religions) in the Anglophone, Francophone and Italian areas of Europe and those in the Middle East, North-Africa, Arabic and Urdu-speaking areas.

Oasis, as a group and expressive tool, can in some way favour the birth of a communion group whose protagonists are Christians from the West, the Middle and Far East, and Africa. This will lead us to listen to each other, know each other and understand each other. An important consequence of this will be to help us confront the "Muslim" phenomenon and more generally the phenomenon of the great religions. At the same time, such a tool will educate the baptised living in traditionally Christian countries to meet with Muslims and people of other faiths who, now numerous, live in Europe and the Americas.

The objective of Oasis is certainly ambitious and complex. If we do not want to give in to the intellectual temptation to think it sufficient to provide interpretive keys, the review must be the expression of a communitarian group focused on taking the road of common work.

This group is fundamentally represented by the Promotional Committee, the Scientific Committee, the Editors of the review, and the Studium Generale Marcianum, agent of the Church of Venice which has assumed the role of directly promoting the project itself.

In a nutshell, Oasis would like to be the cultural expression of a network of relations arising within the communio catholica, which knows how to assume the work and responsibilities expected of Christian faithful today with the ever pressing horizon of the relationship between East and West. Its catholic identity recognises ecumenism, theology of religions, inter-religious dialogue and the opening up to all cultures as inalienable and intrinsic dimensions of its own nature.

Everyone is aware that from 2000 to today the geopolitical situation in the Middle East and Muslim countries has worsened notably. The gravity of the international crisis, because of terrorism and war, is obvious to everyone. In many countries the situation for the Christian communities has been very trying.

We are convinced that the first and final task is to try to know and understand. It becomes more evident each day how complex the historical and ecclesiastical predicament is in which we are living. It cannot be defined exhaustibly by the simple categories of conflict between ethnicities, cultures and religions. Together we need to find other dimensions for understanding the expectation which underlies this new mixing of peoples to which the Author of history seems to be calling humanity. If we may be permitted a bold metaphor, we should speak of the inevitable proposal of a sort of "hybridisation of civilizations" so that the meeting is not transformed inevitably into conflict. Hybridisation in the metaphorical sense of the mixing cultures and spiritual facts which are produced when different civilizations enter into contact. What's more, we have in common that human nature on which the family of peoples is based.

Personally we hold that categories such as reciprocity, tolerance and integration -markedly Western- are revealing themselves to be insufficient. Not so much for the values they point to, but for that which they are unable to think and communicate. If considered attentively, they are categories in which one can hide, especially in the West, the temptation to save individual liberty and the organisation of peoples from the urgency of exposing oneself in the first person. Such categories might be useful for signalling the limits of human survival, but not for thinking about the bases of this new planetary interpenetration which needs a new order and world government. In another context, the acute Lewis affirmed that «equality protects life, but it does not nourish it. It is a medicine, not the nutriment». To speak of tolerance, reciprocity and integration, in fact, is no longer sufficient.

One category which it seemed necessary to introduce is that of testimony. Testimony immediately puts every man and woman into play, calling them to expose themselves, to pay in person, to not decide beforehand where the encounter and dialogue will stop.

But one must know how to translate it into realistic cultural forms and terms, social and political forms which look to the good life of peoples and the good of the Church. These are objectives to pursue without utopian and intellectual flights. We are perfectly conscious of the audacity of the enterprise we have proposed. But we also have much faith in it.


Angelo Scola, Oasis is born, a subject, an instrument , «Oasis» [on-line], 1 | January 2005, on-line since 20 April 2009 visited on 23 May 2012.
URL: http://www.oasiscenter.eu/node/1055

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Patriarch of Jerusalem on Hope in Our Lady for a Solution in the Mideast

As a Native of Nazareth, Mary Is 'Our Parishioner'

By Salvatore Cernuzio

CROTONE, Italy, MAY 21, 2012, (Zenit.org).- The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, visited the southern Italian city of Crotone last week, to render homage to the Madonna of Capocolonna, a long standing devotion in the city.

After a press conference on May 17, Patriarch Twal spoke with ZENIT about the situation in the Middle East.

ZENIT: Beatitude, you have said that Jerusalem has a specific vocation: to be a city of peace. What, today, is impeding its fulfilling this vocation?

Patriarch Twal: As all human vocations, it is not always attainable, because of the human will and liberty. It is necessary to remember then that in Jerusalem there is not only the spiritual dimension that unites us all, but also private interests, politicians’ agenda and so many other factors that, coming together, impede the full attainment of peace. There are calm periods today, but true peace, that, namely, which gives full liberty of movement, full liberty of access to the Holy Places, full liberty to live to Christians of the Middle East, up to now has never existed.

ZENIT: What is the situation at present of Christians in the Holy Land, considering also the recent incidents of vandalism by some young Israelis of sacred symbols and images?

Patriarch Twal: It is these sad and lamentable events that unfortunately the Christians of Jerusalem have always had to suffer. The Christian Church in Jerusalem is almost 100% Arab and Christians are an integral part of the Arab and Palestinian population: they suffer and rejoice with the local population and aspire to the same objective, that is, peace.

Then we have Christian populations that have come from outside -- recently, for example, numerous Filipinos -- who arrive in Jerusalem for work, who find themselves in a vulnerable position because they could be expelled from one moment to the next. Because of this, the Church seeks to ensure them a good religious service and legal advice, to help them live and not forget their Christian identity.

ZENIT: You have said you are more “intensely concerned” about the phenomenon of emigration of the Christian population than by the immigration. So, does the “flight” of Christians from this land continue?

Patriarch Twal: Unfortunately yes. The exit of Christians from the Holy Lands can be described as a real “human hemorrage.” We suffer a lot because of this, because there are very few of us, hence, the departure of even a single person has its weight.

ZENIT: To what is all this due?

Patriarch Twal: To the occupation, to the political situation, to the difficult conditions of life, to the lack of work, of trust. It’s almost natural that this option to leave arises, because the only real and radical remedy – peace – is still very distant.

ZENIT: When the Christian population doesn’t leave, how does it react?

Patriarch Twal: In civil society, whether Israeli or Arab, there are numerous groups made up of hundreds of mothers who have lost their dearest relatives. They are not only Christian mothers, but Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian, of all nationalities, who come together because they are tired of the vendetta and the violence, and appeal only for peace. Besides them we have very many contemplative Congregations, whose members do not leave the walls of their monasteries, but, through constant prayer, make a stronger and more effective contribution.

ZENIT: Among the initiatives and projects that the Italian Episcopal Conference and the Holy See are carrying out, which are supported?

Patriarch Twal: The institutions, the schools, the universities first of all. Recently there was a project to which the Italian Cooperation contributed very well through Minister Frattini and Dr. Elisabetta Belloni, and the construction of dwellings for young Christian Palestinian couples. Projects of this sort are indispensable and I hope they will happen again.

Last year we instituted a university, thanks to the support of the Holy Father and of the Italian Episcopal Conference. At this point I wish to thank especially the Italians, for their closeness and sensitivity to Christians in the Middle East.

ZENIT: You are referring to the Catholic University in Jordan, inaugurated last Fall: a wish that was very dear to you, as well as the will of the Holy Father expressed in his visit of 2009. This morning, among other things, you also spoke of more than 105 Catholic schools present in Palestine. Can formation and education, therefore, be the key to a better future?

Patriarch Twal: Certainly! A person with a degree, well prepared, can guarantee to himself and to others a better future. Formation is a fundamental element: it means to prepare the new generations, to prepare, of course, more responsible leaders, to open the mind of young people to the novel, and to collaboration with others.

The population of Jordan also understood this, so much so that the university, although it opened its doors last October, now has 300 students.

ZENIT: What is the Patriarchate of Jerusalem committed to now?

Patriarch Twal: In all: from participation in the Synod of the New Evangelization of October and the meeting of Families at Milan, to the Pope’s visit to the Lebanon and to Dublin’s International Eucharistic Congress. Everything must begin again from Jerusalem!

ZENIT: One last question, almost an obligation in this Marian month: how is devotion to the Virgin lived in the Holy Land?

Patriarch Twal: We need Mary. We are vulnerable at this time and we are seeking help and protection. We certainly don’t entrust ourselves to the politicians; there is no hope with them. Instead, Our Lady has never disappointed us, because she is truly our Mother. In fact she is even more sensitive to our problems given that she is from Nazareth, hence one of our “parishioners.”

[Translation by ZENIT]

Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-34815?l=english

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Church Builds on 50 Years of Christian-Jewish Dialogue

Pontifical Angelicum University Hosts Conference on Nostra Aetate

By Ann Schneible

ROME, MAY 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The development of relations between Christians and Jews in the 50 years since Vatican II's Nostra aetate was the focus of a conference hosted today by the Pontifical Angelicum University.

The conference, titled "Building on 'Nostra aetate': 50 Years of Christian-Jewish Dialogue," was organized by the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue, in collaboration with the Russell Berrie Foundation.

Keynote speaker for the conference Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and president of the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews, explained the history and offered insight into the events leading up to the writing of the document, as well as the initiatives that have come forth in the decades since.
In his address, the Swiss-born cardinal explained that Nostra aetate can be seen as "the beginning of a systematic dialogue with the Jews. Still today," he continued, this document "is considered the 'founding document' and the 'Magna Carta' of the dialogue of the Roman Catholic Church with Judaism."

Nostra aetate, published just a couple decades after World War II, is in many ways the product of self-reflection in regards to anti-Semitism. "Following the mass murder of the European Jews planned and executed by the National Socialists with industrial perfection," the cardinal explained, "a profound examination of conscience was initiated about how such a barbaric scenario was possible in the Christian-oriented West."

"Must we assume," Cardinal Koch asked, "that anti-Jewish tendencies present within Christianity for centuries were complicit in the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, racially motivated and led astray by a godless and neo-pagan ideology, or simply allowing it to run its course? Among Christians too there were both perpetrators and victims; but the broad masses surely consisted of passive spectators who kept their eyes closed in the face of this brutal reality."

From the Christian point of view, coming to terms with the Holocaust was "one of the major motivations leading to the drafting of Nostra aetate."

Another significant event leading to the formulation of Nostra aetate was the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948. Since then, "the Catholic Church sees itself confronted in the Holy Land with the reality that it has to develop its pastoral life within a state which decidedly understands itself as Jewish. Israel is the only land in the world with a majority Jewish population, and for that reason alone the Christians living there must necessarily engage in dialogue with them."

"The fundamental principle of respect for Judaism expressed in  ‘Nostra aetate,’" explained Cardinal Koch, "has over the course of recent decades made it possible for groups who initially confronted one another with skepticism to step by step become reliable partners and even good friends, capable of coping with crises together and overcoming conflicts positively."

In the years following Vatican II, a number of documents have been released and initiatives have been established in order to encourage and fortify dialogue between the Church and members of the Jewish religion. "Over the past decades both the 'dialogue ad extra' and the 'dialogue ad intra' have led with increasing clarity to the awareness that Christians and Jews are dependent on one another and the dialogue between the two is far as theology is concerned is not a matter of choice but of duty. Jews and Christians are precisely in their difference the one people of God who can gain from this dialogue for its own purpose."

"For the Christian church," moreover, "it is certainly true that without Judaism it is in danger of losing its location with salvation history and in the end declining into unhistorical Gnosis."

Much of Blessed John Paul II's pontificate was marked by the great strides which he made in the area of interreligious dialogue. The former Pontiff's upbringing likely contributed to "passionate endeavors for Jewish-Christian dialogue," said Cardinal Koch, having been raised in a town that was at least one quarter Jewish. "Since everyday contact and friendship with Jews was taken for granted already in his childhood," he continued, "it was for him as Pope an important concern to maintain his friendship with a Jewish school friend, and to intensify the bonds of friendship with Judaism in general."

Differing in his manner of approach, Pope Benedict's engagement in interreligious dialogue effectively legitimizes the work of his predecessor from the perspective of theology. "While Pope John Paul II had a refined sense for grand gestures and strong images, Benedict XVI relies above all on the power of the word and humble encounter. That was given particularly clear expression during his visit to the memorial Yad Vashem when he deliberately referred to the name of this place and meditated on the God-given inalienability of the name of each individual person."

Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, Cardinal Koch concluded, will "never be unemployed, especially at the academic level, particularly since the epoch-making new course set by the Second Vatican Council regarding the relationship between Jews and Christians is naturally constantly being put to the test."

"We will therefore be grateful for every contribution made here to expand the dialogue with Judaism on the foundation of 'Nostra aetate,' and to arrive at a better understanding between Jews and Christians so that Jews and Christians as the one people of God bear witness to peace and reconciliation in the unreconciled world of today and can thus be a blessing not only for one another but also jointly for humanity."

Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-34789?l=english

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Christians hold Mass to mark Nakba day

Palestinians attend a Mass near Beit Jala to mark Nakba day May 11, 2012 (MaanImages/Jenny Baboun)

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinian Christians held a Mass Friday on the lands of the Cremisan monastery near Bethlehem, which is threatened by construction of Israel's separation barrier.

Rev. Ibrahim Shomali, the Roman Catholic parish priest of Beit Jala led the mass which was held to mark Nakba day and honor the hundreds of prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails.

Bishop Munib Younan, the president of the Lutheran World Federation and a Fatah leader, and Mahmoud al-Aloul, the Chilean consul, also joined along with the ambassadors of Chile and Brazil.

Al-Aloul said long-term hunger-strikers Thaer Halahla and Bilal Diab entered their 75th day without food, which he called "something beyond the human realm of comprehension."

Diab, 27, and Halahla, 33, are being held in a prison clinic because Israeli authorities refused to allow the prisoners society's lawyer to visit them. An Israeli Prison Service spokeswoman says the detainees are being treated and will be hospitalized "if it is necessary."

Younan said the hunger strikers were suffering but humans endure pain to regain their dignity.

He added that "Our weapons are not less than Israel’s weapons, as our weapon is to call for peace and to cling to the land, which breaks the occupation’s strategy."

Bishop Younan said "no Palestinian house was unaffected by the Nakba," referring to the exodus of some 750,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled during Israel's establishment.

He added that the Palestinian cause is not only a political issue, but a spiritual pursuit.

"We have to pray when someone denies the other their rights," Younan said.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Radicalization of Islam; Western Response

Father Khalil Samir, SJ, on a Solution

ROME, MAY 11, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir is an author and professor at the St. Joseph University in Lebanon in Catholic theology and Islamic studies and advisor to numerous Church and political leaders.

Mark Riedemann for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need interviews Father Samir about the increasing radicalization of Islam and the implications for western policy.

Q: Unfortunately we start to see an increasing radicalization in Islam. Why is this radicalization occurring and where is this leading us?

Father Samir: The radicalization started with the Muslim Brotherhood at the end of the 1920s – specifically with the end of the First World War and the fall of the Caliphate in 1923 -1924 in which the Ottoman Empire, the last Muslim empire, ended after 1,300 years. Additionally there was the secularization of Turkey. The Muslims did not know what to do. They asked themselves who is to be the new Caliph? Saudi Arabia, Egypt? They could not find anyone to take over this empire. A movement started which said: "We have to Islamize the Muslim countries. They are too westernized." And it was true: their juridical system was based on the systems in France, in Switzerland etc., and so they founded and started the Muslim Brotherhood, which was not very powerful then. Their intention was just to change the society toward something more Muslim. They started as a political movement within Egypt. Initially they refused violence absolutely, but with time, violence became part of the struggle against the Socialist revolution of Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood were persecuted, put in prison or killed. Then they started to organize the resistance and the opposition. They became, every year, more violent.

Q: But it did not remain just an Egyptian issue?

Father Samir: We have to remember that in 1948 the State of Israel was created. The Arab countries waged war against Israel. The war ended with all the Arab countries defeated by this small country. They were humiliated. They then said that this was due to the fact these countries were not Muslim enough; we now have to start the revolution. War after war was waged between Israel and the Arab world and every time it was a defeat for the Arab countries. Things began to change economically in 1973-1974, when there was a boom in the demand for petrol. The price of petrol increased four times and a lot of petrol dollars were suddenly available. What could these oil producing countries like Saudi Arabia do with this money? They built mosques and Islamic centers. In Egypt, they financed the building of thousands of schools and mosques. They are still doing that today.

Q: Is there a religious agenda and if yes, what is the purpose?

Father Samir: Yes. Wahhabism originates from the name of Abdal Wahhab who lived in 1780 who made an agreement with Prince Muhammad ibn Saud. He supported this prince and the prince adopted the religious ideology of Abdal Wahhab. There are four Sunni juridical schools in Islam. The most rigorous one is called Hanbali, which was practiced in Saudi Arabia at that time. Abdal Wahhab found even this Hanbali was not strict enough and so Wahhabism. It is the strictest practice of Islam. When Saudi Arabia was established at the beginning of the 20th century, this kind of Islam became the state religion which everyone was required to follow. With their money they exported this ideology, and so it was introduced in Egypt and in the 1990s in Algeria and Indonesia.

Q: So in simplistic terms, oil money from the US and Europe is fueling the expansion of radical Islam?

Father Samir: Absolutely and it is going on today; they have plenty of money and a vision, an ideology.

Q: The inter linking of politics and religion: in the West we experience secularization and a separation of Church and state. Is this possible in the Muslim world and how do we move to peace?

Father Samir: For the Muslim people who have not experienced secularization, almaniyyah means atheism. They cannot imagine a state without religion. Secularization for them means that religion is apart and is therefore atheism. I never use this word in Arabic. I say a “civil state," which does not mean that religion has no part.

Q: What is the approach then?

Father Samir: I think we must say to the Muslims and the Eastern Christians that religion is a very important part of public life, and this we want to keep. An example is Lebanon, which has more religion than anywhere else, but all religions are recognized and respected. Here is a proposal: We all believe in God. We have different approaches to God, the Muslim approach, the Christian and Jewish as well as other approaches. This is the proposal; we will not touch religion because it is too rooted in us, but we want citizenship. We are all citizens and we want equality.

Q: Is it too late? The Christians are leaving the Middle East. Is this trend reversible?
Father Samir: Yes, that is why we have hope and this is very important. We would like, before it is too late, to say "Stop"; we as Christians have a proposal, not a Christian proposal but a proposal for everyone. The proposal is, please, for all those who are willing to apply this proposal, don’t leave, whether you are Christian, Muslim or Jews, we have to build together a society based on human rights.

Q: …because today the Middle East, tomorrow Europe and the United States.
Father Samir: …because if it is not done today and you don’t help us realize this project, Europe and the US be forewarned that today the radical Muslims are here but tomorrow they will come to you. They will attack you as colonialist and imperialist; these words are often used because it is expedient. You will be labelled as the bad one; you’ve put us in this situation and now we shall take revenge upon you.

Q: But violence cannot be the answer…

Father Samir: We cannot fight an ideology with bombs. It provokes more anger among the aggrieved people. The more we kill this so called “terrorist” more will come to replace them because they do not perceive it as terrorism. It is an honour. It is the only honour they can achieve because they are often marginalized in their own country. They then say ‘we are martyrs’. We use the word ‘martyr’ Shahid every day.

Q: And the answer?

Father Samir: What we, Christians, are saying; the meaning of our life is to make peace, to have justice for the poor, the women, for everyone. For example, to have an educational system where not only the rich benefit. Egypt has one of the worst educational systems in the world. People after an obligatory nine years come out of the school unable to read or write. I was in charge of the educational system during the Socialist government in Egypt in the 1970s and I discovered during that time, at least half of the young people particularly boys could not read or write. I, as a government representative, even went to a so-called model schools where maybe 10% to 20% of the pupils could learn, and for the others it is too late. The key word is to build together because we know that we alone do not have the power to change the whole of society.

Q: You stated ‘together’…

Father Samir: Together… that is to say that the solution has to be peaceful, it cannot be a violent solution. It has to start with a political project. Firstly, the war has to end between Palestine and Israel. We will support the proposal to create two states. One would be ideal but after 60 years of war, this proposal will be impossible today. So two states with defined borders. We need one generation to transcend this. These borders are not to be walled to allow a free movement of people. The same in Iraq, we need peace between the Sunni and the Shia Muslims. I preach this among Muslims. So together with peace we can build our project – on one of social justice because this precept is in the Koran, the Bible and it is the ideal for Christians, Muslims and Jews. We propose this common project. We start. It cannot be, however, an Islamic one because it could be manipulated. The constitution is religious and will recognize God in different manners and it has to be based on human rights. Lebanon could be a model, not a perfect model but some ideas could come from there. And we will develop … step by step. It will take some generations…

Q: …but it is achievable!

Father Samir: I think it is achievable. Then we invite the richer countries to help us, then we will do the same to help them build a society of mutual co-existence. The king of Arabia would like to change the system. He built and started a university with mixed students; can you imagine this in Saudi Arabia and by the king? He is being criticized by the Mullahs, by the shaykh… but he is taking this step.

Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-34770?l=english
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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps," a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

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