De literatuurwetenschapper Boutros Hallaq, een Syrische christen, roept in een open brief de Syrische bisschoppen op om in actie te komen en de eenheid van het Syrische volk in zijn roep om vrijheid te ondersteunen. Dit is een Engelse vertaling van de oorspronkelijke Arabische brief. Verschillende Syrische christenen hebben de afgelopen tijd de bisschoppen opgeroepen de kant van het volk te kiezen en afstand te nemen van de propaganda van het Assad-regime.
Your Excellencies the Bishops of Damascus … Be Gentle on the Homeland and Christianity!
Butros Al Hallaq
God has heard your prayer, before you fast, to protect the homeland from any foreign intervention and in support of national unity. We have learned the harshness of that intervention during the French mandate then we tasted its bitterness in more than one Israeli aggression. And so we did not deny the officials the advantage of avoiding it when the neighbors erupted. We also see its tragic reflection in the faces of our families in Iraq (and lastly, its Christians), and we dearly hope the Libyan people survive it, who, contrary to the people of Tunisia and Egypt, lost their way to armed resistance then resorted to the foreigner to whom they became indebted. Some of those who read my writings know that I have warned from the beginning of the danger of the Libyan oppositions’ adopted of armed resistance that takes over the popular movement and seeks the assistance of the foreigners. I have also warned, in a joint statement (Syria, the homeland is in danger), the Syrian opposition from falling into that trap. As for the national unity, it is the slogan of everyone without exception, rulers and ruled, but it brings together the two opposing sides. So I wonder: To whom are you addressing your plea? (Issued on 16/6/2011) – Is it to the Christians of Syria? Then you suspect that some of them may fall into the trap of the foreigners or aim to split the ranks? A disapproved suspicion denied by their modern history full of the names of great fighters – Is it to all the citizens?
Then you will attribute the popular movement in which the greater majority of the population has participated to a conspiracy against the nation? – Or is the plea to the officials? What is their need of it, when they are the owners of such an ambiguous rhetoric? Then you adopt it in its ambiguity without examination to please an authority that some panicking Christians may consider as their guarantee (especially after what happened to our families in Iraq), while there is no guarantee for a citizen except his fellow citizens, as they are the ones who stay when the rulers of the state change! You are above these accusations. It remains then that you justify a common phenomenon through the actions of some tendentious people, and so you attribute the problem of the current crisis to a mere drifting behind some “lurkers”. Is this not a truncation of a truth that is not hidden from you? Is not the truncation of the truth not a murder of it, whatever the intentions may be?
It is alright to plead, pray and fast, seeking the good of the homeland, just like we pray for rain. But do you have any objection for adopting other means – let’s say assisting – that are appropriate to the concept of incarnation, provided by the Creator for mankind, through His wisdom, when He gave mankind the brains to consider their affairs wisely: resorting to rational analysis, with the advantage of allowing all citizens to contribute in building a joint future?
We have learned from history that any foreign intervention, although justified morally by supporting moral principles, namely supporting the minorities and democracy, relies in its practical movement on the existing gaps – or those it creates – in the society’s structure, knowing that it rarely succeeds in a realy united society. The result is that the protection of the homeland from assault necessitates immunizing the citizen against the temptation of drifting behind the foreigner’s claims. And this cannot be achieved unless the citizen feels that they truly enjoy the right of been citizens, rights that impose on them duties. The immunity of the homeland comes from the dignity of its citizen. Why do we not seek – in parallel with prayers – to secure the dignity of the citizen? And do you honestly believe, dear bishops, that the peaceful popular movement is manipulated by foreign hands, or is it a quest for reforms so that the citizen and the homeland can regain their dignity, in spite of a handful of lurkers? The same can be said for national unity.
Anton Al Maqdisi’s Will
In continuation of the above, do you honestly believe, dear bishops, that dignity is available to Syrian citizens? A deterioration in living standards affecting the majority, especially the middle class, which is the historic cornerstone for modernization in our societies, while a minority controls the wealth and benefits from a yield or service economy without physical production on which national wealth stands. A monopoly of the political and intellectual life and the restriction of civil society activities along with the freedom of opinion and thought, even in the spiritual field, as you know. A blockage of the future horizon for the young generations, leaving them only with the perspective of immigration or forced integration into a violent and unpalatable conflict arena. So where is the dignity? Beautiful promises to correct the path that we are waiting since two presidential terms, so we waited for a new morning that has forsaken us up until this hour. This case of ours has been analyzed by the pens of researchers, most of them honest and competent citizens. Their writing are everywhere for those who want enlightenment. Who is the first responsible of this situation that marginalizes the citizen then prompts him to face the rifle with a bare chest?
Our prayers may be an exercise in futility if they are not associated to actions, the least of which are the demands for reform that has now become mandatory. The main request of an armed youth is also no secret to you, the main demand of a youth armed with a great awareness that immunizes it against violence (peaceful! peaceful! they chant), against sectarianism and internal division (one, one, one, the Syrian people are one!) and against following the foreigners.
How I would like to remind you of a beautiful face of your citizens and believers, applauded by everyone as pure struggle in the intellectual, political and spiritual field: the late Anton Maqdisi. In a letter addressed to President Bashar Al Assad on the occasion of his reelection entitled from “From Sponsorship to Citizenship”, describing the situation at the time, he said:
Sir, allow me to congratulate you on the first presidency, and also, in words in your address, that were truly promising (respect the opinion of others, giving priority to the viewpoint of the state over the viewpoint of leadership…).
It is the start of a long road, if we take it, we may gradually pass from tribalism to the rule of law, and the beginning of the road into the twenty first century.
We have reached our fill, sir, from the loose rhetoric: (talking about) the people’s gains, the people’s achievements, the people’s will.
The people have been absent, sir, and for a long time. Their will was paralyzed, for the achievement of two goals: the first, personal, to work night and day to put food on the table for their children. The second, public, to say what they are requested to say, and to adopt the behavior that is required of them (marches, slogans…).
Briefly, sir, the general situation is a full breakdown, political and economical, as well as cultural and humanitarian…
He then ends by saying:
The people need, first and foremost, to reinstate their confidence in themselves and in their government – and the two are one and the same – and this is no easy matter. It may require taking the opinion of others into consideration, as you said, and then gradually transitioning from the state of sponsorship to a state of citizenship!![i]
Is there anyone among you who dares, as he stares into the face of Anton Maqdisi, to deny or denounce what he said? Or else, why do we not pay homage to right as he did, and as were called on to do by that great Nazarean of whom we are the followers?
Statement of the Jesuit Fathers
And let us suppose that you refrained from taking this position on the pretext that it comes from a secularist who has no reference to intervene; why not take then “another opinion” issued by brothers of yours in belief and message, the Jesuit Fathers in Syria? Their statement Reflections on what is happening today in Syria, on 3 June 2011, includes the following:
We have been witnessing in our community, for a few months now, as is the case in most Arab World communities, social and political demands, to take our country towards greater civilization. These demands center on undertaking multiple reforms and allowing greater freedom, which allows each individual to be an effective member in the development of this society. This is a legitimate and recognized right for everyone […] So in the face of these bloody events, of an escalating nature in their severity and harshness, week after week, shedding innocent blood not related to the ongoing conflict, we find ourselves forced to issue a cry that speaks to the conscience of all our citizens, of various denominations…
The ongoing changes in the Arab World, under which the current unrest in the Syrian community is classified, are pregnant with a new hope that must be taken into consideration. This hope is primarily characterized by the free expression of opinion and the common search for what is right. The social and political reforms have become an urgent need that cannot be ignored…
We cannot list all the reasons for the crisis, but we wonder about the method that will allow us to overcome this painful reality to attain a serious dialogue between all parties. This dialogue is not easy, as it presupposes confidence in the other and listening to what the other says… we refuse to enter into the hollow cycle that breeds continuous fear of the other and suffocates all honest intentions to build the homeland…
In this context, we hope that the true national feelings that have moved many over the past few days are not a justification for slipping, among some, towards the use of language and terminology that rejects and marginalizes the other, cancelling all possibilities of communication with the other… Here we must express our deep sadness to the families of the victims and the detainees, of all sides, and to announce our commitment, as much as possible, to assist them and alleviate their pain, without any discrimination.
Finally, based on our sense of the gravity of the situation, we, on behalf of the pure blood that was shed on the soil of our dear homeland, call on all Syrians, from all sides, to hasten towards immediate engagement in the process of a true and serious national dialogue so that to find a way out of this crisis.
This statement ends with an all encompassing statement:
We pray to God, asking above all to commit to defending the interest and dignity of the Syrian citizens, and as such we renounce all narrow biases, aiming only to ensure the safety and salvation of the homeland.
How beautiful is belief when it embodies the reality of today and now. Because it is not sufficient to announce only general principles. How worthy of you, dear bishops, to lighten the path with this belief that is entrenched in humanity, armed with the strength of right and love, and decorated with courage that speaks openly of righteousness towards God and the service of man – His image – in loyalty to the homeland. The wager is the fate of the homeland, and there is no homeland without a free citizen. The course of faith you adopt and its opposite, remains excessive. Have you retracted your current statement, that broadcasts a skepticism without cause and overlooks the essence, undermining the credibility of your position as citizens and spiritual leaders, with another statement in which you present your humanitarian and spiritual vision, in which you and your ancestors are known for, in the service of the entire homeland, including its decision makers, in the honor of the history of the Christian Syrian citizens, and in loyalty to the wonderful Gospel of the Nazarean?
Allow me, finally, based on my conviction that the voice of the church can only be completed by the voice of its believers (the second Vatican assembly), to propose that you edit a booklet that host the opinions of Christian Syrians, of various sects, on the current crisis and the means of overcoming it. This way, you will offer a shining example of the dialogue that you seek, and that our youth is calling for. It is the only way to immunize the country against foreign greed, fragmentation and the bullying of the week by the strong, as well as against those who seek to usurp power, even if in the name of democracy, at the expense of the homeland’s unity. Let your message be: “No no and yes yes” (as it is said in the Holy Bible).
Yours sincerely from a mere Christian Syrian citizens pleading for your prayers and Evangelic example.
*** *** ***
[i] The excerpt is an introduction to three in-depth analytical articles on the evolvement of the Syrian society since independence, published consecutively in Al Hayat Newspaper starting on 21 May 2002. For anyone who wishes to read his recent important articles, I have edited a book: Nationalism on the Doorstep of the Third Millennium, Dar An Nahar, 1998.