For Mgr Sako, things can change if an open and pluralistic culture spread to families and the school. Governments, for their part, must assume their responsibilities and defend citizens’ rights. Muslim religious leaders must also adapt their religion to the challenges of modernity.
Christians can help in implementing these changes, the prelate said, because they are an example of openness and bear witness to the ideals of freedom and equality. Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, thousands of Christians crowded Baghdad churches to pray for Iraq and His resurrection.
Arab nations will not be stable or democratic unless they grant all their citizens the same citizenship. Arab nations are a mixture of various ethnic groups, cultures, languages, languages and doctrines. They include Arabs, Kurds, Assyro-Chaldeans, Turkmen, Shebeks, Copts, Armenians, Shias, Sunnis, and Christians of various denominations, Yazidis, Druses and more. Their traditional mindset is patriarchal, tribal and sectarian. Education and teaching programmes are usually imposed from above and are viewed as infallible. Thus, they do not stimulate thinking and analyses or kindle the quest for new knowledge or possibilities.
Arab nations have no plans to integrate people into a single citizenship that respects each group’s particular features. Pluralism and diversity do not mean division and chaos but can lead instead to progress, cooperation and creativity.
Since the early 20th century until the 1970s, the concept of ‘ummah’ or nation developed among Arab peoples to fight Western colonial powers that had occupied the region and created separate countries with no consideration for its ethnic makeup.
For years, the ‘Arab nation’ struggled against imperialism with the help of poets and writers who played a key role in creating a national consciousness among the people. For years, nationalism united various ethnic groups and Muslim denominations but created a double sense of “belonging” among minorities.
In the second half of the 20th century, highly centralised authoritarian regimes emerged in these countries, with power exerted by single families or tribes. The latter used the education system and mass media to control the population. They enforced coexistence. People were treated as a flock and anyone who dared leave the stable had better be beware.
In the 21st century, especially after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, groups of young people begin to organise to change the Arab world, but they lack both a concrete vision as well as a “clear leadership”. These young people are not fully aware that the road towards democracy and freedom will be long and hard.
Political Islam is hiding behind some of these movements and its aim is to set up confessional and sectarian regimes, Sunni or Shia depending on the country, as an alternative to the nation-state.
Confessional movements and sects are often organised according to military principles and possess their own armed militias. Since the 2003 invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq has been a privileged place to see sectarian differences at work, but it is not alone. The same problem is developing in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria.
We Iraqi Christians have paid a heavy price for this. Intolerance based on ethnic or religious grounds does not help co-existence and can lead to hostility rather than friendship.
Here are a few suggestions for positive change:
1- Seek the right means to correct these errors. Acknowledge those who are different from yourself and accept them as equals and not second-class citizens. Build true coexistence. Apply the principle of justice equally. This is necessary for any positive and peaceful change.
2 - Within the family, educate children in an open and pluralistic manner so that they can be oriented towards dialogue with those who are different from them and be against any form of ethnic or religious superiority.
3 - Ensure that education is based on reason and not emotion. View diversity and pluralism as enriching rather than a loss.
4 - Governments must accept responsibility for what is happening. Political leaders who lead nations must build a state based on civil institutions. The only criterion standard is that of citizenship, which should not depend on ethnic, religious or sectarian bases. Everyone must have the same rights and duties and be equal before the law.
5 - Muslim religious leaders must choose a just and moderate form of Islam (Wasatia) that is in line with today’s circumstances and contexts.
6 - These countries should not view other regional powers and international institutions as welfare agencies to be used for one’s own self-interest or to influence governments.
Eastern Christians, who are being forced to emigrate at this point in time, can help the Middle East to change through openness and the ideals of freedom. They can offer an alternative to existing regimes and contribute to the building of more civil and secular states, thus reducing extremism.
Christians need their own political and religious leadership, not only to defend their rights, but also those of all citizens so as to contribute to reconciliation and to a culture based on dialogue and peace.
In this Holy Week of Easter, let us must pray and hope that such changes can be achieved peacefully.