09/12/2015, 00.00
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For Baghdad patriarch, citizenship and religious education can bring peace to the Middle East

by Joseph Mahmoud
In his address to international conference on the persecuted minorities in Paris, Mar Sako spoke about the visible and invisible walls that underlie the jihadi ideology. Peace is possible, but a ground intervention might be needed to defeat the extremists. Work and justice for all are needed to rebuild the region.

Paris (AsiaNews) – Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I March Louis Sako spoke at a recent international conference on persecuted minorities in the Middle East in Paris (France), under the aegis of the United Nations.

In his address, he noted that the "right to citizenship" is the ideal solution for the countries of the Middle East and an appropriate step towards ending the sectarian conflicts that have inflamed the region in recent years.

The Paris meeting was dedicated to ethnic and religious violence, and saw the presence of French President Francois Hollande, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and religious and civil society figures from 57 countries. Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Kurdish presidential chief of staff Fouad Hussein represented Iraq.

At the beginning of his address, which was sent to AsiaNews, the patriarch stressed that "peace is possible", even though violence and bloodshed in Iraq and the Middle East have "traumatised our country and the world."

For the patriarch, “The Jihadi ideology took hold because of the visible and invisible walls that divide our countries along religious, linguistic, and ethnic lines, not to mention corruption, injustice, unemployment and poverty.”

“Reforming the constitution” must be among the first steps to take, Mar Sako said. “In order to include all components of civil society,” tribalism must be rejected in favour of the principle of “equality before the law”. Such a concept of citizenship calls for "the separation of religion and the state,” he added.

At the same time, a list of "those who committed crimes against humanity" should be drawn up and the guilty "must be judged."

This must come with an "international initiative to stabilise our countries". And in order to "drive out the jihadists, we should not rule out a ground military intervention."

The Chaldean patriarch also wants the problem of religious extremism to be tackled at its root. For this to happen, we need a new "religious education manual" that fosters "openness”. Not only such a thing is “indispensable,” but it must “be accepted by all and be applicable to all." In particular, the "Muslim religious education manual must deal positively and respectfully with other religions."

Finally, "millions of people are living in unacceptable conditions,” Mar Sako said. “Some cannot even pay the rent for themselves and their families . . . They worry about their future and that of their children." Indeed, "These families must be able to work and regain their self-confidence. They must be allowed to return to their homes once these [Jihadi-occupied] regions are liberated."

Ultimately, the patriarch is convinced that "Iraqi citizens have shown that they can create a common citizenship. Remember the Muslims who helped Christian refugees, the Sunnis who helped Shias, and vice versa. They are Iraq’s future; they are the hope of the Middle East."

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