Beirut (AsiaNews) - Sectarian
strife and obscurantism are increasingly casting their shadow on the Arab
Spring's democratic potential, at least in Syria, and threaten to spread to
some Lebanese regions, this according to Maronite Patriarch Card Bechara Raï. He
spoke on the eve of a visit to France next Monday, further distancing himself from
a movement that had generated so much hope
"Dark forces are
working to undermine states and institutions," he said in a grave tone in front
of the French Ambassador Patrice Paoli. "They seek tirelessly to sow 'fitna' (chaos)
between different religious denominations that have until now coexisted
peacefully and this, ironically, in the name of democracy and the Arab Spring."
The patriarch's misgivings
about the Arab revolt, especially in Syria, which the head of the Maronite
Church as clearly singled out, seem to have been better understood than when he
had expressed them during his first visit to the French capital, in September
In the past 18 months
in fact, many things have become clearer for both Lebanese and French leaders. Indeed,
"have the latter not given up on the idea of arming the Free Syrian Army, fearful
that the weapons might fall into the hands of fundamentalist groups?"
The patriarch's opinion
also goes for the fundamentalism of Jabhat al-Nusra jihadists, who are
consolidating their hold on some areas in Syria, as well as the political
fundamentalism of the Muslim Brotherhood with regards to the (bad ) Egyptian
model. The fact that he speaks of "dark" forces suggests that such
groups are manipulated.
"France, the country of
the enlightenment, cannot be indifferent . . . vis-à-vis the rise of radicalism, fundamentalism
and obscurantism, boosted by growing political contradictions and regional and
international interferences," the head of the Maronite Church said in
front of Ambassador Paoli.
As secular as it may
be, France, he said, must be forward-looking and not ignore the role played by Christians
in the "democratic ferment" of Arab societies.
"The growth of Islamic
fundamentalism threatens moderate Muslims, who are the majority. They are
likely to fall into fundamentalist mindset if Christians lose their place and beneficial
influence in Arab societies."
In stressing this
point, the patriarch goes against currents of thought that have tried, for
political reasons, to demonise Islam and lump together moderate and extremist
Muslims. For this reason too, the cardinal warns the West about the possible
consequences of a region without Christians.
In view of this and
with the support of all Christian religious leaders, Catholic and Orthodox, the
patriarch is calling again, as he did in September 2011, for an immediate end
to the violence in Syria and for a political solution to the conflict.
Although he has never
expressed this openly, for him it was never a question of supporting a regime,
but of promoting a political solution that reduced the risk of Christian exodus
For the Maronite leadership
in Bkerke, Christians have no choice, caught as they are between a rock and
hard place, concerned more about the impact of the current fighting, which
could last a long time or even go on indefinitely, than by long-term historical
For a Lebanese who
knows what is at stake, this is a matter of self-defence. In several Lebanese
regions, starting with Tripoli, sporadic clashes have already broken out
between Sunni fundamentalists and pro-Syrian forces. At the national level, the
Sunni-Shia divide has been exacerbated. Have we not seen Shia thugs shave off the
beard of a Sunni cleric they had stopped in a Beirut neighbourhood?
Of course, a jihadist danger
exists in Lebanon. Some 2,700 armed men, loyal to different groups, are
scattered across the country. For now, they are not that important. But this is
no reason to neglect the potential danger of a possible radicalisation of the
Sunni community, one that could lead to unacceptable violence. Latent radicalisation
could bloom at the first incident.
Fortunately, so far the
army has not been contaminated by this. Instead, it has been able to keep in
check outbreaks of violence. But can we ask soldiers, already stretched thin
across the land according to specialists, to be everywhere at the same time?