Beirut (AsiaNews) – There is no freedom without respect for others. The West does not know this, claiming instead that the right to free expression is absolute and that it can be exercised without controls. By contrast, Lebanon provides an example of the former. Al-Manar TV and NBN are Shia-oriented networks. Last Thursday, they stopped broadcasting a 17-episode series on the life of Jesus for the month of Ramadan, based on the gospel of Barnabas, a text considered apocryphal by scholars. According to the text, the Apostle Judas took Jesus’ place and died on the Cross.
It was a good decision according to Lebanon’s Information Minister Tarek Mitri because “it showed once again that Lebanon is in the forefront of interfaith dialogue,” that it “respected the golden rule of dialogue, namely speaking about others in ways that they can recognise themselves.” In his view, the decision is “ground breaking and shall serve as a model in other situations”.
Church authorities and Christians in general were upset when the series’ first two episodes were shown on 11 and 12 August. After viewing them, the Catholic Information Centre (CIC), on behalf of the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon, called for a stop to the series in order that some scenes deemed offensive to the Christian faith removed. However, “Soon, it was realised that there was too much to” cut, Mitri said.
Tensions between the authorities and the population lasted only 24 hours. Around 2 pm on Friday, during a hectic press conference held at the CIC headquarters, the Information minister announced with pride that both networks had decided of their own free will to drop the series.
Top officials at the two networks took the decision “so as not to offend the Christian faith or hurt the religious feelings of Christians.”
Mgr Bechara Rahi, Maronite archbishop of Jbeil and president of the Bishops’ Commission on Social Communications, and other Church leaders, stood with Mitri when the latter described the decision “as going beyond politics” or “a power relationship where there is a winner and a loser”. For him, it transcends a purely legal solution since the General Security Office could have banned the series.
When Western media published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims the world over demanded public apologies. In this case, journalists asked Tarek Mitri if the insult warranted reparations and excuses. His response was to say that the series’ withdrawal “is more eloquent than a thousand apologies.”
“It is a victory for Lebanon, for its cultural and religious originality,” Mitri explained, adding that he appreciated the networks’ decision to bear the financial burden caused by breaking the contract to broadcast the series.
For his part, Maronite archbishop of Jbeil simply said, “Truth triumphed”.