Plural and united, Lebanon stands against extremism and terrorism, but Syrian refugees remain an issue
by Fady Noun

Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi attended the Caritas regional conference. The cardinal spoke out against attempts at ethnic and religious cleansing in the region. For the president, the priority is to counteract intolerance and conflicts.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – "Someone is trying to draw up a new Mashriq, far from its unifying identity and its religious diversity," said President Michel Aoun during a Conference at the Caritas Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa in which he also addressed the Syrian refugee problem in Lebanon from a geopolitical perspective.

Aoun, like the head of the Maronite Church Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi, noted that Lebanon and the Mashriq are fighting the same fight for pluralism, against segregated and racist states. For him, it is necessary to fight what is causing the demographic redistribution of the region’s populations via religious and ethnic cleansing, "turning our Levantine societies into racist, one-sided, divided and conflcited societies".

Mr Aoun, in particular, warns against "an intellectual contagion, that is spreading quickly, through social media as well", fuelling intolerance, extremism and terrorism.

Speaking on "the common good in pluralistic societies", and the issue of forced migration of populations in recent decades, the head of the Maronite Church argued once again that the problem of the return to Syria of the displaced of the war is separate from the political settlement of the political and military conflict that has ravaged that country since 2011.

What follows are significant excerpts from the President’s address, which he delivered in French, to make himself understood to foreign guests at the conference, in particular Cardinals Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila and President of Caritas Internationalis, and Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

"The architect of the National Pact, Michel Chiha, stated that ‘Anyone seeking to control a confessional community in Lebanon seeks to destroy Lebanon as a whole.’ It is clear that this also applies to the Levant - the Mashriq. Our Mashriq is a mixture of cultures, a crossroad of civilisations, a cradle of monotheistic religions. It is a unique model with a rich spiritual, cultural and cognitive, and any attack on one of its components is nothing but an attack on this model and its uniqueness.

"All the events of the last few years are, without a shadow of a doubt, aimed at transforming our Levantine societies into racist, one-sided, divided and conflicted societies. In fact, the human haemorrhage, forced migration and relentless attempts at demographic change, the various waves of displacement over the last decades, the partition of Palestine and the displacement of its population, in addition to the current pressure for displacement on the rest of its inhabitants, the refusal of the right of return of the Palestinians and their resettlement in the countries of refuge, are all events that outline a new Levant (Mashriq), far from its unifying identity and far from its religious, communitarian and cultural diversity."

The threats of extremism and terrorism

"Our duty is to reject and resist these attempts with determination and perseverance. The land of the Levant (Mashriq) must not be emptied of its inhabitants; the cradle of Christ, the path of Golgotha and the Holy Sepulcher cannot be envisaged without Christians, just like Jerusalem and the Al Aqsa Mosque without Muslims, like water that cannot flow if the source dries up.

“The biggest threat to our world and our region today is extremism and terrorism, which feed on each other. The danger lies in the fact that it is an intellectual contagion, spreading quickly, particularly through social media, which relies on ignorance, poverty and marginalisation to sow destructive ideas and beliefs in order to create an environment conducive to terrorism."

The President also noted that he launched an initiative at the United Nations to make Lebanon a permanent centre for dialogue between different civilisations, cultures and races by setting up an ‘Academy for encounter and dialogue among people’, whose aim would be to spread a culture of encounter faithful to "the essence of Lebanon", which, as Pope John Paul II put it, is “more than a homeland, it is a message".

The president did not fail to mention the importance of Caritas Lebanon, the Church’s pastoral outreach body, which "lies with its interfaith, interethnic and inter-state action", and which provides "help and services when needed, regardless of religion, identity and ethnicity."