11/17/2020, 13.02
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Lebanon’s “living together” is a model of coexistence for Armenia and France

by Fady Noun

Despite its limitations, Lebanon’s example provides a model for divided societies, like France torn between new secularism and Islamic religious extremism, and warring Armenia and Azerbaijan and the flight of a population in tears, forced to abandon homes and churches. In the absence of true citizenship, people must find ways to live together to overcome hatred.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Lebanon’s “living together,” the historic vocation perceived and conferred by Pope John Paul II to Lebanon, and proposed by him – for our greatest honour and confusion – as “model for East and West”, is once again in the spotlight because of what is happening in a world where multi-religious societies are constantly growing, not without frictions, wars and sometimes horrible massacres.

In his homily on Sunday 15 November, in which he accused those who are delaying  the formation of a government by Saad Hariri of trying to “overthrow of the State of Greater Lebanon” established by the Treaty of Versailles (1919), the head of the Maronite Church, Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi, sought to comfort the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh that Azerbaijan has just militarily conquered, by offering them as model Lebanon’s "living together,” encouraging them not to flee their homes and their shrines, but to agree to coexist in good harmony with the Muslims of Azerbaijan, in a multicultural and multi-religious state in which the believers of the two great Muslim and Christian religions stand together in an atmosphere of mutual acceptance.

“We have been deeply moved in recent days,” said the Maronite Patriarch, “by the sight of our Armenian brothers in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) leaving in tears the lands they lost, as well as their churches and monasteries, including the famous Dadivank monastery, built between the 11th and 13th centuries, but which actually dates back to the early days of the Christian era and where the relics of Saint Dadi (1st century disciple of the Apostle Jude Thaddeus) are kept and honoured. They bade it farewell, kissing its stones with hot tears.

“We wish to express to them once again our closeness, solidarity and compassion. However, we tell them to preserve it, to preserve their heritage, their heritage and their properties in the territory they lost, in the name of the Charter of Human Rights and Human Fraternity and its principles highlighted by the Document on human fraternity signed by His Holiness Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb of Al-Azhar Imam in Abu Dhabi on 4 February 2019. Living together must triumph over estrangement and hate.”

Certainly, if the Maronite Church dares to suggest to the Armenian people to take this path, as painful and difficult as it may seem at present, it is because she has experienced it herself, for 14 centuries, and that she knows what she is talking about.

In a message of solidarity to the Armenian people issued a few days ago, the Eastern Patriarchs had already mentioned such living together "with its days of joy and its moments of bitterness", its struggles, setbacks and triumphs. The Eastern Patriarchs therefore do not speak easily, but know well what such a partnership requires in terms of perseverance and daily efforts.

It turns out that, due to the circumstances, the advice provided by Maronite patriarch and the Maronite bishops to the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, is also the advice that essayist and academic Mona Fayad gives in an enlightening article published on the site Al -Hurra, to France struck by terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam. Let us see how Mona Fayad describes Lebanon’s living together.

In France, “A new secular radicalism has been the response to totalitarian jihad, which the French-Iranian Farhad Khosrokhavar, director of the Radicalisation Observatory at the Maison des sciences de l'homme, calls neo- secularism. Many see in it a new civic religion, with its rites, its priesthood and its heresies. [. . .] No longer being satisfied with the neutrality of the state, (this neo-secularism) seeks the religious neutrality of society [. . .]. Thus, secularism has acquired a new meaning which conflicts with its role of preserving the state outside the religious sphere.”

“In the face of all this, Lebanon and the Lebanese, in their divisions, their fragmentation and the collapse of their country, may not seem qualified to advise anyone. However, although we lack all the components of a state that protects its citizens or its sovereignty, we have a unique advantage, which seems the only effective way to stop the adversities that lead some, from time to time, to impose foreign agendas [. . .]. Every time, only a return to living together which unites, with all our components and communities, can protect us. It is a daily practice that covers all aspects of life, and allows us to live together in peace.”

“We all know that when a Lebanese meets another Lebanese, they may not be wearing signs indicating their religious affiliation. They will therefore begin by asking the other several questions about their name, the region where they were born, family ties, in order to find out their identity. Some may think that these questions are evidence of intolerance. This is not the case. This is proof that people want to know the religious identity of the person they are addressing, so as not to inadvertently insult their beliefs.

“It is a kind of self-censorship whose final goal is moderation. Coexistence is meant to avoid offending or insulting the other. We have been developing it for hundreds of years. [. . .] Love is not required, but rather mutual respect and acceptance of others who are different like themselves. In Switzerland, German speakers and French speakers do not necessarily love each other, but they coexist in peace under conditions of citizenship and equality, and they trust the laws and those who enforce them.”

“In the absence of real citizenship in Lebanon, the Lebanese, on their own, have practised living together, in times of war and peace, since the founding of Greater Lebanon. Maybe the French should take advantage of our experience, of the way in which we have to treat others, respect their beliefs and their sacred values. However, this presupposes acceptance of their right to exist in their difference,” Mona Fayad said.

Of course, much remains to be said, but there is no doubt that what can and should be said will only confirm this forward path.

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