Lebanon’s political crisis undermines the “nation as a message” model
The interfaith prayer for the murder of Lokman Slim has sparked controversy. Many fear that extremism will defeat moderation. The Second Vatican Council’s call to forget the past and strive for mutual understanding is mentioned. The goal is a new era of human fraternity in which citizenship replaces “dhimmi” status.
Beirut (AsiaNews) - Over the weekend, the Maronite patriarch, Card Beshara al-Rahi, renewed his criticism of Lebanon’s political leaders, unable to form a government of national unity, proposing again “a special international conference for Lebanon, under the aegis of the United Nations.”
“We are not prepared to abandon the vision of the country as a message and sink into obscurantism, giving way to regional projects contrary to its spirit,” the patriarch said.
In his Sunday homily from the patriarchal see of Bkerké, the prelate noted that a conference of this nature does not deprive the country of its sovereignty or independence but will instead re-establish them.
A series of events have prevented the formation of a new government so far, plunging Lebanon’s political and social life back into the darkest years of the country’s civil war. They include the double explosion at the Port of Beirut which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab and the assassination of Lokman Slim.
The interfaith prayer held during the funeral of Lokman Slim, who was murdered on 4 February, has sparked controversy because of the disturbing circumstances surrounding the crime and the accusations levelled against Hezbollah.
Criticised by circles close to this party, the person who related the story of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Prophet's nephew (in 680 AD), one of the highlights of the prayer, was forced to disavow his approach.
For his part, the Archbishop of Beirut Boulos Abdessater, stated that the priest who led the prayer, a Christian, is not member of his diocese and that he himself did not send anyone to the funeral.
In fact, some faithful chided ceremony organisers for choosing a traditional Good Friday hymn, Ana el-Oum el-Hazina (an eastern Mater Dolorosa), in which the Virgin expresses her sorrow before the crucifixion of Jesus, a particularly cruel death in which the torture victim, nailed to the wood, chokes to death amid unspeakable suffering.
Shocked by these two retractions, Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm saw a kind of “loss of identity” of “Lebanon as a message”. We must concede that there is, in the course of things, something to worry about.
Incidentally, let us point out that these two recitations have raised a great stir. They affirm the pain of an unjustly inflicted death. Even though they are distinct at the theological level, they overlap on the thematic level, because they speak of the death of a “just” person, one of the reasons why the family of Lokman Slim, who was killed in cold blood and mercilessly, could instead desire them.
Why should we deprive the family of a man, so brutally torn from the affection of his loved ones, of the comfort that can guarantee the faith, expressed through a canticle showing the Virgin's compassion for her son or through the harrowing account of imam Hussein's martyrdom?
Of course, interfaith prayers are still too rare and can give rise to embarrassment. Nevertheless, do we have the right to say that the invocations in question have been desecrated? Isn't that a sign that extremism has won over moderation? Is living together already on the defensive?
Some on social media, by analogy, have gone so far as to question the validity of interfaith dialogue, thinking that dialogue itself leads nowhere between two closed theological systems, each self-sufficient and irreducible to each other.
However, does the difficulty of interfaith theological debates itself automatically presuppose their futility? Conversely, are the efforts made by the Catholic Church to promote human fraternity and respect for all religious traditions, in particular Islam, in vain and useless after the Second Vatican Council?
In the conciliar document Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church says that she “regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men [. . .]. Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”
It is within the framework of this tradition of respect that Pope Francis signed the Document on human fraternity in February 2019, in Abu Dhabi, with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmad el-Tayyeb, in which Islam announces a new era of human fraternity whereby citizenship will replace “dhimmi” status (pact that enshrines current relations with non-Muslims and Islamic State).
Commemorating the first International Day of Human Fraternity on 4 February, an observance sanctioned by the United Nations, Francis issued an appeal to get involved in interfaith dialogue every day. It is in this spirit that he insists on going to Iraq, from 5 to 8 March, where he will meet upon arrival with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the main Shi‘a authorities.
“Thanks to everyone for having bet on fraternity,” said the pontiff in his videoconference on 4 February, “because today fraternity is humanity’s new frontier. Either we are brothers and sisters or we destroy each other.”
These words aim above all to safeguard the spirit of harmony in the face of the emergence of jihadist terrorism in the world. The document on human fraternity has been criticised for claiming that religious diversity is “desired by God in his wisdom”, thus stripping Christ and the Christian faith of their uniqueness. Is this a concession to Islam? No, it is an adaptation of the mystery of unity in the diversity of the great human family described in Nostra Aetate, and to the need to behave fraternally towards all.
In its preamble, the Declaration states: “Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men”. Ultimately, “We cannot invoke God as the Father of all humans, if we refuse to act as brothers and sisters towards some of the people who are created in God’s image.
“Humans’ attitude towards God the Father and towards other humans, his brothers and sisters, are so connected that Scripture says: ‘Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8). Therefore, the foundation is removed from any theory or practice that introduces discrimination between man and man, and people and people, with respect to human dignity and the rights that come with it.”