No difference between Palestinian Christians and Muslims: an interview with Michel Sabbah By Laurent Grzybowski
21 Apr 2010
Contrasting with the general pessimism regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the 77-year-old former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah continues to believe in harmonious Christian-Muslim coexistence in Palestine and shared his thoughts with reporter Laurent Grzybowski.
What is the situation for Christians in Palestine?
Michel Sabbah: It is the same as for all Arabs in Palestine. Christians or Muslims, we are the same people, with the same culture and the same history; a nation that is in conflict with another nation. A nation that is living under military occupation has no need of compassion but of justice. In a very tense political context we are trying to cope with the same challenges.
What does it mean to be a Christian?
Sabbah: It is to be in a society, in a world that we have not chosen but has been given to us. Our vocation therefore is to be Christian in an Arab society which has a Muslim majority. This is a familiar experience to us. We have several centuries of history behind us.
However, today one speaks of anti-Christian persecution....
Sabbah: Individual incidents between Muslims and Christians can take on a community dimension. In these cases there are mediators, families known for their wisdom and their authority, capable of resolving conflicts. I can bear witness to the fact that in Palestine, it never goes further than this. There have never been massacres or terrorist attacks against churches. Never have I known of openly anti-Christian persecution. Even in Gaza, Christians are protected by Hamas.
Is it the same situation in Iraq?
Sabbah: No, over there Christians are victims of violence and are killed because they are Christians. But it is a question of political – not religious – movements. Extremists hope to destabilise the country. Many Sunnis and Shi’ites have been killed for the same reasons. It does not help to accuse Muslims of all the evils. Working for peace and justice in Iraq, as elsewhere, is the best way to avoid a mass exodus of Christians from the East. A political problem needs to find a political solution.
What do you say to those who defend the idea of a “clash of civilisations”?
Sabbah: There is a clash but it is not religious or cultural. It is political. The West treats the East and those who live there – whether they are Christians or Muslims – as lesser beings. As long as there is this relationship between the dominant and the dominated, we will never escape the spiral of violence. The roots of global terrorism are rooted here.
The East is not free to choose its destiny; it is subjected to Western dominance. The problem is not Islam, but the confrontation between East and West. The history of colonialisation has given way to another kind of colonialisation – more latent, but no less real.
Are you not afraid of the expansion of Islam?
Sabbah: It is a fantasy fed by those who do not understand the East in general, and Islam in particular. As long as the Palestinians feel oppressed, all Muslims globally will feel solidarity with them and are capable of creating disruption from within the societies in which they live. We need to put an end to the relationship of strength against weakness between the West and the Muslim world and instead focus on affirmative education in citizenship and respect for one’s neighbour. We need to develop a culture of engaged coexistence, learning to know one another and living and acting together in unity.
* Laurent Grzybowski is a journalist and author. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from La Vie.