Christians in the region have the right to armed resistance

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Displaced Iraqi Christians, who fled the violence in the city of Mosul, gather outside the Saint Joseph church as they took refuge in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on August 20, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Ahmed al-Rubaye)

By: Nahed Hattar

Published Friday, August 22, 2014

For 14 centuries, Christians of the region – most of them of Arab origin or belonging to ancient Levantine ethnicities – have resisted systematic waves of genocide and displacement, by resorting to one of four options: converting to Islam, joining tribal alliances whenever and wherever possible, fortifying themselves in mountainous areas, or accepting an inferior status as dhimmi. Dhimmi are non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who pay al-jizyah (a tax collected from non- Muslims) and who submit to oppressive rules in the framework of political mediation between the religious, scholarly, professional and political authorities, and rich Christian elite.

In fact all the propaganda about a history of “tolerance” in the region, often circulated in official discourse, actually refers to the humiliating status of dhimmitude.

This includes the glorified Assurance of Umar (an assurance of safety given by the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab to the people of Jerusalem), which was nothing more than a agreement of submission that the defeated had to accept to evade slaughter and displacement.

During this long history of persecution, Christians in the region were never once considered full citizens, not even as partial citizens, except under modern national states, which are now collapsing under the threat of a new wave of religious extremism that has fully revealed itself under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Between the 1850s and 1970s, Christians in the region have resorted to four main strategies. Most prominently, they heavily participated in launching nationalist and leftist ideas and organizations and making political, civil and cultural contributions. Second, they pursued education, professionalism and economic activities and third, they opted to immigrate whether as whole families or individually.

Meanwhile, the fourth strategy was practiced by the Maronite elite in Lebanon who entered an alliance with the French colonialists to establish an entity mainly ruled by Maronites, and later joined the pro-Western – anti-Arab – Israeli camp, as a desperate attempt to maintain power during the Lebanese civil war that ended with the defeat of the Maronite political hegemony, and with Maronites eventually losing their position in power.

The dishonorable and even tragic history of Maronite militias established a tendency for regional Christians to assimilate into whichever state they lived in and to reject aspects of political and armed expressions. Besides, Christians have constantly been peacefully submissive like dhimmi, hence rejecting organizations and arming themselves.

Even after the collapse of the state in Iraq with both Sunni and Shia – and before them the Kurds – establishing armed groups, Iraqi Christians refrained from forming militias, not even to defend their own existence, their lives, their families and their interests, and chose to surrender and emigrate from the country.

Amazingly enough, groups of Yazidis – traditionally a peaceful people – have now started to train on using arms and to establish militias for self-defense, especially after ISIS has killed and displaced many of them. It has also been reported that Yazidi young men have actually started launching revenge attacks against ISIS. Iraqi Christians, however, are still far from being able to choose this option.

ISIS’ [caliphate] is not just a passing phase, it may actually become a recognized state within the borders of the Syrian Desert ( Badiyat al-Sham). This group, however, comes in many shapes and colors and is deeply rooted in the heart of [local] communities, and is being secretly and publicly supported by the Gulf, the United States, the West, and Israel.

[ISIS’] recent barbaric campaign, especially in Iraq and Syria, has brought back historic painful memories for Christians, now feeling that their assimilation and nationalist strategy has failed. They fear an unknown destiny, which further pushes them to withdraw and emigrate.

Today, there is nothing left to reassure those whose lives, honor, land and way of life are in danger. There are no real reassurances from certain nation-states, which are collapsing or weakening, nor from certain communities of which actual or future ISIS extremists have emerged, and not even from the flowery rhetoric of elites who have remained predominantly quiet toward the crimes committed against Christians and other “minorities” in a region witnessing some of the ugliest crimes in history that targets many different people.

Shia, Alawites, Druze and others are also facing the same threat. However, the Shia in Lebanon and Iraq for example have their geographic territory and are organized and well-armed. This also applies to Alawites and Druze, and soon enough, we shall see Yazidis holding arms. However, the tendency to assimilate has often dispersed Christians, while their peaceful submission and their general middle class position make them vulnerable in the face of the monstrosity that is ISIS and similar groups.

After decades of enjoying citizenship, Christians in the region cannot afford to return to the humiliating, dehumanizing status of dhimmitude and they can resist the painful emigration option only if they are reassured about their own personal strength. Today, for Christians to continue to reside in their land seems to depend on carrying arms! This, however, will be catastrophic for communities in the region, since this will antagonize all to arm and resort to violence.

The legitimacy of the armed Christian resistance emanates from the right to continue to exist on the land of their ancestors and to live freely with dignity. You cannot argue about the legitimacy of a Kalashnikov rifle when it is held by a man defending his home, his honor and his children.

Yet, Christians regionally also bear a historic responsibility toward their larger community. A responsibility linked to their enlightenment, secularism, national and liberal legacy, which commits them to resort to Christian resistance within boundaries that preserve that legacy.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

As the poster Jamal says we will end up with Ja'Ja..that psycho.
They shouldn't arm as a "Christian community". This would be a disaster . They can join a resistance group with the other communities facing the same threats including Sunnis. We need unity otherwise our region will be carved up...and we all know which hawkish state wants that.

Christians have been armed resisters for a century. Along side their Muslim brothers, they have always fought the loose reactionary alliance of Wahabism, Zionism, and Western colonialsim.

Arming a sectarian community is not resistance. As a tactical response, it actually reeks of the US State Department. I am a Christian and I do not want many of my coreligionists to be given weapons, because I know that they would use it like the Jumayyil clan and Samir Ja'ja' ... not as a tool of resistance, but as a tool of destruction. The author hinted at that, but I'm not sure what solutions he or she offers to prevent arming a sect from becoming just another manifestation of this damned sectarian system that gave birth to the likes of Daish.

Completely agree. As an Arab Christian, I can't think of anything worse than to create a Christian splinter group to further divide us up. You are correct, it would merely contribute to the Sectarian design of divide and conquer cooked up in the West/US. If a Christian wants to take up armed resistance (which I reject), then he/she should only do so within a national/state/regional movement not based on ethnicity or religion. 12 years ago, prior to US 2nd invasion of Iraq, the Arab world was a much better place where such sectarianism as we see today was minimal and nearly nonexistent outside the Lebanese conflict (which was coming to an end). Though the 20th Century leaders failed and were often corrupt, they were correct about Secular Unity as vital for strength, stability and prosperity in the region. A new movement based on such ideology desperately needs to emerge that captures the imagination of everyone in the Arab world to overcome the current plague spreading like wildfire.

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