Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lebanon's Christians struggle to preserve a balance of power.

Though it's not on a level with last month's front-page story on the plight of Iraqi Christians, today's New York Times has a brief article on the situation of Christians in Lebanon. Having once played a dominant role in Lebanese politics, the country's Maronite Catholic community now struggles to deal with shrinking numbers and declining influence:
Lebanon is facing a political crisis that has two faces: the emerging power of Lebanon's Shiite population, evident in Hezbollah's political strength and press for power, and the Christians' feeling of isolation and vulnerability . . . Lebanon's Christians, whatever their political allegiance, are trying to hold on to their place and power in Lebanon - shading a conflict over control of the government with political and social dimensions that cut to the heart of Lebanese national identity. Lebanon remains the most pluralistic society in a region monopolized by the two main sects of Islam, Sunni and Shiite. In Lebanon there are 18 different confessional groups.

The problems faced by Lebanese Christians resonate regionally, as Christian Arabs, whether Maronite here or Copt in Egypt, increasingly ask if there remains a place for them in an Islamic Middle East.

Carved out by the French as a haven for Christians, Lebanon has struggled to avoid confronting the reality of demographics - that the Christian population has shrunk, perhaps far more even than most here will admit. The definitive way to determine who is a majority or a minority - taking a census - is so taboo, no one has dared even raise it.

That is an undercurrent, if unstated, in the battle for control in a place where Christians, Shiites and Sunnis are supposed to have equal shares of power - even while everyone knows that the constituencies are not equal in size, not even close.
Though the NYT article generalizes a bit too much in some areas and makes some questionable assertions - for example, it isn't obvious that Lebanon is "the most pluralistic society" in the Middle East - it nonetheless serves a valuable purpose. My hope is that articles like this one help finally to bring the plight of Middle Eastern Christians to the attention of American policymakers and the general public - two groups that share a dangerous tendency to oversimplification in their understanding of Middle Eastern politics. I also hope and pray that Catholics in the United States may develop a stronger sense of solidarity with our suffering brethren in the Middle East, be they Chaldeans in Iraq, Copts in Egypt, Maronites in Lebanon or Melkites in Israel and Palestine. As we share in communion with one another, I pray that we may also work to lift up the voices that need to be heard. AMDG.


Post a Comment

<< Home