Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Sunday 25/12/2016

Christmas and the new year have become a secular holiday period across the globe during which people take time off work, concentrate on family and friends, consume large quantities of good food and dedicate themselves to festive frolicking. Many faiths continue to celebrate their own holidays but nothing is more global than Christmas and the new year.
That is as it should be. As a famous writer once said: “Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.” We would hope that the “feeling” lasts the whole year through and that 2017 brings peace and prosperity to the Middle East and North Africa region.
We would also wish that the coming year marks the beginning of a new era of cross-cultural understanding between East and West and between the Arab world and Western countries.
Alas, that pious hope risks being dismissed outright as a platitude. As the number of shopping days in December dwindled, anxiety over the terrorist threat intensified, especially after the deadly December 19th attack in Berlin. Twelve people died when a truck ploughed into the crowds, nearly 50 were injured and the spirits of many — in the Muslim world as much as in Europe — suffered grievously.
The brutality and chilling deliberation of that mass murder can only be described as sickening. Its broader implications are terrify­ing. Terrorists repeatedly and falsely claim they act on behalf of Muslims. The far right and the Islamophobic in Western capitals seize upon such statements as vindication of their belief that the world is engaged in a clash of civilisations.
Terrorists and the far right feed off each other’s apocalyptic visions but rather than a coming war between Christians and Muslims in Europe the risk is of a hostile impasse that stretches far into the future.
This is the point that Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, made when he publicly lamented “the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive to those who adhere to a minority faith”. Significantly, he urged people to empathise with refugees by remembering the story of the Nativity and how one family fled “to escape violent persecution”.
Indeed, in the aftermath of the Berlin attack, the political fury turned on refugees and on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who generously gave sanctuary to 1.1 million people, mainly from Syria. The far right cruelly and unfairly blamed Merkel for the blood spilled in Berlin. For the nth time, a croaking chorus started up about the danger posed by refugees, especially Muslim ones, to Europe. From the other side of the Atlantic, US President-elect Donald Trump helped along the Islam-bashing with ill-considered tweets.
Where is the justice in punishing refugees, who have already suffered enormously, for the crimes committed by terrorists?
In the season of giving, a little empathy for them and the dis­placed — and good sense — would go a long way.
We wish all our readers of all faiths and nationalities Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.