Minorities in the Arab world are more than ever at risk

Friday 08/05/2015

Since man began to keep records of his travails, history has shown that minorities in the Middle East have always been at risk. The forced move­ment of populations, alas, is nothing new but minorities in the Arab world today are at greater risk than they have been in a very long time.

Contributing to that malaise is, of course, the Islamic State (ISIS), which is vying for uniformity of faith and belief in the territory it controls. And it aims to control as much territory as it can. Its efforts to get rid of all those who are dif­ferent from ISIS members in the way they choose to worship goes counter to the very diversifica­tion that has given the region this cultural richness it bathed in over the centuries.

Be it in the fields of art, poetry, literature, the sciences of politics, minorities in the Arab world have contributed much.

Where would Lebanon be with­out its multitude of creeds, sects and beliefs? Where would Iraq be without its minorities: from the Chaldeans to the Assyrians to the greatly misunderstood Yazidis, often wrongly mistaken for devil worshipers? And where would Pal­estine be without its Christians?

Arab minorities have contrib­uted in providing the region with progressive ideas; be it in found­ing revolutionary political ide­ologies, such as the Ba’ath Party, founded by Salah-al-din al-Bitar, (a Sunni Muslim) and Michel Aflaq (a Christian), both followers of Zaki al-Arsuzi (an atheist).

Or yet, what was known as the PPS (Parti Populaire Syrien) known today as the Syrian Social Nation­alist Party founded by Antoun Saadeh, a graduate of the American University of Beirut (AUB). In its early years the PPS was very likely the only truly multi-con­fessional political party in Lebanon and one that at­tracted a slew of Lebanon’s finer minds.

Just as in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, Christian mi­norities have contributed greatly in the political life of the Palestinian resist­ance; George Habbash, a graduate from the AUB’s school of medicine (and Greek Orthodox), left the profession to join the Palestinian resistance and went on to found and lead one of the most radical groups, the Popular Front for the Libera­tion of Palestine (PFLP), a group that espoused Marxist-Leninist tendencies. Strangely enough after his death the PFLP lost much of its clout and many of its members made the jump from Marxism and joined the ranks of Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement. Or Nayef Hawatmeh, another Greek Orthodox, who led the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Pales­tine.

But the narrow-mindedness of those leading the ISIS charge is blind to everything and everyone that does not follow the leaders’ di­rectives. The manner in which they have taken out their hatred and ignorance against works of historic value by taking sledge hammers to statues and other vestiges of the past speaks volumes about their ignorance.

Suffice to look at what they have done to Syria and Iraq and shud­der.

They have enslaved people by the hundreds, placing them in cages and selling them off in mar­kets as though they were exotic animals. They execute anybody not in total agreement with them. They have crucified others. There have been reports from the parts of Iraq controlled by ISIS that they are targeting educated women and killing them.

This from a country that just a few years ago prided itself as hav­ing the highest number of women with doctorates.

The mayhem and hate they have dispersed over parts of Syria and Iraq, they are now seeking to export to the rest of the region. Minorities, of course, are the ones who feel the most threatened, and with good cause.