Palestinian Christians Send Open Letter to World Council of Churches

Posted on June 16, 2017

Palestinian Christians have published an open letter to the World Council of Churches asking that the international ecumenical body recognize Israel as an apartheid state.

“As we meet this month in Bethlehem in occupied Palestine, we are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unjust and unlawful Balfour declaration,” the letter begins.

The document makes no specific reference to Christian Zionism, but it does assert that Palestinians are suffering “because of one political declaration from a Western empire, based on a twisted theological premise,” and calls upon the WCC to “take the strongest theological stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and privileges one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant.”

The phrase “twisted theological premise” is a pretty good way of characterizing Christian Zionism, and I probably couldn’t have come up with a better descriptor myself.

Additionally, the letter makes reference to two other documents, one of them being the Amaan Call, issued by the WCC ten years ago following a meeting held in Amaan, Jordan. The other document mentioned is the Kairos Palestine document, a letter signed by Palestinian Christians and published in 2009.

This latest letter urges Christians of conscience not to “hide behind the cover of political neutrality,” and also calls upon the WCC support the BDS movement.

The WCC is scheduled to hold a meeting next week in Bethlehem.

The Friends of Sabeel of North America is calling upon members of the public to sign onto the letter. I reproduce the letter in full below. You can go here to sign onto it.

***

 

Letter from Palestinian Christians to the World Council of Churches

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. (Isa. 1:17)

Background

As we meet this month in Bethlehem in occupied Palestine, we are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unjust and unlawful Balfour declaration. The injustice was intensified through the Nakba and the influx of refugees, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza, the fragmentation of our people and land through policies of isolation and confiscation of property, and the building of Jewish-only settlements and the apartheid wall.

We are still suffering because of one political declaration from a Western empire, based on a twisted theological premise. Even some churches and Christian leaders supported the establishment of the colonial state in our land, and totally ignored—even dehumanized—the nation, our people who had already existed here for centuries and paid the price for atrocities committed in Europe.

Hundred years later, with thousands of lives lost, towns and villages razed from the face of the earth (though not our memory), millions of refugees, thousands of homes demolished, and continued incarceration of prisoners, our Nakba continues.

A hundred years later and there is still no justice in our land! Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule. Today, we stand in front of an impasse and we have reached a deadlock. Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leaders’ callings, Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality. Humanly speaking, we have reached the “moment of impossible,” as Emeritus Latin Patriarch Sabbah said recently.

Could it be that we have reached this “impossible moment” because things were built from the very beginning—a hundred years ago—on an unjust premise? Should we expect that such an unjust declaration will create anything but strife and destruction?

Today is also an opportunity to remember the 10-year-old Amman Call. We are thankful to those who stood with us back then in costly solidarity—those who stood for truth and justice. We are also concerned that 10 years later the situation is still deteriorating. Like other initiatives advocating end of occupation, the Amman Call did not achieve its goals in building and achieving just peace. We must ask ourselves today why that is.

We are also concerned by Israel’s systemic assault on Palestinian creative resistance, and on our partners worldwide who use this method to pressure Israel to end the occupation. Many new laws were issued in Israel and around the world to oppose this creative non-violent resistance unlawfully, and to stop all effort toward peace. Not only is this an attack on the freedom of conscience and speech but it is also an assault on our right and duty to resist evil with good. Israel is even now trying to prevent pilgrims from visiting Bethlehem, the city of Emmanuel!

While we are grateful for the ‘costly solidarity’ articulated in the Amman Call and exercised by many churches around the world, we are concerned that some churches have weakened their positions in the last 10 years as a result of Israeli pressure. Many still hide behind the cover of political neutrality, not wishing to offend their partners in religious dialogue.

Finally, we meet in an environment of religious wars and persecution in our region. Religious extremism is on the rise, and religious minorities have paid a painful price. We thank you for your efforts toward the refugees and toward ending the conflicts in our region. We also thank you for your support of persecuted Christians in places like Iraq and Syria.

Our Call

“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness (Justice), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”. (Matthew 5:10-11)

As we stand in front of this “impossible moment,” it gives us no pleasure to say that “we told you so” eight years ago when we declared the moment as a Kairos moment! We stand facing the impossible, but we have not lost hope, since as followers of the Risen One, we are the people of hope. However, we need you and we need you now more than ever. We need your costly solidarity. We need brave women and men who are willing to stand in the forefront. This is no time for shallow diplomacy Christians. We urge you to hear our call and adopt the following:

1. That you call things as they are: recognize Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law and in agreement of what a person like Desmond Tutu said and as the UN ESCWA report said: “Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.. We are disturbed by the fact that states and churches are dealing with Israel as if the situation were normal, ignoring the reality of occupation, discrimination, and daily death in the land. Just as churches united to end apartheid in South Africa and whereby the WCC played a courageous and pivotal prophetic and leadership role, we expect you to do the same!

2. That you unequivocally condemn the Balfour declaration as unjust, and that you demand from the UK that it asks forgiveness from the Palestinian people and compensates for the losses. We ask that churches and Christians support the Palestinians in their request for justice.

3. That you take the strongest theological stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and privileges one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant. We ask that you adopt and live the theology suggested by Kairos Palestine and that you organize conferences to bring awareness toward this end.

4. That you take a stand against religious extremism and against any attempt to create a religious state in our land or region. We ask that you support us in combating the foundations of extremism and that you seek our council when acting against religious extremism so that you do not jeopardize and harm our standing here.

5. That you revisit and challenge your religious dialogue partners, and that you are willing to even withdraw from the partnership if needed, if the occupation and injustices in Palestine and Israel are not challenged.

6. That you lead campaigns for church leaders and pilgrims to visit Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities on this side of the wall in cooperation with Palestinian tourist and pilgrimage agencies, in response to recent attempts by Israel. We ask that you publicly challenge any attempt by Israel or other Christians that discourage pilgrims from visiting Palestinian places.

7. That you defend our right and duty to resist the occupation creatively and non-violently. We ask that you speak in support of economic measures that pressure Israel to stop the occupation and that you support atheltic, cultural, and academic measures against Israel until it complies with international law and UN resolutions urging the ending of its occupation, apartheid, and discrimination, and accepts refugees to return to their homeland. This is our last peaceful resort. In response to Israel’s war on BDS, we ask that you intensify that measure.

8. That you create lobby groups in defense of Palestinian Christians. We ask that you publicly and legally challenge Christian organizations that discredit our work and legitimacy.

9. We therefore propose as a matter of the greatest urgency that you create a strategic program within WCC similar to the program “To Combat Racism” to lead efforts to lobby, advocate, and develop active programs toward justice and peace in Palestine and Israel and maintain the presence of the Palestinian Christians through supporting their organizations, church work, and peaceful efforts.

As faithful witnesses, we acknowledge, affirm, and continue the long-standing prophetic tradition, especially the one started by the Amman Call and articulated in the Kairos Palestine document. We fully grasp the pressure church leaders are facing here and abroad not to speak the truth, and it is because of this that we are raising this call.

Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. The current status quo is unsustainable. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land. Our only hope as Christians comes from the fact that in Jerusalem, the city of God, and our city, there is an empty tomb, and Jesus Christ who triumphed over death and sin brought to us and to all humanity, new life.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

12 June 2017

Signed By:

Jerusalem
Arab Catholic Scouts Group
Arab Orthodox Society, Jerusalem
Caritas, Jerusalem
Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees—Middle East Council of Churches
Greek Catholic Sayedat AlBishara Association
International Christian Committee
Laity Committee in the Holy Land
National Christian Association
Pontifical Mission Palestine
Sabeel—Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
Seeds of Better life
Union of Arab Orthodox Club, Jerusalem
Young Men’s Christian Association—YMCA
Young Women’s Christian Association—YWCA

 

Gaza
NECC office

 

Bethlehem (NCOB) Network of Christian Organizations in Bethlehem
The East Jerusalem YMCA—Beit Sahour Branch
The Arab Educational Institute
Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem
Wi’am Center, Bethlehem
Saint Afram Assyrian Society
Holy Land Christians Ecumenical Foundation, Bethlehem
Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI)
Arab Orthodox Club, Beit Sahour
Arab Orthodox Club, Beit Jala
Arab Orthodox Club, Bethlehem
The Arab Orthodox Charitable Society, Beit Sahour
Bethlehem Bible College
Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies
Alternative Tourism Group, ATG, Beit Sahour
Senior Citizen Charitable Society
Environmental educational Center, Beit Jala
Saint Vincent Charitable Society, Beit Jala
Shepherds’ Children Society, Beit Sahour
Kairos Palestine

 

Click here to add your signature to the letter

The Real Reasons the West Cannot Topple Bashar Assad

The Real Reasons the West Cannot Topple Bashar Assad

Posted on June 13, 2017

Sarah Abed has posted a fascinating article at her blog, The Rabbit Hole, providing an analysis of how, and why, Syrian President Bashar Assad–despite nearly eight years of sweat poured by scheming Western regime changers into the goal of toppling his government–has managed to hang on.

What the heck is it about this guy? How has he piloted his way through every single Zionist effort to rip his country apart and install a puppet government favorable to the West? What’s his secret? For after all, hordes of Western-trained terrorist head-choppers have been poured into Syria equipped with shiny fleets of Toyotas and advanced-grade military weaponry, yet Assad, almost miraculously, has remained at the head of the government, and for the most part has kept the country together. How has he been able to do this? Abed supplies four main reasons.

Reason # 1 she gives is the president’s strong spiritual faith, and in discussing that faith she furnishes some interesting information about the Alawite religion. Here is an excerpt from her article:

First and foremost there is Bashar al-Assad’s unwavering dedication to his family’s spiritual traditions and religious faith.  Being an ardent practitioner of the Alawite religion like his father and forefathers before him, Assad has drawn great strength from this mystical and tolerant branch of Shia Islam. He went into the medical profession and trained as an ophthalmologist because of his desire to serve the Syrian people.

Also known as Alawis, Alawites “are a prominent religious group, centered in Syria, who follow a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam but with syncretistic elements.“[1]  Because his religious community had suffered religious persecution and many other indignities over generations prior to his father’s presidency, he is quite sensitive to the need for religious tolerance.  Particularly within the context of Syria’s historical religious diversity, did the Alawites rise to provide the cohesive leadership necessary to maintain the peace and mutual acceptance?  This remarkable achievement occurred over decades when many neighboring nations suffered the fate of one failed government after another.

For those who are cognizant of the well-known Hindu religious tolerance in India, Alawites are quite similar.  They not only believe in reincarnation as in the East, they have also absorbed many other aspects of the predominant religions in Syria especially those found in Islam and Christianity.  Because of their syncretic approach in both philosophy and practice, Alawis have evolved into a genuinely tolerant spiritual community who actively cultivate a climate of mutual respect.  However, it is the mystical aspects of their spiritual practice which has earned them the respect of the Syrian people.  Because they are known to walk their talk, they have been trusted to lead as they have done for almost 5 decades.

Alawites consider themselves to be Muslims, although some Sunnis dispute that they are. Alawite doctrine incorporates Gnostic, neo-Platonic, Islamic, Christian and other elements and has, therefore, been described as syncretistic.

Alawite beliefs have never been confirmed by their modern religious authorities. Alawites tend to conceal their beliefs (taqiyya) due to historical persecution. Some tenets of the faith are secret, known only to a select few; therefore, they have been described as a mystical sect.

All religions, of course, are syncretic to one degree or another, so perhaps the Alawites are not unique in that regard. But they certainly are a religious minority in Syria, representing just 11 percent of the population. For the Syrian people to support Assad to the extent that they do (he won the 2014 election with 88.7 percent of the vote) would suggest not only a remarkable degree of trust in the man, but also respect for his religious faith.

As I said, Abed gives a total of four reasons, in the main, why Assad remains standing despite everything the West has thrown at him. Reason # 2?  The strength of his wife, Asma. As Abed puts it, “the Assad marriage reveals how a strong woman often exists behind every great leader.” Reason # 3–the guidance and training he received from his father, Hafez Assad. Reason #4 — no surprise — the alliance with Russia.

All in all, as I say, it’s a fascinating article. Click here to access it in full.

Have the Christians of the East become an outlet for wreaking one’s anger? هل بات مسيحيّو الشرق مكسر عصا؟

Have the Christians of the East become an outlet for wreaking one’s anger?

يونيو 4, 2017

Written by Nasser Kandil,

The continuoushttp://www.al-binaa.com/archives/article/have-the-christians-of-the-east-become-an-outlet-for-wreaking-ones-anger bleeding of the Egyptian Copts as a free inbox for which the terrorist groups supported by Turkey and Qatar, and which are divided between Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS resort coincides with a harsh repulsive campaign launched by Saudi newspapers Okaz against the Lebanese President Michael Aoun and the Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil through harmful improper words and disgraceful descriptions on the basis of polite decent words and a compromised behavior for which the President and the Minister resorted to prevent the collision with Saudi Arabia. The President accepted to overlook the violation of the assets of communication between countries through sending an invitation to the Prime Minister to attend Riyadh summit, so the President and the Minister agreed upon a ceiling for the objection of the summit statement that does not bother Saudi Arabia or affect its prestige.

For a moment it seemed that the Christians of the East have been turned into a source for revenge for the countries that sponsor the formations that perfect the murder and the kill on all over the world, so to know their criminal record it is enough to hear what they say against each other on the front of their major newspapers and at their giant satellite channels which are dedicated these days to show the mutual terrorist accusation. It is enough to recall what the US President said about them in his electoral campaign while they celebrated his coming. These countries would not dare to assault those whom they considered under the Western protection without a green light from the West, or the feeling of the removal of the red line which was drawn to protect that presence. These sponsoring countries of terrorism are living under the Western protection and working in conformity with the US agenda and orders.

Tampering with the blood of the Christians of Egypt to send a message to its President, and to be insolent against the president of Lebanon to show him resentment are two new phenomena. At the highest clash with the President Emile Lahhoud the Saudi press reserved from saying a similar statement to what was said against the President Michael Aoun, and at the highest clash with the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak the Qataris, the Saudis, and the Turkish were fear to adopt and to protect armed groups that play with the blood of the Egyptians, the considerations by everyone towards the presidency in Lebanon and the Copts in Egypt were well considered according to the position which the Christians of the East, whom have the population as the Copts of Egypt, and whom have the political position as the Lebanese President have in the West.

There is a qualitative transition that surpasses the adoption of narrow sectarian equations; this transition finds it easy to resort to a boxing bag presented by the Christians of the East. The rehabilitation cannot be neither with wisdom nor with the accounts of the narrow electoral interests, nor with the soft administration of politics, because there is a scream that must be responded by Stop, tell your group that this playing does not work with us, this harm must not pass without expense. The Christians of the East do not sell their dignity and their moral presence by promises of tourist season to Egypt or to Lebanon. it is a speech that may be useful for the Lebanese President to say from the rostrum of the Coptic Church in urgent personal historic condolences of the victims of the massacres to reach to those who ordered of killing in Al Minya in the desert road, and those who ordered to write cheap articles with cheaper pens, or that who ordered from beyond the oceans, the racist who has sold his silence with a bag of money and gold.

Translated by Lina Shehadeh,

 

 

هل بات مسيحيّو الشرق مكسر عصا؟

ناصر قنديل

مايو 27, 2017

– يتزامن النزف الدموي المتواصل للأقباط المصريين كصندوق بريد مجاني بلا كلفة تلجأ إليه الجماعات الإرهابية المدعومة من تركيا وقطر والمحسوبة على جناحين إخواني وداعشي، مع حملة إعلامية قاسية ونابية شنّتها صحف سعودية على الرئيس اللبناني ميشال عون ووزير الخارجية جبران باسيل لجأت خلالها إحدى هذه الصحف، «عكاظ»، إلى كلام مسيء وغير لائق وأوصاف معيبة وجّهتها لكلّ من الرئيس عون والوزير باسيل، على خلفية كلام مهذب ولائق وتصرّف تسووي اعتمده الرئيس والوزير لمنع التصادم مع السعودية. فارتضى الرئيس التغاضي عن خرق سعودي لأصول التخاطب بين الدول وتوجيه الدعوة لرئيس الحكومة لحضور قمة الرياض، وارتضى هو والوزير سقفاً للاعتراض على بيان القمة لا يزعج السعودية ولا يجرح مهابتها.

– للحظة بدا أنّ مسيحيّي الشرق تحوّلوا مكسر عصا لدول ترعى الأجنحة التي تحترف القتل والموت على مساحة المنطقة والعالم، ويكفي لمعرفة سجلها الإجرامي سماع ما تقوله بحق بعضها بعضاً على صدر صفحات صحفها الكبرى وفي قنواتها الفضائية العملاقة، المكرّسة هذه الأيام لنشر الغسيل الإرهابي المتبادل. كذلك تكفي استعادة ما قاله بحقها أثناء حملته الانتخابية الرئيس الأميركي الذي تحلّقوا من حوله يحتفون بقدومه، وما كانت هذه الدول لتجرؤ على التمادي بحق مَن كانت تعتبرهم تحت الحماية الغربية، لولا ضوء أخضر من الغرب أو شعور بزوال الخط الأحمر الذي كان مرسوماً لحماية هذا الوجود. فهذه الدول الراعية للإرهاب تعيش تحت عباءة الحماية الغربية وتعمل وفقاً لجدول طلبات وأوامر أميركية.

– العبث بدماء مسيحيّي مصر لإيصال رسالة لرئيسها، والتطاول على مقام رئاسة الجمهورية في لبنان، لإبلاغه الامتعاض، ظاهرتان جديدتان. ففي ذروة التصادم مع الرئيس إميل لحود تحفظت الصحافة السعودية عن قول كلام مشابه للذي قالته بحق الرئيس ميشال عون. وفي ذروة الصدام مع الرئيس المصري حسني مبارك كان القطريون والسعوديون والأتراك يتهيّبون تبني وحماية جماعات مسلحة تلعب بدماء المصريين. والحسابات التي كان يقيمها الجميع تجاه الرئاسة في لبنان والأقباط في مصر في بعض منها تحسّب لمكانة كان يحتلها في الحساب الغربي، مسيحيو الشرق الذين يرمز لكثافتهم السكانية أقباط مصر ولمكانتهم السياسية الرئيس اللبناني.

– ثمّة تحوّل نوعي يتخطّى تبني معادلات مذهبية ضيقة، يطال استسهال اللجوء إلى كيس ملاكمة يمثله مسيحيّو الشرق. ولا يمكن ردّ الاعتبار بالحكمة وحسابات المصالح الانتخابية الضيقة، ولا الإدارة الناعمة للسياسة، فثمّة صراخ يجب أن يرتفع بكلمة كفى، ويد تضرب على الطاولة في مكان ما تقول لأحدهم: أبلغ جماعتك، إنّ هذا اللعب لا ينفع معنا، وهذا التطاول لا يمرّ من دون حساب، وليس مسيحيّو الشرق مَن يبيع كرامته ووجوده المعنوي بوعود بموسم سياحي لمصر أو لبنان. كلام ربما من المفيد أن يقوله الرئيس اللبناني من منبر الكنيسة القبطية في تعزية عاجلة شخصية وتاريخية بضحايا المجازر تصل أصداؤها لمن أمر بالقتل في المنيا بالطريق الصحراوي، ومَن أمر بكتابة المقالات الرخيصة بأقلام أشدّ رخصاً، ولمن يأمر وينهى وراء المحيطات، العنصري الذي باع صمته بكيس المال والذهب.

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Looking to the Past, not ISIS, for the True Meaning of Islam

Emir Abdelkader, 19th century Muslim humanist and sheikh

[Ed. note – British journalist Robert Fisk has published an interesting historical retrospect on Abdelkader ibn Muhieddine, or Emir Abdelkader, an Algerian Muslim leader of the 19th century who fought against French imperialism and was a great champion of human rights–of all people. Abdelkader intervened at one point to save a community of Christians in Damascus, Syria, where he spent a portion of his life, and while Fisk doesn’t bother to point it out, his act of saving Syrian Christians is something he shares in common with the present-day leader of Syria, Bashar Assad.

I thought it timely to post such an article since we’ve just seen a deranged individual arrested in Portland, Oregon after allegedly stabbing three people, killing two of them, while spouting hatred for Muslims–a man whose last name is “Christian” no less. So you’ll see a lengthy excerpt from Fisk’s essay on Abdelkader, along with a link to the original article, and just below that I’m also tossing in a video of a group of Syrians, including about 3,000 students, taking a walking tour of Aleppo’s recently-liberated historic areas. A Syrian woman you’ll see interviewed in the video, Anushka Arakelyan, says she hopes that the city will one day be “the same as it was before the war.”

“There are no nationalities here. All people love each other; all live together, rejoice together, cry together and wait together,” she added.

“Aleppo will be the same as it was before the war. We hope and wait,” Arakelyan said.

“As one Russian song says, we hope and wait, and we will wait and hope,” she added.

“We love Aleppo very much. Aleppo is a very good city, very hospitable city. I’m very happy to live here. Here, there are no nationalities. All people love each other; all live together, rejoice together, cry together and wait together,” she concluded. (Uprooted Palestinians )

It would seem, from this lady’s remarkable words, that there are plenty of Muslims who today carry on in the spirit of Abdelkader, and that therefore we don’t have to look to the past to find “the true meaning of Islam”–plenty of examples we can point to in the present. ]

***

We must look to the past, not Isis, for the true meaning of Islam

By Robert Fisk

After the Manchester massacre… yes, and after Nice and Paris, Mosul and Abu Ghraib and 7/7 and the Haditha massacre – remember those 28 civilians, including children, killed by US Marines, four more than Manchester but no minute’s silence for them? And of course 9/11…

Counterbalancing cruelty is no response, of course. Just a reminder. As long as we bomb the Middle East instead of seeking justice there, we too will be attacked. But what we must concentrate upon, according to the monstrous Trump, is terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. And fear. And security. Which we will not have while we are promoting death in the Muslim world and selling weapons to its dictators. Believe in “terror” and Isis wins. Believe in justice and Isis is defeated.

So I suspect it’s time to raise the ghost of a man known as the Emir Abdelkader – Muslim, Sufi, sheikh, ferocious warrior, humanist, mystic, protector of his people against Western barbarism, protector of Christians against Muslim barbarism, so brave that the Algerian state insisted his bones were brought home from his beloved Damascus, so noble that Abe Lincoln sent him a pair of Colt pistols and the French gave him the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour. He loved education, he admired the Greek philosophers, he forbade his fighters to destroy books, he worshipped a religion which believed – so he thought – in human rights. But hands up all readers who know the name of Abdelkader.

We should think of him now more than ever.

He was not a “moderate” because he fought back savagely against the French occupation of his land. He was not an extremist because, in his imprisonment at the Chateau d’Amboise, he talked of Christians and Muslims as brothers. He was supported by Victor Hugo and Lord Londonderry and earned the respect of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III) and the French state paid him a pension of 100,000 francs. He deserved it.

When the French invaded Algeria, Abdelkader Ibn Muhiedin al-Juzairi (Abdelkader, son of Muhiedin, the Algerian,1808-1883, for those who like obituaries) embarked on a successful guerrilla war against one of the best equipped armies in the Western world – and won. He set up his own state in western Algeria – Muslim but employing Christian and Jewish advisors – and created separate departments (defence, education, etc), which stretched as far as the Moroccan border. It even had its own currency, the “muhamediya”. He made peace with the French – a truce which the French broke by invading his lands yet again. Abdelkader demanded a priest to minister for his French prisoners, even giving them back their freedom when he had no food for them. The French sacked the Algerian towns they captured, a hundred Hadithas to suppress Abdelkader’s resistance. When at last he was defeated, he surrendered in honour – handing over his horse as a warrior – on the promise of exile in Alexandria or Acre. Again the French betrayed him, packing him off to prison in Toulon and then to the interior of France.

Yet in his French exile, he preached peace and brotherhood and studied French and spoke of the wisdom of Plato and Socrates, Aristotle and Ptolemy and Averoes and later wrote a book, Call to the Intelligent, which should be available on every social media platform. He also, by the way, wrote a book on horses which proves he was ever an Arab in the saddle. But his courage was demonstrated yet again in Damascus in 1860 where he lived as an honoured exile. The Christian-Druze civil war in Lebanon had spread to Damascus where the Christian population found themselves surrounded by the Muslim Druze who arrived with Isis-like cruelty, brandishing swords and knives to slaughter their adversaries.

Abdelkader sent his Algerian Muslim guards – his personal militia – to bash their way through the mob and escort more than 10,000 Christians to his estate. And when the crowds with their knives arrived at his door, he greeted them with a speech which is still recited in the Middle East (though utterly ignored these days in the West).

“You pitiful creatures!” he shouted. “Is this the way you honour the Prophet? God punish you! Shame on you, shame! The day will come when you will pay for this … I will not hand over a single Christian. They are my brothers. Get out of here or I’ll set my guards on you.”

Muslim historians claim Abdelkader saved 15,000 Christians, which may be a bit of an exaggeration. But here was a man for Muslims to emulate and Westerners to admire.

His fury was expressed in words which would surely have been used today against the cult-like caliphate executioners of Isis. Of course, the “Christian” West would honour him at the time (although, interestingly, he received a letter of praise from the Muslim leader of wildly independent Chechnya). He was an “interfaith dialogue” man to please Pope Francis.

Abdelkader was invited to Paris. An American town was named after him – Elkader in Clayton County, Iowa, and it’s still there, population 1,273. Founded in the mid-19th century, it was natural to call your home after a man who was, was he not, honouring the Rights of Man of American Independence and the French Revolution? Abdelkader flirted with Freemasonry – most scholars believe he was not taken in – and loved science to such an extent that he accepted an invitation to the opening of the Suez Canal, which was surely an imperial rather than a primarily scientific project. Abdelkader met De Lesseps. He saw himself, one suspects, as Islam’s renaissance man, a man for all seasons, the Muslim for all people, an example rather than a saint, a philosopher rather than a priest.

But of course, Abdelkader’s native Algeria is a neighbour of Libya from where Salman Abedi’s family came, and Abdelkader died in Syria, whose assault by US aircraft – according to Abedi’s sister – was the reason he slaughtered the innocent of Manchester. And so geography contracts and history fades, and Abedi’s crime is, for now, more important than all of Abdelkader’s life and teaching and example. So for Mancunians, whether they tattoo bees onto themselves or merely buy flowers, why not pop into Manchester’s central library in St Peter’s Square and ask for Elsa Marsten’s The Compassionate Warrior or John Kiser’s Commander of the Faithful or, published just a few months ago, Mustapha Sherif’s L’Emir Abdelkader: Apotre de la fraternite?

They are no antidotes for sorrow or mourning. But they prove that Isis does not represent Islam and that a Muslim can earn the honour of the world.

***

Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis

Photo by thierry ehrmann | CC BY 2.0

After two days lecturing a collection of head-choppers, dictators, torturers and land thieves, Donald Trump at last met a good guy on Wednesday. Pope Francis didn’t ask for a $100bn (£77.2bn) arms deal for the Vatican. He wouldn’t go to war with Iran. He didn’t take the Sunni Muslim side against the Shia Muslim side in the next Middle East conflict. He didn’t talk about Palestinian “terror”. And he looked, most of the time, grim, unsmiling, even suspicious.

So he should have been. Trump’s broad, inane smile on confronting the Holy Father might have been more appropriate for the first of the Borgias, Alexander VI, whose 15th century womanising, corruption and enthusiasm for war would match Trump’s curriculum vitae rather well. But the poor man’s pope, who last year suggested that Trump wasn’t much of a Christian because he wanted to build walls, didn’t seem to be very happy to see the man who called him “disgraceful” for questioning his faith. “One offers peace through dialogue, the other security of arms,” one of Francis’ advisers said of the visit. Which pretty much sums it up.

It was indeed an odd sight to see the head of the Catholic church – whose anti-war, anti-corruption, anti-violence and pro-environment beliefs must surely now represent the secular world – greeting the present if very temporary leader of the secular world, whose policies are most surely not those of the Western people he would claim to represent. For more and more, the Good Old Pope is coming to represent what the Trumps and Mays will not say: that the West has a moral duty to end its wars in the Middle East, to stop selling weapons to the killers of the Middle East and to treat the people of the Middle East with justice and dignity.

No wonder the 29 minutes which the insane president and the sane pope spent together – Francis himself suggesting that they both keep away from the microphones – remain secret. Until, I suppose, Trump starts twittering again. They supposedly chatted about climate change, immigration, even arms sales. O fly upon the wall, speak up. And they talked, we are told, about “interreligious dialogue” and the need to protect Christians in the Middle East. They shared, we were finally informed, “a commitment to life, and freedom of speech and conscience” – which is more than most of Trump’s other hosts would have approved of these past two days.

Trump duly handed over a bunch of books by Martin Luther King which he hoped Pope Francis would enjoy – whether he had read them himself remains a mystery – and the Pope gave Trump some of his own writings on the environment. “Well, I’ll be reading them,” said the US President. A likely story.

When the Pope emerged from his private meeting with Trump, he was smiling in a relieved, almost charming way – like a man who had just left the dentist’s chair – and his joke with the veiled Melania about Croatian cookies, if not quite understood, showed that even a distressed pontiff can retain a sense of humor amid spiritual darkness. Trump thought it all “a great honor”. Not for the Pope, one imagines.

And there was the inevitable send-off from Trump, the kind he probably gave to all the greedy kings and criminals of the Middle East. “I won’t forget what you said,” he told Pope Francis as he left. O but he will, reader, he will.

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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