There is a school of thought that insists that neutrality will help the oppressor, never the victim; that doing nothing when others suffer tars the onlooker with the same brush that is wielded by the tyrant. Be it with the playground bully or the ruthless despot, to intervene or speak out in the face of torment or humiliation is the mark of the humane, the morally strong and clear-sighted.
Being “humane,” “morally strong” and “clear sighted.” They are all cornerstones of the Christian faith, but evidently not according to Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai, who in Cairo earlier this week once again demonstrated his lack of moral fiber by boasting that his church has not taken sides in the year-long upheavals across the Middle East that have become known as the Arab Spring.
“We Christians have been in this Levant for 2,000 years,” Rai said during a meeting with Catholic Coptic Patriarch Cardinal Antonius Najib. “We have shaped it with our culture and values, and we are open to all regimes that reach power through democracy.”
That was only part of Rai’s head-spinning statement that said everything and nothing. The Patriarch lurched from contradiction to contradiction, his argument riddled with as many holes as Swiss cheese. “The Church does not reject or support [any regime], and is not the one that appoints regimes. Rather, it cooperates with all the regimes on the basis of principles, at the forefront of which are human dignity, human rights, public freedoms and democracy,” he added, clearly ignoring the obvious contradictions when one sets these values against the actions of the Syrian regime.
The obedient among his flock will always drink the Kool-Aid, but those who look to the office of the patriarch as a moral beacon in a region where morality is often an absent guest at the dinner table, and who refuse to be bamboozled by Rai’s hallucinogenic balloon juice, will have concluded that the Patriarch has either lost his moral compass or taken a calculated position in support of a regime that has become an international outcast. It is a position he can only defend by throwing out shameful chaff about not taking sides.
His craven words come on the heels of other infamous remarks, the most bizarre being that Syria was the Middle Eastern country closest to true democratic principles. The other was that he did not want to see the Arab Spring turn to “winter.”
The first he justified with the argument that all other countries in the region are defined by Islamic principles – a comment no doubt designed to appeal to the more bigoted members of his flock – but one only need refer to the Syrian constitution to show that Rai is wrong. However, the fact that he even takes Syria’s electoral system seriously and can call for a peaceful resolution to the conflict via a bogus ballot box again demonstrates either whopping naivety or support for the regime.
But it is his apparent fear of a so-called Arab Winter that is the most cynical and shameful, wrapped as it is in the metaphorical vestments of his office. The Patriarch wants dialogue where none exists, and even more disturbing, appears to lay the blame for upheaval at the doorstep of those seeking change. As he so famously said, “We are open to all regimes that reach power through democracy.” But what if, as in Syria, the regime refuses democracy, offering instead bloody repression? To follow Rai’s advice and avoid the Arab Winter is to admit defeat and back down.
His focus is on one small corner of the canvas. He is ignoring nearly 10,000 dead, including innocent men, women and children who have been slaughtered in their pursuit of democracy. Rai should take sides. No one is asking him to interpret the political ramifications. We are simply asking him to recognize the inhumanity being visited on a population that simply wants freedom. It’s not much to ask from a supposed man of God.