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Habib C. Malik

The Forgotten Christians of Lebanon

Once free and equal, Lebanon's Christians now struggle against tremendous odds in a country dominated by Syrian politics and an increasingly Islamized culture.

Before he was exiled from the Soviet Union, the great writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was outspokenly critical of Patriarch Pimen and the Russian Orthodox ecclesiastical hierarchy whenever he sensed they were cozying up to the Communist authorities. After going into forced exile, however, Solzhenitsyn fell silent on this issue. When reminded of his earlier criticisms and urged to continue in that vein, he replied firmly and without hesitation that he no longer felt he enjoyed the moral right to speak out against the perceived errant behavior of the Russian Orthodox Church because he was no longer sharing directly in the daily historical-existential trials and tribulations of his people and his church living under Soviet rule. In other words, criticizing from a distance can be a dangerous business and also risks becoming unethical.

I mention Solzhenitsyn's studied caution only to suggest that a similar prudence is required when evaluating the behavior of Christians native to the Middle East, especially those of Lebanon—an ancient and beleaguered Christian community that proudly traces its roots in an uninterrupted line all the way back to the time when Saint Paul set sail from Byblos on his first missionary voyage to the West.

Middle Eastern Christianity, which includes the Christian communities of Lebanon, has had to contend over the past 1,300 years with living in close proximity to, and often under, Islam, the religion that early on became dominant in the region. Over the centuries, Western interest in, and subsequent incursions into, the Middle East have taken on many forms—a lot of them proving disadvantageous to the Christians of the region. The eventual defeat of the Crusades, for example, precipitated a violent Islamic backlash against the indigenous Christians, particularly those like Lebanon's Maronites, who had cooperated with and supported the crusading hordes.1 Later Western commercial and imperial expansion into Ottoman domains seemed ...

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