“We came to slaughter you, Cross worshipers,” is the sentence that made headline news in Lebanon a couple of days ago, as the people of the Northern city Al-Mina woke up to find it branded on one of their Churches. It came a day after Crosses were burned in Ain el Helwe and “the Islamic State is coming” was drawn up on other Churches in the country.
As a natural consequence to such exciting development, the news cycle will now go as follows:
1) Insert priest from Church in question spewing hate,
2) Insert local Christian lamenting about being threatened and being afraid,
3) Insert Muslim figure saying they do not support the graffiti,
4) Insert some high ranking figure saying they’re opening an investigation,
5) Insert pictures of personnel wiping the graffiti away, followed by political analysts salivating over the golden goose: the start of Christian persecution in Lebanon is finally here. Get ready for a Lebanese Maaloula soon. Or take up arms.
The saddest facet to the lives of Lebanese Christians today is that many are indeed taking up arms or considering it. Even Christian politicians are no longer hiding it. The ISIS threat is tangible and a decent enough excuse to uncover practices that have undoubtedly been taking place for a long time now. Lebanon is, perhaps still unofficially, in a race of arms, again.
I’ve heard people all around the place discussing taking up arms, being ready to fight and die. I’ve seen people who not only want to hold up arms but are thirsty for it, reminiscing over days and years that most would rather be forgotten. Those people are not middle aged men who were active during the war; they are university students, educated youth who don’t know what war is and whose expertise in weaponry extends to the occasional summer season bird hunting.
The talk about taking up arms has become near omniscient among Christians today. If you tell the people that such a race for arms is futile, the retort is typically always: they’re doing worse, and yes perhaps they are, but is that an enough excuse to further push the country and its already fragile communities off the cliff it’s decidedly running towards? Is the reply that “we must be ready” enough for such an undertaking given that there’s probably nothing for us to be ready for?
I, for one, am not afraid of ISIS, even as they knock on Arsal’s doors and find insurgents in select cities across the country, I still don’t feel remotely threatened by such an entity and I believe neither should other Lebanese Christians, regardless of their degree of religiosity for one simple reason: Their situation in Lebanon is grossly different from the situation of Christians in Syria or Iraq. The community here is far stronger, much more represented, has a bigger national footprint than their Syrian or Iraqi counterparts, who have been systematically decimated, be it in numbers or in political power, for several years now.
What makes me afraid, however, is that the households of people that I know are now being turned into barracks, that their closets are being filled with riffles instead of clothes, that the people I know and once thought were docile creatures are increasingly ready to pounce, when there’s no reason to.
What makes me afraid is that people that had for the past few years been the main buffer in the country against war are turning that buffer into a catalyst. How can Christians stay in a country they’re actively working on destroying, even if that’s not really their aim?
What makes me afraid is not a threat that needs a near miracle to find a footprint in Lebanon, but of the fact that even with such a threat looming at our doors, our politicians still can’t agree on electing a president, arguably the highest Christian position in the country, to lead. They can’t even agree on the best way to handle ISIS. Even in such extreme and drastic circumstances, Lebanon’s Christian communities are as fragmented as they’ve ever been.
With every graffiti proclaiming the rise of an Islamic state on your churches, with every news of injustice befalling Christians in the Near East and with every rise in the fear you’re having, you are faced with two options.
You can take up arms and get ready to fight again in a war that will probably not befall upon us. You can do as everyone else is doing and learn how to kill, dub it defending yourself, and make sure it’s in your own hands, not in the hands of a feeble government and its army.
Or you can ask yourself the question branded on those bracelets you wear: what would Jesus do? Odds are He would painted over the graffiti, restored the churches, remained the buffer this country desperately needs between its two clashing sides and sought normality.
Look at them burning our Crosses. Look at them drawing those things on our Churches. Look at their sheikhs and their Friday sermons. Yes, those things are happening true, but how hypocritical is it to be appalled by such things when Lebanese Christians have done similar things as well? And in the grand scheme of things how irrelevant is a graffiti and how useless is burning a piece of wood, regardless of its meaning, at a time when there are so many more important things taking place, at a time when it’s perhaps more important to ignore and turn that other cheek?
I returned home yesterday evening to find a brand new graffiti on one of the buildings next to my apartment in Achrafieh. “The Crusaders are staying in Lebanon,” it said. I chuckled as I took a picture of it. What was the point of such a graffiti in the middle to Achrafieh, an area that won’t have anything ISIS related unless it’s the burning of their flag? What was the point of such an “empowering” slogan in an area whose people don’t remotely need so? Isn’t it preaching to the choir? But then again, when have Lebanese Christians not been hung up on the superficialities of them being Christians in Lebanon? Some things will never change. What would Jesus do? Probably not this.