Insulting The Maronite Patriarch

I don’t believe Bechara al Raï’s visit to Syria was the devil incarnated as many seem to believe. He simply went there to hold Mass, believing his visit would actually get the Maronites of Syria to relax about their future. But it’s not all peachy. His visit is most probably not on his own accord. Odds are the Vatican had requested he visit Syria but I think Al Raï was more than itching to go down in history as the first Maronite Patriarch to visit Syria post Lebanon’s independence. The visit, in my opinion, is absolutely miscalculated and, if anything, showcases a seriously short foresight on his behalf as well – one that a person in his tenure should not have. Al Raï was simply too limited to see the repercussions of such a visit. The hidden meaning is far more serious than it being a simple religious visit.

The Syrian regime has, over more than 20 years, systematically persecuted the Maronites of Lebanon, be it politically or demographically or even socially. The Maronite Church stood against the regime countless times, effectively being the first catalyst that led to the regime’s army departing from Lebanon on April 26th, 2005. Bechara Al Raï’s stances have been far removed from the Maronite Church’s historical views towards the Assad regime. But how can a patriarch truly expect the first Maronite Patriarchal visit to Syria since 1943 be considered as a shallow affair of prayer seeing as it is visiting the country of a regime who did what it did to Lebanon’s Maronites? His visit was not to the regime, granted. But in a way, it is by extension. The Maronites of Syria sure deserve their patriarch to visit them – but not under current circumstances. The argument that Maronites all around the world deserve a patriarchal visit is something that the patriarch shouldn’t even touch to justify him going to Damascus. There are also Maronites in Israel. But that part is taboo.

The Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Raï’s visit has been, to say the least, extremely polarizing. Many were supportive of it as a step towards reaching out to the scared Maronites of Syria, few as they may be. Others were staunchly against it, characterizing the visit and its Mass as diabolical. Caricature drawings in Saudi newspapers were circulated:

Bechara el Rai Caricature Saudi newspaper Al Watan

The idea being discussed was the following: the Maronites will never do what the Sunnis did with the prophet caricatures or what the Shiites did when Hassan Nasrallah was portrayed on Basmat Watan. The argument goes that Maronites are “more civilized.”

Someone forgot to tune in during last week’s Maronite road barricades in support of the Lebanese army. So it’s not really beneath us as Maronites to block roads. After all, it is in these days.

The Caricature in Al Watan newspaper is definitely not acceptable but it’s not because it’s demeaning and offensive to Christianity. Al Watan newspaper did not, similarly to Danish newspapers, publish offensive pictures of holy Christian figures in order for the comparison between potential Maronite reactions, or lack thereof, and Muslim reactions to be valid.

Pretending as if this is the same caliber as the Muslim reactions to the prophet drawings, which in themselves were not acceptable, is quite frankly very silly. Patriarch Bechara el Raï is not Jesus. He is not a Holy person. He is a neo-politician-priest who did what many believe is a mistake. And it stops at that.

But it is not acceptable in any way whatsoever for a disgusting newspaper, Al Watan, which is published in a country like Saudi Arabia where freedom of speech does not exist, where they cannot – nor do they dare – criticize their own religious folk and their ruling class after which their country was named, where Christians are not allowed to practice their religion freely (even the Cross in the caricature was hidden), where women are kept on a leash, where liberties are suppressed and where human rights are unheard of to remotely have the right to criticize anyone in that way, let alone someone who does not affect their country in any way whatsoever.

I have to wonder, in what way does Al Raï’s visit to Syria bother Al Watan? It only shows exactly how silly that newspaper is – that they’d go after a religious figure who is probably unknown to the majority of Saudis just because he is one of the few religious figures in the region which they can attack. And it’s not because they hate Christians, as many seem to believe, which I would suppose might hold some truth. It’s because it gives them the illusion that they are free, that they can do this and face no repercussions. They thought wrong.

If this caricature had come out from a newspaper in a country known for its freedom of speech, such as Denmark – a place which dared to publish Mohammad caricatures – the discussion would have been totally different. If the pope receives such caricatures, then why not Raï? But Al Watan, with the demented theocratical country it operates in, publishing them is not and should not be tolerated. They only practice their freedom of speech when their bosses approve. When it doesn’t get on the nerves of its readers… when they address a population which lives far away in an issue that does not affect them in any way whatsoever.

They don’t dare to see that their own society has a multitude of issues that could be made into a caricature, starting with that sheikh who beat and abused his 6 year old daughter to death to the fact that women are now starting to learn how to drive after their gender has been voting for more than several decades in countries around the world. And that makes them cowards. It makes them not respectable as a publication or a newspaper or any form of media that wants to be read.

The best place for Al Watan is the trash bin.

Now let’s address our own Lebanese.

The Lebanese reactions towards the Saudi insult have not been much better although a Lebanese addressing the issue is definitely more acceptable than someone who comes from a country that doesn’t even know freedom of religion. The caricature, the visit and everything around it was milked politically like everything in the country nowadays. Anything that revolves in any way around defending Christians in this country serves as ammo for politicians from both sides to fire at each other, trying to create a firework display of Christian power to please the masses ahead of the parliamentary vote.

As the constant disk of those “bad Sunnis of Saudi Arabia attacking us poor Maronite minority in Lebanon” kept playing, some people were forgetting who was doing even worse than those Sunnis to the former patriarch Sfeir with insults that went from the belt down (“heida l batriark thayyaj” anyone?), to attacking his tenure, his position, his seat and his person. But that doesn’t count – because it’s only bad when a non-Maronite does it apparently.

You want to criticize the patriarch himself, as a person, fine by me. Feel free to criticize his political opinion, if any. Feel free to address his stance regarding social issues as much as you want. I think it’s healthy when religious figures are challenged in this country and no religious figure has probably been challenged as much as the Maronite patriarch, especially by his own people.

But there’s a minimum required respect for the seat the man occupies. The Patriarch is but a temporary filler for the head of the Maronite Church. Calling the patriarchy a patriarchy of disgrace is not acceptable. Calling the Mass that took place in Syria as diabolical is unacceptable. I am not saying religious figures – as men – are the ones that should never be criticized despite everything. I’m saying that the institutions that these figures represent have a minimum of respect that should be given to them, regardless of where you stand when it comes to the matters of faith or lack thereof.

When I read some Lebanese people calling the Maronite patriarchy a new prostitute for Al Assad, that to me – even as a non religious Maronite – is offensive because it not only attacks the patriarchy in its current form, it also attacks my forefathers of whom I cannot but be proud as they struggled through centuries of persecution against tyrants who were worse than Al Assad and I don’t mean this in the religious but in the historical sense.

Insulting the Maronite Patriarchy and patriarch is not exclusive to one sect or one political side. Everyone does it and pretends as if it’s not okay to do it. What many seem not to realize is that there’s a thin line between being critical and downright insulting, especially when it comes to such institutions, that we cross way too readily, most often on a whim. Criticizing the Maronite Church’s practices is definitely not and should never be a taboo. And I’ll be the first one to criticize some of the policies they might come up with, something which I have done many times before. However, a few questions need to be asked: did the patriarch’s visit to Syria really cause any harm among the Maronites here or there? No. Did it bruise our pride? Perhaps it did. But is that reason enough to insult the patriarchy, the patriarch and enable publications from countries that do not even know the basic concept of freedom to do the same? I hardly think so.

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18 thoughts on “Insulting The Maronite Patriarch

  1. Exactly! I frankly didn’t have a problem with the content of the picture. But with the country where it was done. Enno n2el3o rsemo heik khbar 3a jame3etkon abl ma tejo la 3enna!!

    Reply
      • The Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon denounced the cartoon and distanced the Saudi government from it. Just because it was in a Saudi newspaper doesnt mean that it is representative of what the Saudis officially think.

        In addition, just because Saudi society is considered a bit backward by some Lebanese, how does that mean that they are not to have an opinion regarding the ongoing slaughter in Syria and the Patriarch’s support for the regime there.

        Reply
        • Seeing as Saudi Arabia is the country of next to none freedom of speech, one would assume the caricature passed through a few sensors before it got published.
          And I daresay Saudi society is not just a “bit backward” by “some” Lebanese. Most Lebanese think it’s very backward. And the patriarch did not support the regime. He did not meet with politicians there and he did not declare his undying love of Assad. So yeah, they don’t get to do that.

          Reply
  2. Although the ironic position of Saudi on caricatures is very disappointing, but I don’t think the scale of the connection is valid (prophet where a holy book says its forbidden to draw VS a current living spiritual / political leader).

    Religious leaders are human and they make mistakes (see our mufti about his statements on civil marriage), and this patriarch in my opinion is not being fair to thousands of people who lost their lives by supporting (if indirectly) the Assad regime. This does not mean that every Maronite and their forefather is to be insulted. It’s policy, not a grand conspiracy against the sect. Aoun is a staunch supporter of Hizbollah and Assad; does that mean anyone blames the entire Maronite community?

    Reply
    • Yeah I said the connection is not valid and that the prophet caricatures are not comparable to this.

      And I think when it comes to politicians, people somehow separate between their sects, Christian ones mostly, and their politics. So Michel Aoun’s policies don’t end up reflecting on Maronites as much as they do on those who support him. Same goes for Samir Geagea.

      Reply
  3. Out of all of this, I’m very glad you addressed the insults to Sfeir. I remember the video when some people stormed Bkerki and hit him. Perhaps you should have included that too.

    Reply
    • I don’t think the video would have served the point but I am familiar with it.
      I believe you cannot address this issue without drawing similarities to what Sfeir went through. Both cases are very similar when it comes to the insults. What differs is who did them.

      Reply
  4. 1st Nowadays, defending the Christians rights is being a “MOUDA” (election is in the air). We see, who insult Patriarch Sfeir years ago times and times, are the first attacking Al Watan. It’s all about politics.
    2nd we could, or should, criticize such personalities..but frankly, when it comes from KSA.. it’s another story… “HAZOULAT”!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • Of course it’s a “mouda” since almost none of our politicians are truly serious about it. If they were, they’d have addressed the issue not only a few months before Election Day.

      I agree with your second point but I have also spoken about another aspect to the issue that transcends what some politicians have said. And yes, we are in agreement about being able to criticize as I made clear towards the end.

      Reply
  5. I agree with you Eli. Ano Saudis . What a bunch of hypocrites.
    Ali i wonder what will happen if the same was done to the Mufti.
    We know what happened when Hassan Nassralah was insulted in a comedy show.

    Anyway the Council of ministers asked the minister of external affairs to send a memo to the saudi embassy and i heard a lawyer is suing the newspaper along with Jihad Ourtani . Good luck with that.

    Reply
    • Yeah an initial draft of this alluded to the libel case which was even filed by Bkerki, not just the man you referred to. I hope it gets somewhere.

      When it comes to the Mufti-Hassan Nasrallah comparison, I actually don’t think the Mufti has the same clout among Sunnis as Hassan Nasrallah has among Shiites.

      Reply
  6. Pingback: Al Jazeera’s Maronite Patriarch Caricature « A Separate State of Mind | A Lebanese Blog

  7. Pingback: Could Patriarch Raï Become The Next Pope? | A Separate State of Mind | A Lebanese Blog

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