Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Friday 22 January |
home iconNews
line break icon

Is Lebanon Next Victim in Islamic State Advance?

© Al Furqan

Josh Craddock - published on 11/21/14

Diversity that protects Lebanese Christians is on verge of collapse, official says.

As the world watches the Islamic State group’s brutal persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq, the danger to Lebanese Christians is frequently overlooked.

Now, a demographic influx of Muslim refugees from neighboring countries is threatening the political balance that ensures the existence of this ancient Christian community.

Father Paul Karam, a Maronite priest who serves as president of Caritas Lebanon, visited New York this week to speak with United States officials about the humanitarian crisis in his country. The message is dire: the delicate balance of religious diversity that protects Lebanese Christians is on the verge of collapse.

Christians are first in line paying the penalty in Lebanon, just as with ISIS in Iraq,” Father Karam told Aleteia, in the Manhattan office of Catholic Near East Welfare Association. “We are trying to maintain communities … to avoid internal immigration for Christians. In my hometown of Kartaba, which is considered a Christian sector, the statistics show 1,700 Syrian [Muslim refugees], which is a large number for our small village.”

According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, there are at least 1.2 million refugees from the Syrian civil war and the ravages of the Islamic State in Iraq, who now reside in Lebanon. But Father Karam estimates that there may be as many as 1.6 million refugees. The majority of these refugees are Sunni Muslims, but Shi’a Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities have also taken refuge in Lebanon.

Lebanon is mosaic of different confessions,” Father Karam explained. “Such a mosaic will be destabilized when you do not have demographic balance. The conflict between Sunni and Shiite—the Sunni supported by Saudi Arabia and the Shi’a supported by Iran—has political consequences [for Lebanon].”

Father Karam believes that some refugees may have a radicalizing effect on native Lebanese, causing regional conflicts and sectarian tensions to spill over into Lebanon. If conflict arises between Syrian refugee groups, he is concerned that the small Lebanese army will not be able to quell the violence and protect minority groups.

In September, a band of Islamic militants spilled over the Syrian border, clashing with security forces and kidnapping and murdering several Lebanese soldiers. In response, Christians in the nearby village of Qaa organized a system of armed self-defense units to protect their community from violent marauders.

Lebanon’s unofficial “National Pact” system, established in 1943, created a multi-confessional system that guaranteed a Maronite Catholic President, a Sunni Prime Minister, and a Shi’a Speaker of the National Assembly. Since the Taif Accord, which brought an end to the Lebanese civil war in 1989, the power of the Christian president has waned in favor of the Muslim prime minister. Following the completion of President Sulaiman’s six-year term in March, however, deadlock in parliament has stymied the election of a new head of state.

To alleviate the humanitarian crisis on the ground, Caritas Lebanon has assumed many of the duties that the Lebanese government has not undertaken. Serving both Christians and Muslims, Caritas aids both refugees and local Lebanese who feel the brunt of the demographic influx by providing food kits, hygienic care, home assistance, and education programs for youth.

Bishop Gregory Mansour, bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron—the Maronite diocese in Brooklyn, New York—joined Fr. Karam to “showcase Lebanon as a place where Christian-Muslim dialogue is real.” Now, he believes that dialogue needs to turn into political cooperation and action.

Christians are the salt of the earth keeping the balance,” Bishop Mansour said. “Lebanon is an experiment in fragile democracy in the Middle East. It is the only place on earth where Sunni and Shi’a are not completely at war with one another. Christians are essential to that experiment.”

It is impossible to leave the Middle East without the Christians,” Father Karam concluded. “The Christians need to be protected by the international community.”

Josh Craddock
writes from New York.

Tags:
Christians in the Middle EastIslamic MilitantsLebanon
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Top 10
1
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful 1-minute film about...
2
DAD, HOW DO I?
Cerith Gardiner
Meet the dad who's teaching basic skills on YouTube for kids with...
3
MARTIN LUTHER KING
Jorge Graña
Did you know Martin Luther King appreciated the Rosary?
4
Philip Kosloski
What are the corporal works of mercy?
5
couple
Anna Gębalska-Berekets
Couple praises Padre Pio's recipe for a happy marriage
6
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
Reasons Catholics should read the Bible
7
EMOTIONAL
Bret Thoman, OFS
Need healing? An exorcist recommends this 12-word prayer
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.