Dear Dr. Romano:
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There are difficulties invisible to Westerners that push Christians to emigrate to the West: ten million in the last century! Data was even published by Magdi Cristiano Allam. I follow her column carefully and it saddens me that with her diplomatic language she avoided the root of the problem and the examples she cited do not reflect reality. I understand that her contacts re- main at a certain level which does not reflect the substance that would come to light if she could contact the people con- cerned. The presence of churches built for the most part in pre-war periods conceals
social oppression and the discriminatory laws in force. For example, there is a ban in Egypt on the building of temples and chur- ches, unless 10 conditions have been met that are difficult to implement. An edict by Caliph Omar 639 A.D. still regulates rela- tions between Muslims and Christians and the permission to build places of Christian worship. This was confirmed by a decree
of the Ministry of the Interior in Egypt in February 1934, which cites the 10 requirements which must be fulfilled before issuing a building permit. Repairing a church wall requires the authorization of the President of the Republic. In most cases prohibitions are diverted by the good will of local officials, but they are always susceptible to blackmail. Religious worship must, howe- ver, remain discreet. At the core of the contrasts between the West and the Islamic world, contrasts ap- parently invisible to the eye of an uninformed Italian, are the rights and duties of
non-Muslim citizens as codified by the law on personal status. In fact, the divine source of the Koranic law, freedom of religious choice, equality between citizens, and women’s rights are the most striking points of contrast of all Arab countries with Western culture. Personally, I believe that the real cultural revolution in the Arab world should pass through women and that we immi- grants in the West have a duty to draw the public’s attention to these contrasts which are invisible to the naked eye. Dr. Romano, given the resonance of your column, I hope that on your return you
will be able to raise or rather highlight the situation of human rights in the Arab wor- ld, not so much the building of churches or reciprocity, but human rights. Thank you. P.S. I would like to inform you of an article of mine on the subject published by Popoli in POPOLI in February 2005: http://www.ildialogo.org/dialogofedi/patriarcaticristia- ni21022005.htm
LETTER OF THE DAY: CHRISTIANS IN ISLAM RESPONSIBILITY OF ITALY
La lettera del giorno: I cristiani nell’islam responsabilità dell’italia 3 August 2008 The statement that there are Christian churches in Islamic countries can be true, as it is true that there are bishops, apostolic legacies, and priests. What you have omit- ted to specify, however, are the living conditions that Christians in most Islamic countries are forced to endure, especially in the
Middle East. Some examples are worth more than long speeches. In Aleppo, Syria, over a few short years Christians were reduced to a few thousand and, because of the persistence of present oppression, they are destined to disappear. In Lebanon, as declared by the current Patriarch of the Church of that country, the exodus of Maronites, Orthodox and Catholics continues
incessantly. The Christians of Iraq are continually persecuted and sentenced to death according to Sharia law, as the many Iraqi refugees living in Italy constantly testify. Even Egypt, a country that has made progress, has made the survival of Coptic Christians difficult. They must hide their faith, otherwise they are marginalized and as a result they cannot work for a living. I was able to see this for myself through di- rect testimony during a stay in Sharm elSheikh. I could continue listing examples about the same subject, always with an- ti-Christian facts and actions ascertained
in Iran, Turkey, Algeria, Pakistan, Sudan and so on. It is not building churches, as your response shows, that characterizes Islamic countries as tolerant. When these churches are empty becau- se attending them can cost one his or her life, perhaps it’s better not to build them.
Gabriele Murra, Bolzano
I didn’t say that Islamic countries are tolerant. I limited myself to explaining why the principle of reciprocity is difficult to apply in the circumstances I described. And I added that a democratic country, founded on tolerance, cannot fail in its principles without betraying itself. There are, however, arguments in your letter that prompt reflection. It is certainly true that Christians, in some
Muslim countries, are victims of unjust treatment and deprived of some fundamental freedoms. But the cases you listed are very heterogeneous. In Syria, a few months ago, I was very favourably struck by two factors: the hospitality granted by the Syrian authorities to Iraqi refugees (many of whom are Christians) and the existence of a neighbourhood in Aleppo in which there are churches representing all the Christian cults of the Levant. In Lebanon, I recently met the Patriarch of the Maronites, Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, in his palace in Bkirki on the slopes of the hills
that rise towards Mount Lebanon.
From him I learned that a million Maronites left the country during the long years of the civil war. They did not leave, however, because they were affected by discrimi- nation and persecution. They left a country at war because, unlike other religious groups, they could count on the solidarity of a large Maronite dia- spora (about eight million people), now happily settled in Europe, the Americas and Australia. I remind you that in Lebanon, despite the sharp fall in the Christian population, the material constitution still provides for the
President of the Republic (the last was elected by Parliament two months ago) to be a Maronite. The Iraqi case is certainly the most painful. I met Assyrian and Chaldean refugees in Damascus who were mistrea- ted, blackmailed, forced to choose between exile and death. But it is worth remembering that in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq these same Christians could freely profess their faith and
exercise their economic activities. The drama of the Iraqi Christian communities began with the American invasion of the country in the spring of 2003. In Egypt the Copts represent roughly 6% of
a population that includes 71 million people.
There have been incidents and bloody cla- shes with radical Islamist groups, especially during the election campaign for renewal by the People’s Assembly. And the government is perhaps less liberal towards them than it was in the past. But the Copts continue to have important positions in Egyptian society. They have government positions, and a large family in the community—the
Sawiris family—controls Orascom Telecom, one of the largest telecommunication companies in the Mediterranean.
One last remark. The criterion of reciprocity applies only to cases in which the legitimate interests of the States are at stake. The Italian State has the right and the duty to defend its citizens abroad and to ensure that they are not subject to discriminatory measures. But it cannot deal with Christians as such except in the name of ideal principles and within the framework of any international conventions. Italy is not “defender of the faith”, “protector of the faithful” or “guardian of the holy places”. If it behaved as such it would be a confessional state, that is to say an institution of which many Italians would prefer not to be citizens. P.S. With this answer the column goes on leave for four weeks. Happy holidays to all readers. We will meet again on Monday 1 September.