Monday, September 24, 2012

The Arab Spring

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16, when at great risk to his own personal safety, the Pope went to the Middle East and spoke a word there of peace, reconciliation, and the dignity of the human person. I am excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, so as to provide a much needed deeper perspective on this most anguished issue of our day.

In itself, the Arab spring is a positive thing: it is a desire for greater democracy, greater freedom, greater cooperation and a revived Arab identity. This cry for freedom, which comes from a young generation with more cultural and professional formation, who seek greater participation in political and social life, is a mark of progress, a truly positive development that has been hailed by Christians too.

Of course, bearing in mind the history of revolutions, we know that this important and positive cry for freedom is always in danger of overlooking one aspect – one fundamental dimension of freedom – namely tolerance of the other, the fact that human freedom is always a shared freedom, which can only grow through sharing, solidarity and living side by side according to certain rules.
This is always the danger, and it is the danger in this case too. We must do all we can to ensure that the concept of freedom, the desire for freedom, goes in the right direction and does not overlook tolerance, the overall social fabric, and reconciliation, which are essential elements of freedom.

Hence the renewed Arab identity seems to me to imply also a renewal of the centuries-old, millennia-old, coexistence of Christians and Muslims, who side by side, in mutual tolerance of majority and minority, built these lands and cannot do other than live side by side. I therefore think it important to recognize the positive elements in these movements and to do all we can to ensure that freedom is correctly conceived and corresponds to growth in dialogue rather than domination of one group over others.
Interview with reporters on flight to Lebanon, Sept 14, 2012

Reflection – Some might argue that the Pope is being a dreamer here. Clearly, within the Arab spring movement are strong elements of intolerance, radical Islamic hegemony, and in fact a net loss of freedom in these nations.

The Pope, it seems to me, is appealing to the consciences, the better angels, the moderate and moderating elements present in all the nations of the Middle East. And he is laying out, with great respect and care, a positive vision of life that can, should, and in fact does appeal to people of good will of all or no religion.
‘Human freedom is always a shared freedom’ – this is the key element, and one which those of us not living in the Arab world must take to heart, too. Once violence becomes the order of the day, no one is really free.

The rioting mob is just as much trapped in its own energy of hate as are the victims it claims. The leaders manipulating the mob end up, almost always, to be either its victims when it turns on them or its slaves, pandering to the demands of the street.

Social reform and transformation sought through violent revolution and the chaos of mob action always yields renewed tyranny. This is true regardless of the religion and culture of the people involved. Human freedom requires tolerance and justice.

People will say, ‘Oh, but Muslims just don’t see it that way, so there’s no use presenting this.’ I don’t agree, and neither does Pope Benedict. And we have to try, and keep trying to build bridges of truth, trust, friendship, respect with all people. If a bridge gets burned down, build another. If that one is blocked by rubble, build another. This is what Christians do. Extra miles, other cheeks, giving of tunics and shirts—all that good stuff. Violence begets violence begets violence. It is love that will heal the world, and love starts nowhere else but with you and me today and the choices we make today.


  1. Father Denis,
    Thanks for writing about this. I have been interested in the pope's message in Lebanon, but really have not had time to read.

    Christians and Muslim co-existence. Tolerance and a focus on the positive elements of both faiths. I think of Arch bishop Raya talking about co-existence, how hard it is. Then Ghandi came to mind- when he talked how world peace will only come about thru religious tolerance and how Christians need to be more Christain, Hindu more Hindu, Muslim more Muslim., etc. i wonder if that is what the pope is talking about when he says human freedom is shared freedom.

    Also, I have been reading the last few entries on your blog... And praying for the divisions in our catholic church as well. I felt sad when I saw you got sort of blasted after you talked why you are not a libertarian. I guess that was another example of intolerance. Geez, such separation.

    This past weekend I was reading something that our pastor wrote . He was talking about the most misunderstood voting block- the Catholic vote. Why? Because there isn't one...and to make matters even more confusing we have catholic candidates for vice president in both the major political parties. ( I don't know about the Libertarian or Green parties- it sounds like you know more about that than me). Catholics are called to bring thru faith to the polls- and both are trying to do this in different ways. He suggested that rather than getting caught up in the polemics....that we focus on the unifying social vision that we are asked to nurture for the life of our nation. He suggested that we focus on our shared Catholicism.

    I got to thinking again, who much we need each other- to clarify our thoughts and desires- to grow in our love of God and each other and so discover truth.

    The rifts in the Middle East, the rifts in our Catholic community are humbling. We are all novices and beginners in our our understanding of faith. ( the anon who blasted you would blast me as well) . This is the narrow and dark way of faith. The truth of any issue lies in God not in us. Humility, perhaps, can bring us closer together in the common search for it.

    1. Thanks, Catherine - I agree totally. I admit to having a pretty thick skin, so 'anonymous' kind of amused me, the comment was so over the top. Internet polemics at its worst. I don't think anyone has ever had to admonish me to 'use your words'! The general consensus thus far has been that I use them far too often and far too many...


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