By Dr Amine Jules Iskandar Syriac Maronite Union–Tur Levnon
In Amchit, on the slopes of Mount Lebanon, Ernest Renan wrote in his biographical book The Life of Jesus (1897) that Christ founded the true meaning of religion when He said, “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”. It is in duality, and the conception of secularism, that the Christian religion has defined itself. This Christian concept par excellence cannot necessarily be understood or adopted by other forms of worship thought. Secularism therefore cannot radically impose itself; it must be careful, sensitive to subtleties and incorporate nuances. This is how the Lebanese political and legal system embeds secularism in all areas, ensuring equality between citizens while preserving specificities in terms of personal status. The so-called revolutionary groups in our society, who loudly and publicly demand secularism in Lebanon, are incompetent in both their understanding of the meaning of the concept of secularism and the spirit of the Lebanese constitution, which they seem to ignore. Moreover, asking for civil status in a country that already is secular – Lebanon has no state religion – is an absurdity. But what is even more absurd is to see that these people contrast secularism with Christianity, as the Christian faith actually incorporates secularism completely into its thinking. These groups define themselves as secular, without suspecting the Christian origin of the term.
In their recklessness, these revolutionary groups refuse the support of the Church and of Christian forces against a totalitarian fundamentalist militia whose danger they do not perceive or fear at all. They claim to be leftists, progressives, liberals or secularists and are convinced that they can solve all problems with a wave of a magic wand. Unfortunately, huge sums of money are being put into their hands by the Lebanese diaspora to realize completely utopian social designs. The effects are starting to be felt in our universities and point to what lies ahead for us in the upcoming legislative elections. All is reminiscent of similar events that took place in Iran in the 1970s and 1980s, when it faced an ultra-religious entity identical to the one that threatens Lebanon now and here. It is Iran that created this ultra-religious entity among us.
Desires for progress and equality can easily stir and mobilize the youth. Young people dream of a better world and a perfect society and think that they can only achieve this by breaking down all the pillars of today’s society. This dangerous fantasy has also been that of the Iranian left since the 1920s, but especially so after the founding in 1941 of Toudeh Party of Iran (The Party of the Masses). This political movement brought together Iranian left-wing elites and intellectuals, which the working masses later joined. Its ideology was communist and Marxist-Leninist. Firmly established in Isfahan, the Toudeh Party took hold of the universities as the center of its revolutionary militancy. It was in the universities that the left, seen as a force of progress and change, won its first battles against the traditional system. The strategy was to not get into confrontation with the Shia clergy. This led to the victory of the revolution which, in January 1979, succeeded in driving the Shah out of the country. The early days of the Iranian revolution were times of euphoria. Political prisoners were released and there were promises of modernization. However, as early as 1981, the Islamic Republican Party ousted pro-secular president Bani Sadr. Then the ‘pasdaran’ (armed revolutionary committees) launched a witch hunt against thousands of young people and left-wing activists. Almost all were executed.
By agreeing to turn a blind eye to the Shia clergy deemed anti-imperialist, the Toudeh Party has in fact unknowingly collaborated with the Islamists. This attitude led to the imprisonment of its entire leadership in 1982. Subsequently, 5,000 Toudeh members and supporters were arrested and executed. The executions continued until 1988. Those who escaped arrest and purges had to choose between exile or submission to the radical Islamism of the mullahs. It was the establishment of this fundamentalist totalitarian regime that continues to subject the Iranian people to terror to this day.
In the current confrontation, Lebanon’s universities are reliving a similar scenario. Where the proponents of secularization and change think they win victories over the secular forces of the Christian right, they are in fact, unknowingly and against their own good, clearing and preparing the ground for the rise of the Islamic Republic.
Dr Amine Jules Iskandar is an architect and the former president of the Syriac Maronite Union – Tur Levnon. Amine Jules Iskandar has written several articles on the Syriac Maronites, their language, culture, and history. You can follow him @Amineiskandar2
The views expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.
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