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Conference warns against Christian isolation in Middle East

By Mirella Hodeib

9/27/2010 Lebanon (Daily Star) – The fate and role of Arab Christians lies in their own hands, prominent Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi said on Saturday.

The two-day conference titled “Reviving the Christian Role in the Arab Levant” is organized by the Issam Fares Center for Lebanon and held a few weeks ahead of the much-awaited 2010 Synod dedicated to the Middle East, from October 10-24 at the Vatican.

Saturday’s conference was held at the Issam Fares Auditorium of the American University of Beirut and was attended by an array of political and religious figures.

On Monday, the conference will resume, with lectures centering on the policies to be adopted in the Levant in order to boost the role of Christians.

The Christian communities of the Arab Levant have considerably shrunk in size over the past century, with members leaving their homeland to flee the region’s relentless violence or for economic reasons.

Salibi reminded the Christians of the Levant that they were first and foremost Arabs, adding that it was Christians who helped shape what is today known as the Arab identity.

“Christianity has preceded Islam in this region by six centuries; which makes Christianity a basis rather than a branch,” he said. The historian explained how Christian poets and scholars have contributed to shaping the Arabic language.

“Arabs will no longer remain Arabs and [will lose the characteristics of their Arab identity] if Christians disappear from this part of the world,” he warned.

Salibi called on Christians to reconcile with their Arab identity and realize that they could be “the guardians of this land, if they really wanted too.”

There are approximately 14 million Christians in the Arab world, with the Levant, occupied Palestine in particular, considered the cradle of Christianity. The Old and New Testaments include passages on Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.

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