February 28, 2002
by Center for Religious Freedom
The Center commissioned an analysis of the status of religious minorities in Islamic countries from Professor Habib Malik, a human rights expert in his own right and son of Charles Malik, a drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Excerpts from Prof. Malik's analysis are below, in which he appealed for U.S. support for Lebanon:
[Dhimmi] is a jurisprudential category of second-class inferior status for the "People of the Book" (Jews and Christians). It has two broad components: a system of institutionalized submission, and a psychological dimension involving a slippery slope of ever-growing appeasement and sycophancy. It is not a system of tolerance as conventional but erroneous wisdom has described it; rather it is one of gradual and relentless liquidation resulting in physical elimination, or hidaya (enlightenment and conversion) of the targeted community. It is certainly true that to speak of "Islam" or "Muslims" in sweeping terms can be misleading because there are so many variations within Islam. However, a remarkable degree of uniformity is apparent among Islamic portraits of "the different other", especially the Christian, and even more so the Jew. Hence it is not an oversimplification in this context to refer to an "Islamic view".
Two distinct historical experiences characterize the native Christian communities of the Middle East and Arab world: the dhimmi and the free. Over 90 percent of the ten million or so Christians of Arab lands are dhimmis and have never known a free and equal and dignified existence. They include the Copts of Egypt, the Christians of Syria and Iraq, and Palestinian Christians. The remainder-mainly in Lebanon-have managed to resist dhimmitude and remain free, though at a great cost to themselves. Today, they are freer than all other indigenous Christians of the region despite everything that has happened in Lebanon over the past quarter century. But though free they are nevertheless increasingly embattled, isolated, neglected, and marginalized. They live under the combined pressures of Syrian occupation, the armed state-within-a-state of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, demographic decline, deteriorating economic conditions, the suspension of the Middle East peace process, and general Western (particularly American) neglect.
Free Christianity in the region, a fragile and rare commodity under the best of circumstances, can go a long way in promoting openness, freedom, pluralism, and the advancing of values it shares with the Western democracies. Despite its many flaws, pre-1975 (pre-war) Lebanon did just that and was an oasis of vibrancy, creativity, and educational and medical excellence-all mainly thanks to its free and reasonably secure Christian community. In many instances the Lebanese Muslim type that was the product of this pre-1975 Lebanon was a highly educated and sophisticated liberal-minded moderate who often served as a model for other Muslims in the Arab world and beyond.
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