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How to stop ISIS? We must stop buying its cheap oil and stop selling them weapons. Bishop Maroun Elias Nimeh Lahham, former Archbishop of Tunis and now Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan, is in Rovigo to participate in a panel discussion on mercy during the Biblical Festival. In this interview with Vatican Insider, he tells of the drama of the refugees in Jordan, who have doubled the population of the country. And he explains why “exporting democracy” is a failed idea.
What is the situation of the refugees in Jordan?
“Jordan, a country of six million inhabitants, accommodates three million as refugees: that means 50 percent of its population. This is due first and foremost to its hospitality, which is a value of Arab culture and then the fact that these refugees come from Iraq and Syria, which is to say from neighboring countries. Now we hope that this situation does not become like that of the Palestinian refugees sixty years ago, because Jordan can not bear numbers like that.”
“It depends. For the Syrians there is a very close cooperation between the Jordanian Government and Caritas Jordan. A small part of the Syrians live in refugee camps. There are three, the most important of which is Zaatari: at one point they had grown to 140,000 but now they have decreased as they gradually return to their villages that have been liberated. And then they live in the cities of Jordan, in a situation that is unprecedented for us. An example: Mafraq, a city to the north of the country, has 50 thousand inhabitants and 70 thousand Syrian refugees. A transformation at all levels, along with some problems. Meanwhile for the Iraqis a distinction must be made. Jordan has had four waves of refugees from Iraq: 1991, 1993, 2003 and 2014. The latest came after the fall of Mosul and the Ninevehplain. All of these are Christians, Catholics. And there, what the government did was just to allow them to come, even without passports, because they had lost everything. Then it entrusted them to the Caritas which takes care of everything: food, shelter, medical care, education. Recently the Italian Episcopal Conference has adopted a schooling project for 1500 children, with the cost of a million and a halfyear. The CEI has adopted it for two years. We hope that in two years the Iraqi refugees will have returned to their country and that Jordan will return to having a more normal life.”
“The Syrians do, more than the Iraqis. Because the former have their lands and their homes, while the Iraqis have arrived from Mosul and the Ninevehplain, and say they do not want to return, even though the country was pacified. They say they werer obbed by their Muslim neighbors, after their departure. I think they say that because they have a third option in front of them, to leave for the US and Canada. When they seet hat the options are only two, to return to their country at peace or stay in Jordan with no right to work, I think some will return. In fact, I read recently that some Christian Iraqi who had already arrived in Europe then returned to Iraq because he was not adapted.”
“This is a world war in pieces, as the Pope says. The war is not only in Syria and for Syria; there are so many parties involved: America, Russia, Europe, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. There is enormous hypocrisy on the part of Westerners, especially Americans, who buy oil from Daesh, the Islamic State, at a very low price. Daesht ook the oil wells and sells oil at very low prices just to have money. But not only for this: they buy oil and sell them weapons. If these channels are not closed…”
“Of course! During his visit to Jordan, at the baptism site, he said that those who sell weapons are criminals. And they are.”
“The clearest example is Iraq. As soon as the Americans arrived they dissolved the Iraqi army, and from that day, Iraq was no longer a country, but instead returned to apocalyptic dimensions. Democracy cannot be exported, and democracy is not given; democracy is achieved, step by step. The West has known only one form of democracy. It not a given that European or Western democracyis the one to be applied in China or in the Middle East. Pope Francis always speaks of the Church that should not be centered on itself. It seems to me that Europe is like this: itwants to apply its own standards to the whole world and this is totallywrong, socially as well as politically.”
“In our lands the relationship with Islam is very different from the relationship that exists in the West. For a very simple reason: in our region, Islam is the majority, we are only three percent of the population and therefore we must make concessions. When Islam is the majority you do not put it into question. However, in Europe Islam willalways be a minority, itisuseless to thinkthat Europe will be Muslim. It is a fear that is unfounded. Islam in Europe must forge a law made for an Islamic minority. So far the Muslim jurisprudence has been designed for an Islam that is in command, and the others must submit. Our relations within a dialogue at the level of normal life, of studies, and of intellectuals, are excellent. But all of that stops in front of marriage: when it comes to that, the Christian says I am a Christian, a Muslim says I am a Muslim. And this is accepted by both sides, because if someone transgresses this situation of the status quo, 99 percent of mixed marriages betweenChristians and Muslims fail. The concept of marriage is not the same, the role of women, of children, is not the same.”
“There are many kinds of Muslims. Islam is like Christianity, in itself it is one. It depends on how you live it, which verses of the Koranyou take. In fact, the problems are not between the faiths themselves, buta mong the people who believe in these faiths. There is a Christian fanatic, there is a Jewish fanatic, and there is a Muslim fanatic. It is true that the proportion of fanatical Muslims is much greater thant hat of the Christians, also because the matrix of the Gospel is love and peace.”