On Christmas Day, The New York Times published a lengthy article on Lebanon titled, “In this Arab Nation, Jesus isn’t only for Christians.”
The piece struck me as propaganda, not a news story. Most telling, the opening paragraphs focused on Iranians and their Hezbollah agents, not Lebanese Christians:
The Iranian cultural attaché stepped up to the microphone on a stage flanked by banners bearing the faces of Iran’s two foremost religious authorities: Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, and Ayatollah Khamenei, the current supreme leader.
To the left of Ayatollah Khomeini stood a twinkling Christmas tree, a gold star gilding its tip. Angel ornaments and miniature Santa hats nestled among its branches. Fake snow dusted fake pine needles.
“Today, we’re celebrating the birth of Christ,” the cultural attaché, Mohamed Mehdi Shari’tamdar, announced into the microphone, “and also the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.”
The proclamations from the stage were applause lines—perhaps against the odds, given that the audience at the Iranian-sponsored event on Saturday consisted mostly of observant Shiites from the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut.
When a pair of Iranian bands flown in for the occasion began playing Assyrian and Persian Christmas carols, the audience clapped along.
In my judgment, Iranian officials and Hezbollah praising the birth of Christ in a public ceremony is sheer hypocrisy.
Although Article 9 of the Lebanese Constitution guarantees respect for all religions, this has not stopped radical groups like Hezbollah from gravely tampering the freedom of Christians.
During the second millennium, Hezbollah and its government stooges have chipped away at the religious liberty of Lebanese Christians. Many Christian sites and institutions, including churches and cemeteries, have been desecrated or destroyed. Large numbers of Christians have been arrested on trumped up charges and numerous missionaries and priests have been murdered.
On the night of November 20, 2002, for example, an American missionary in southern Lebanon was murdered. The victim, a 31-year-old American nurse named Benny Witherall, was shot three times. The killer was never found and the authorities suggested the murderer was anti-American, not anti-Christian.
After political cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad appeared in the Danish press in early 2006, a mob that grew to 20,000 burnt down the Danish Consulate in Beirut on February 5. They also attacked the Christian neighborhood in the Achrafieh district. Numerous stores, buildings, and churches were damaged.
Two Christian websites in Lebanon — belonging to an International Catholic Union for the Press and the Middle East Council of Churches — were hacked. All the content of the websites was deleted and replaced with Muslim material.
Maronite Archbishop Bechara Rai has condemned “Islamization schemes” being implemented in Lebanon. He deplored the government’s decision of June 2007 that cancelled Good Friday as a national holiday, accusing the government of acting as though it was a “theocratic Islamic state.” Citing the “Charter of Children’s Rights in Islam,” issued by the government in May 2007, the prelate charged that “with this decree, the government is ignoring the presence of the Christians and infringing Article 9 of the Constitution, the co-existence pact and the particular and specific character of Lebanon, transforming it into an Islamic state and society.”
Historically, Lebanon has been recognized as the nation in the Middle East with the most religious freedom because, as per the French legacy, its government has been structured to accommodate representation of the country’s different faiths. However, many Christian leaders fear that latent persecution and the Islamization of Lebanese society pose a growing threat to those freedoms. In addition, there is growing support for political groups demanding a fully secular state which, if implemented, would mean the “deconfessionalization” of the government. In practice, this would allow the majority Muslims to take over almost the entire government and subsequently impose their will on the minority Christian population.
The declining numbers of Christians in Lebanon tells the real story. In 1926, 84 percent of the new nation was Christian and today Christians represent only about 30 percent of the population. If this trend continues, analyst Benny Avni observed, “Lebanon may one day, not too long from now, go the way of the rest of the region, where Christians are an endangered species.”
The New York Times puff piece should have read, “In Lebanon, Jesus is for everyone except Christians.”
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." He is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. Mr. Marlin also writes for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. To read more George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.