by Martin Accad
The targeted assassination of Qassem Suleimani and of Abou Mahdi al-Muhandis at Baghdad Airport, authorized by President Donald Trump in the early morning of the January 3rd , officially baptized the new year of 2020 with blood. The elimination of the Major General of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and of the Deputy Leader of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces and head of Kataeb Hezbollah, is expected to seriously impact the stability of the Middle East region.
This operation, which many have read as an “act of war” by the United States against Iran, was preceded by months of popular revolt in Iraq and Lebanon, and more recently in Iran, all of which have involved Iranian-backed paramilitary factions. The killing of over 400 protestors in Iraq, and serious injuring of about 20,000 (as a result of brutal reprisals by government forces and its paramilitary allies) has led to the resignation of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abd el-Mahdi in early December. Shiites loyal to the Sadrist party have been among the main victims of this state-sponsored violence. The fact that both perpetrators and victims are predominantly Shiites brings out the notable role of Iran and its lethal expansionist strategy in the region. In Iraq, Iran’s involvement has led to bloody reprisals. In Lebanon, the role of Hezbollah as Iran’s proxy continues to manifest itself in a softer, though no-less aggressive, control of the future outcome of popular confrontations between the citizens of these countries and the deeply-entrenched and corrupt political elites.
The Republic of Iran was itself born out of a movement of oppressed people fighting against western-supported political elites. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a watershed moment of victory and vindication in a long history of marginalization and persecution. It caught on in Lebanon in 1982 out of the movement of the oppressed of Imam Musa al-Sadr, manifesting itself through Hezbollah with its strong Iranian loyalties.
Iran-inspired and supported Shiite movements in the region have emerged as some of the best armed and most powerful paramilitary groups forty years later; and whether in Lebanon, Syria, or Iraq, their support bases continue to believe in that old narrative of oppression and marginalization.
The increasing confrontations between Iranian-backed Shiites and the region’s Sunni majorities is a classic and tragic case of victims becoming victimizers, as they feel bound to maintain themselves in a position of power and domination out of the fear of being victimized again.
Christian religious leaders both in Lebanon and Iraq have also been caught in the crosshair of this paradoxical dynamic. In Lebanon, Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi in his Sunday sermon on December 8th all-but-named Hezbollah, and more specifically its leader Hassan Nasrallah, as the power making all the decisions in Lebanon as they are the only group retaining their weapons outside the Lebanese army. He came under virulent critique from all sides as a result of this statement. Likewise, in Iraq, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil spoke out against the role of Iran at the UN security council on December 4th.
The statements of the two Archbishops and of other Church leaders drew wide criticism and quickly reopened the question of the boundaries between church and state. But as a matter of fact, these politically-motivated denunciations only reassert the responsibility of Christ’s followers to act righteously, and for the church to speak truth to power without fear of the consequences. Both Audi and Warda have vocally supported the popular uprisings in their countries since their October beginnings, and their condemnation of Iran’s role derives from their understanding that the latter has become a major contributor to the subjugation and silencing of anti-corruption and reform voices.
How do we break the cycle of violence that entangles victim to victimizer without perpetrating historical injustice? How do we liberate those with a victim mentality from the anarchy of a distorted historical self-perception? As Arab Christians, we are called to liberate ourselves first from the mindset of victimhood and the status of oppressed minority. Only when we find healing from our own historical wounds through the wounds of Christ can we begin to see ourselves as part of a solution to the daily violence and injustice in our region. When we react to oppression by seeking to protect ourselves through worldly power, we deny ourselves the opportunity to follow our Master. It is by embracing the model of Christ as the wounded healer that we can come to terms with our own woundedness and find in it a source of healing for societies around us. Such is our calling to the prophetic role of healing, whether we minister to Lebanese and Iraqi Shiites or to Israeli Jews.