The rector of the Catholic University of Kaslik, a theologian and anthropologist, spoke about his views of the current world tensions in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Q: What is the reaction in Lebanon to this international crisis?
Father Mouannes: There is widespread condemnation of religious ideology that justifies violence and turns against Islam itself. There is, in fact, a tolerant Islam, disarmed, which shares with us Christians respect for life, law, human rights. The attack on the United States has also attacked this Islam, promoting terrorism to the level of a sort of sacred theology.
This is immoral, unjustifiable. There is a desire to plunge the Middle East into a situation of fear, as if the violence between Israelis and Palestinians was not enough.
Violence is the work of small groups, but in the long run, it ends up by contaminating the people through the distorted interpretation of religious texts. However, it is not eliminated with more violence, but with law, tolerance and love.
Q: Has there been too much indulgence by “moderate” Muslims toward fanaticism?
Father Mouannes: The problem does not rest with the masses, but with the intellectuals and religious leaders who interpret the sacred texts.
Muslim intellectuals know what fundamentalism is, and if they so wish, they also know how to stop it. The religious leaders, in turn, know how to stop or encourage people in that way. They are also responsible for what has happened.
Now they must condemn the Koranic schools in which terrorism is justified and [lessons are given] on how to attack women and children.
Q: What is the strategy that has tolerated extremism?
Father Mouannes: There is no strategy; it is politicians who have allowed the progress of fanatics.
In Egypt, in Syria, in Jordan, in Iraq, the regimes are against extremism. However, one thing is to watch the most radical forces and another is to publicly declare that this way of interpreting the Koran is unacceptable, [and] not just within the country.
They don´t say this: They fear the people´s reaction, and the masses have a sensitive heart for incendiary fundamentalism.
However, many Muslim countries are afraid of religious fanaticism, at least in their territory, and they will not allow it to spread.
Q: After what has happened, the Islam of kamikazes will have a hard time.
Father Mouannes: Yes, the wave of contempt worldwide will not be without consequences.
Let us remember, however, that Osama bin Laden was born as an ally of the West, which used him against the Soviet Union, and he has now become its mortal enemy.
The same thing happened with Khomeini, first sheltered in France and then transformed into a public enemy. Sometimes one dines at home with the devil.
Much care must be taken when it comes to using religion as a political weapon, [only] to realize later that the pistol is being pointed at you.
Q: What consequences will there be for the Muslim world that the perpetrators of the attack are thought to be Muslims?
Father Mouannes: Very serious. Morally, the image of Muslims is darkened. The restrictions for security reasons will especially affect youth of the Arab countries, who will be denied visas to go abroad. Thus, frustration will increase, instead of guaranteeing security.
Q: Is there any room left for dialogue with Islam?
Father Mouannes: Yes, on the condition that there is respect and that concessions are not made in regard to rights and liberties, as well as in our conception of God. We cannot diminish our faith in the Triune God because of the fact they don´t believe in him. Neither can we accept Islamic law superseding civil law.
Q: Are there responsibilities in the Western world in the genesis of this crisis?
Father Mouannes: The West must feel culpable of two errors: on one hand, it has not understood the history and the reality of the Arab world, basing its judgments on mistaken analyses; on the other, it has shown itself tolerant, for political and economic reasons, with regimes that do not respect human rights, religious liberty, equality among men. With such errors, peace will never be attained.