Zahlé, Lebanon    19.11.2015


Lebanese Archbishop calls on Europe to rethink the Syria conflict following the attacks in Paris


In the view of the Melkite-Catholic Archbishop of Zahlé in Lebanon, the attacks which took place in Paris were only a matter of time. “We have always known that ISIS is a danger to the whole world. But Europe hasn’t taken it seriously,” said Archbishop Issam John Darwish on Tuesday in an interview  with the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need. “We here in Lebanon feel the pain of the French people. But the French and the world must also feel our pain,” the Archbishop explained, referring to the terrorist attack by ISIS in the Lebanese capital of Beirut on the day before the Paris attacks. More than forty people had been killed and hundreds injured.

Archbishop Darwish explained that the Paris attacks should prompt a rethink. “Europe must change its policy in the Syrian conflict and finally open their eyes,” this native-born Syrian said. “It’s time to fight ISIS together with the Syrian government. Only then will we be able to see how to move on in Syria. We now have to combine forces against the common enemy. I’m sure that this will happen. It would in any case be good for Syria.”

One of the reasons Archbishop Darwish put forward for the Paris attacks was the ideology of the IS jihadists. “The fundamentalists can’t bear the fact that Muslims like those in France are governed by a Christian majority. They believe that things should be precisely the other way round – that Muslims must rule the whole world.” Given the fact that many French Muslims are at present fighting on the side of the jihadists in Syria, France is still in danger, Archbishop Darwish claims. “The young men are fighting in Syria. They undergo brainwashing there. They return to Europe and are no longer able to live without struggle. That is very dangerous.”

Archbishop Darwish was also concerned about the enormous stream of refugees from the Middle East heading for Europe. “Europe must watch closely to see who’s coming. ISIS warriors could easily mix inwith the refugees. This can then become a security problem for Europe.” The Archbishop basically deplored the consequences of the migration. “I consider the decision of the European governments to accept so many refugees to be wrong. This has given a reason to many to leave the region, including Christians. It would be better to help the people here in the region. We need them here. And what’s more the journey across the sea is very dangerous.” Archbishop Darwishsaid that there were now safe zones both in neighbouring countries and in Syria itself. “In Homs or Latakia, as well as near the Lebanese border there are safe areas. Many Syrian families who have found refuge with us have already returned.”

The Melkite Archdiocese of Zahlé near the Syrian border is currently supporting 800 Christian refugee families from Syria with the help of Aid to the Church in Need. “I try to convince the refugees who are with us to stay. If we get more support we will also be more successful,” Archbishop Darwish explained. He expressly thanked Aid to the Church in Need for the all the support it had given. “Without the generosity of the benefactors we wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing.”

Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting the Catholic Church’s work in Lebanon for decades. The financial aid has increased due to the growing number of refugees. In 2014 this help exceeded the amount of 1 million Euro for the first time (in comparison to €610,000 in 2013 and around €382,000 in 2012). The money went to 45 projects, of which more than half are help for the refugees.

Oliver Maksan