One downside of doing MENA Analysis only once monthlyis that it gets hard to select the topics that Marcus Jones and I could cover for our listeners on Premier Christian Radio. After all, we are no longer living in the pre-Internet era when stories took their time shuffling from one medium to another across different continents. Today, it is instantaneous, and what radio or TV programmes miss out on, social media steps in with questionable wisdom but unchallenged alacrity!
So I had to think quite hard to decide what we can offer our faithful listeners this month! Would it be the recognition of the State of Palestine by the Holy See in Rome and the canonisation of two religious nuns from Ottoman Palestine? Or should we discuss the increasing pressures on Lebanon? Could it be that we should talk about Jordan, a close ally of the UK, as it warily shuns the fault lines of the region? Or Egypt whose judiciary is busily issuing death sentences against those who do not share the current - and seasonal - values of its rulers? Besides, we surely cannot ignore a major war pitting Iran against Saudi Arabia and its allies that is taking place in Yemen and on the Yemeni-Saudi border?
I am well aware that the majority of Premier listeners come with a strong evangelical Christian faith. Therefore, Marcus and I often try to draw religion and politics together in the MENA region in order to show the convergences as well as divergences between two topics that at first glance might seem to be kingdoms apart! After all, I do not need to remind any of our listeners that Jesus told his disciples, “Give what is Caesar's to Caesar and what is God's to God” (Mk 12:17).
However, we are dealing with a region that is home to three monotheistic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And no matter how I spin it, and regardless of the number of interreligious fora I have participated in over many years, the stark reality is that the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region is built on a conglomeration of religion and politics that at times polarise each other. Unlike the UK, if one speaks to any Middle Easterner, it soon becomes evident that almost every sentence is peppered with invocations or incantations that have to do somehow with religion.
“Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt 7:1): I struggle to apply this scriptural verse in my own life and therefore I also accept the realities of the region as I work with the wonderful men and women who today are coping with existential issues, with hopes and fears, that are as much incandescent as they are impalpable. So stay with us as Marcus and I - at times with guests and at others on our own - battle across those frontlines for the sake of touching the corrugated edge of what we deem to be the truth. The truth: now that is a tall order, so let me qualify and add … as we both understand it.
Where are we going this month with MENA Analysis?
I am truly delighted that Liam Allmark, the parliamentary and policy manager at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, will join us in studio for part of the programme. He will discuss with me his observations from a recent trip (organised by Aid to the Church in Need) that he undertook to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan with a small number of bishops from the Catholic, Anglican and Coptic Churches in England. This was an example of a trip that wove together the triple humanitarian, faith-based and political dimensions of Iraq, and his thoughts might help us appreciate the complexities challenging the refugee populations (especially Christian and Yezidi) in the different camps in Iraq.
I will also discuss with Marcus the realities and implications of the war in Yemen let alone address the latest developments in Syria (including the fate of the Roman historical ruins of Palmyra) and the impact of this sinister war on Lebanon. And I will endeavour to conclude with the dreaded and abstruse question: what are the spoils of radicalism?
So join us on Thursday night, at 10 PM, as we try to make some sense of a rather dusty and oft-inflammable region. You need not be on the same page as me or Marcus throughout our whole hour, and you can share your comments or thoughts with us online, but do keep in mind also that solidarity is very much part of our Christian fellowship - and that is not simply by talking the talk but much more earnestly by walking the walk.
Allow me here to add an after-thought: would you keep Fr Jacques Mourad in your prayers? He is a priest of the Syriac Catholic Church from Homs in Syria who was kidnapped last week along with one of his colleagues from Aleppo.
According to l'Oeuvre d'Orient, Father Mourad was kidnapped at his Mar Elian Monastery in the town of Qaryatayn as he prepared to welcome the refugees from Palmyra. And interestingly enough for me, Fr Mourad had also succeeded the Italian Jesuit Priest Paolo Dall'Oglio as head of the Mar Moussa Monastery after Dall'Oglio was kidnapped in 2013 too.