Beneath the complex and violent situation in the Middle East lies a deficiency of love, said Lebanese-born Christian André Houssney at a recent talk in Boulder, Colo. “This is a family story. The story of the Middle East is a story of the family of Abraham. The people of the Middle East, whether Jews, Christians, or Muslims, trace their history spiritually, and sometimes genetically, back to Abraham,” Houssney noted, saying that “we are talking about a broken family. We are all one family, and we are a mess.” “As we talk about the Middle East, I want to talk about it in this way, the fact that we are human beings, brothers and sisters, as Christians would see it, with One Father. But somehow, our family is fighting at odds with each other, at each other’s throats in the most horrible way,” he said. “The Middle East is a microcosm of the mess that we live in, but you don’t have to look far outside the Middle East to find that we as human beings are in a messy, messed up situation.” The region “has so often been called a ‘holy land’,” he noted. “And yet, when we look at the Middle East, it doesn’t seem very holy, does it? It seems like a place that is engulfed with far more hatred than anything holy.” Houssney spoke Sept. 18 on the topic of “Jesus and Muhammad: Making Sense of the Modern Middle East” at the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought, an intellectual arm of ministry on the campus of CU Boulder, Colorado. Originally from Beirut, Houssney has spent years doing ministry, teaching, and lecturing across the globe on the relationship between Islam and Christianity. He recalled how armed militants forced his grandmother’s family to flee their house in Tel Aviv. He remembered loved ones who died when a bomb was placed on their doorstep. Reflecting on these experiences, he asked the question: When wrongs have been done, what does justice look like? “Humans generally respond to being wronged by wronging others. We have this cycle of hatred and violence, and how can its logic be slowed down? You did this to me, and I am going to do it to you. How does this logic ever stop? That is the question before us today,” Houssney commented. “We have a very complex situation in the Middle East,” he said, recognizing that not all Muslims, Jews, and Christians are all the same. There is “a great deal of adversity,” he said, cautioning against having “tunnel vision about these kinds of things,” and warning the U.S. media not to “paint with too bold a brush.” Houssney discussed the teachings of both Islam and Christianity. He observed that “Jesus taught to love your neighbor, regardless of ethnic race and religion. He demonstrated this love for minorities, to those being persecuted, to women, and even to the Roman soldiers who crucified him.” Drawing from Jesus’ teachings of peace, Houssney laid out some keys for peace in the Middle East. First, he said that we ought to recognize ourselves as part of the problem. “We always tend to see others as the problem. Whether we are Jews, Palestinians, or Christians, someone else is the problem in the Middle East,” he said. “When you recognize that you are part of the problem, repentance naturally flows out of that. Repentance means to turn around, to change directions. No longer will I consider someone else responsible for everything that is happening in the Middle East. I am going to look at my own community, my own family, my own attitude and actions, and recognize in myself the problem, and turn away from it.” Houssney also urged acceptance of God’s forgiveness, saying that this will help us to “forgive others for what they have done to me.” “Islam cannot be criticized for its emphasis on justice. Justice is a noble, wonderful thing. And yet, we can’t have it,” he said, because true justice on earth is illusive. “An eye for an eye is the best that we can do, and it ends up leaving everyone blind.” “We have to let go of justice. We can’t expect that I can make it right, or somehow someone will pay for all the lives that have been lost, and all the misery that has happened.” The speaker’s final suggestion was “allowing God to begin to change our hearts and the way we behave towards others,” because this is the only way to stop the cycle of violence. “Without someone absorbing the pain and not passing it on, violence will never stop. No human being is strong enough to absorb that pain — only Jesus is strong enough. Only Jesus is the solution for peace in the Middle East,” he said. Amidst the atrocities within the Middle East, Houssney also offered a glimpse of hope “There is an estimated half a million to two million converts from Islam to Christianity in Iran in the last decade. Christianity is growing by conversion,” he noted. Although many Christian and religious minorities face the danger of extermination, Houssney observed that Christianity is strong in the face of adversity. Ultimately, he said, only love will solve the problems plaguing the region. “Love is powerful,” he reflected, “but you can’t mandate love.” “Use love as a reaction. The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear. Have love for the Middle East — it will change your perspective and have a big impact.”
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