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Syrian patriarch: religious freedom ‘only exists on paper’ in region

Catholic World News - September 05, 2012

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the head of the Syrian Catholic Church—an Eastern Catholic church in full communion with the Holy See—said that the right to religious freedom “only exists on paper” in the region and that “fundamental Islam does not want a dialogue on equal terms in the long run.”

“When a young man, a Christian, falls in love with a Muslim woman and she loves him, he has to become a Muslim in order to marry her,” said Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan. “Where is the freedom of faith there?”

He added:

Another example: We now have a family from Iran here and they want to be baptised. But in doing this they are risking their lives. Where is the freedom of religion there? Islam does not tolerate a change of faith. There is a similar situation in Turkey. There you can see what follows when freedom only exists on paper.

The goods of Christians have been confiscated and many churches have been destroyed. But the Christians were in Asia Minor before the Muslims. Rights are also officially recognised in Iraq, but nobody protects them, nobody does anything against the persecution of Christians. And now Syria. Our presence is also under threat there

Criticizing EU support for the Syrian rebels, he added:

Permit me to speak quite frankly. There's a lot of hypocrisy in all this. For many governments it's merely a matter of economic interests. They don't really care about the fate of the Christians in the Middle East. Otherwise they would advocate equality before the law and the observance of human rights for all, including in those countries where the so-called Arab Spring has not taken place.

More than a year ago we said that the Arab Spring would result in chaos and civil war. This is not a matter of taking sides for or against Assad or some other potentate in the region. It's a matter of equal rights for all. It's a matter of the primacy of human rights and not the primacy of one religion. Integration and living side-by-side are only possible if this primacy is respected.

I said it to the government in Paris and I'll say it to you: Fundamental Islam does not want a dialogue on equal terms in the long run. If the EU were serious about its human rights principles they would openly take up the cause of the future of younger generations in the region. Let's put it like this: there's a lot of economic opportunism around.

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