Reactions by Lebanese Catholics to World War I - Installment 3

            By Dr Dennis Walker,  Researcher,
                  Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, Caulfield 3145. 
                   Email: ---
                   Phone: 9540 8441 (mornings).

              The havoc of WWI was assessed --- or experienced --- by many in Lebanon as an end of hope and of meaning in history.  Preceding assumptions among Lebanon’s Catholics that God or alternatively Progress (both as conceptualized from Europe) would order history towards human welfare faced a severe challenge from the death of millions.  Clericist Catholic ideologues had to restructure Catholic Christianity to make it find meaning in such slaughter and prevent or contain future conflict.  The War had similarly devastated secular world-views in the Arab East.  The Western states that had claimed to stand for Enlightenment, rationality and Progress had shown their capacity for atavistic devastation against each other.  Thus, Lebanese and other Arab quasi-secularists now searched for supplementary meanings from established religions, although mostly in a theosophical way. 
                 As disrespect spread in the world towards European states and cultures, the Maronite clerical writers responded to the maneuverings of Muslim apologists, the Arab theosophists and freemasons and the Arab post-Christian anti-clerics to highlight their creeds, not Catholicism, as the solutions to conflict.  Both post-Christian anti-clericists and modernist salafi Islamists had long cited the crusader wars and the Inquisition as past violence and terror by the Church of Rome.  An _al-Mashriq_ article by Fr Butrus Faraj Sufayr, “The Church and Resistance to Wars,” welcomed that a group of eminent Englishmen were launching a League of Religions.  Its ambitious aim was to organize spiritual forces in the world to strengthen general peace and the joint interests of nations.  _al-Mashriq_ recognized among those attending the England conference names of people representing different religions and sects, bishops and rabbis, as well as major thinkers and people working for social reform.
                Fr Sufayr had been budged somewhat by the slaughter of the War from _al-Mashriq_’s previous robust faith in the capacity of Catholicism to go it alone in history.  He welcomed the League (and greater readiness to consider religion of the Mason Jurji Zaydan’s _al-Hilal_ that publicized it) as opening the way for an expanded role for the Church in international relations.  Only through religion as the force with the most influence in the world over people could humanity be led to the peace that had so long eluded it.  “Those who in ancient and modern history worked most to end wars, or at least lessen their horrors, were the men of religion, and in particular the high clerics of the most widespread religion in the world, the Catholic Church”. 
               Fr Sufayr had partly penned his article out of fury at an essay by the West-acculturated Indian Syed Ameer ‘Ali (1849-1928), translated in Egypt’s journal _al-Bayan_, which had striven to contrast Islam to the failure of Christianity after the Roman Empire adopted it to at all lessen the horrors of wars, oppression and extermination: Christianity had refused to address issues of international relations and reciprocal duties between peoples.  Sufayr retorted that Jesus set up the Church in the first place as the mechanism to establish in this world, after He ascended, his social teachings, and peace in given societies and in international relations.  As Paul had put it, there no more remained amongst those who accepted Christ Jew nor Greek, not slave nor freeman, neither male nor female: all of them have become equal and one in the Messiah (Galatians 3:28).  Sufayr cited NT verses that exhorted to forbearing pacifism even towards enemies: “do not allow evil to overwhelm you but overwhelm it by goodness".
             The writer challenged the Islamic apologists to muster for Islam clear verses on this level.  The saying of the Prophet Muhammad that Ameer ‘Ali had cited, “bind yourself to he who cuts you off and be charitable to those who injure you”, had been established by _al-Mashriq_ magazine years before to have been all lifted from the Bible to the very letter.
               In face of all the death of World War I, Sufayr argued that the Universal Catholic Church was the force most able to bring the world peace.  Far from being part of past or recent violence in Europe, the Church and its Popes had acted as the arbitrator to decide between kings and princes whose proclivities could have ignited war and social conflict. In the middle ages, popes in Rome, when they saw ill-treatment by some Kings against their subjects, defended those who had been oppressed without any fear of the power that those tyrants exercized.   Henry IV, the Emperor of Germany who ignited in Europe a war that inflicted catastrophes on its lands, finally was forced to submit and desist before the wise old man of Rome.
              This characterization by Sufayr ignored that Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) was no such wise arbitrator who only intervened to bridle kings after they became violent and expansionist or repressive at home.   Rather, it was the simultaneous drives of both he and Henry IV to expand their respective power-systems that drew them to their collisions.   Gregory may have founded the Papacy’s long-term supremacy over the Catholic churches and its claim to supervize the secular rulers of Europe, but in his life-time his drive to reduce kings to vassals sparked grotesque situations of double-popes and alternate kings or emperors for Germany and fighting and looting in holy Rome that far from fostered peace or stability or any regard for religion and the Church.   When Henry, in the last bout, marched into Rome, he put his anti-pope on the throne of the abandoned Gregory who then died with little dignity in exile in 1085.  Pope Gregory was close to the paradigms of the Arabic freemasons, anti-clericists, freethinkers and the Muslim polemicists that the popes and Christian churches in general could not stop themselves from intervening destructively in politics and intellectual life, from which religion had to be excluded.
               Sufayr argued that the papacy carried its immemorial arbitrative role in international high politics forward into modern history when its mediation by Pope Leo XIII in 1885 settled the conflict that developed between Germany and Spain over the Caroline Islands.  Peru and Chile, too, made Pope Leo and then Pius X arbitrators for the demarcation of borders between them. 
              Given the Church’s track-record in settling a host of disputes and wars, the sidelining of it from modern peacemaking had to be ended.   “Would not the world have avoided all the terrors and hatreds of the last World War, had Austria and Serbia both taken to the Holy See the issues of that conflict that set off all these wars and caused so much suffering?”
             Sufayr was being selective.   The Italian nationalists had in 1861 made papal territories in Rome their capital: then Leo XIII (1878-1903) had indeed labored to build for the papacy an important role in international affairs, stressing the high cost of an armed peace.  But the Carolines in 1885 had been his only success, and he was not invited to the Hague Peace Conference of 1899 because of objections from the Italian government.  Leo had been reduced to courting support from post-Kulturkampf Germany and from positivist France for a settlement of the Roman question.  Sufayr fleeted over the extent to which the international Catholic church had been cut down, sidelined, marginalized and hit by secularist, anti-clerical or downrightly anti-Christian regimes in Europe and Latin America that were determined to transform their national societies and their world standing without any trammels or meddling from the Church.
              Lebanon’s clericists remained on the defensive against Arab secularists who held up modern Europe’s secularism.   Sufayr had something of Louis Shaykhu’s animus against Europe’s modernity and strove to turn the late War against it to argue a religious imperative in history:
“Today the illusion is dying away that Science and cultivation and civilisation can ameliorate customs and bring people’s natures under control, and so eliminate the causes of conflicts.  The events of the last few years have shown that all the development of modern sciences only turned them into a terrible instrument that have made War unprecedentedly barbarous and destructive.  It all proved that nothing can now free humanity from wars other than religions”.
            He rebutted the charges from Islamists and Christian-born Arab free-thinkers that the church had itself exercized military aggression or whipped up violence by others.  The popes had maintained properties to sustain the church, and this understandably led to the creation of a state which the Pope of Rome then had to defend by force if it were invaded.  (Answering radically secular Italian nationalists?)  The crusader wars were only defensive and proportionate.  The Islamic states as their territories widened were threatening the Christian kingdoms until they became very close to their great capitals.  The aim of the crusader wars was only to deliver the holy places from the hands of those who had usurped and violated them.  Fr Sufayr made this argument easy for himself: the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Illah --- considered an insane non-Muslim by the world’s Sunnis --- had destroyed 30,000 Christian churches after the Church of the Resurrection in noble Jerusalem.  Could anyone really blame the church for trying to wrest back and then defend the holiest lands of its religion?  The same thing applies to all its actions to beat off from Europe the advancing tide of the Turkish state which the Muslims themselves [=Arab nationalists including Rashid Rida, Egypto-Syrian editor of _al-Manar_] as well as the Christians condemned.  Some charges of the Arab free-thinkers and such salafists as Rida and his mentor Muhammad Abduh and the acculturated Muslim apologists had cut close to home: “we are far from approving the height of the injustices that some Kings of the Christians reached, like the 1572 Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre and some aspects of the Inquisition in Spain.  The Church [leaders] not only did not incite such acts but was the first to rebuke them”  FN[[Fr Butrus Faraj Sufayr, “al-Kanisah wa Munahadat al-Hurub” (The Church and Resistance to Wars), _al-Mashriq_ July 1920 pp. 524-534.   Before the 1572 St Bartholemew’s Day massacre of Protestants, only one of several, France’s king Charles IX shouted “Qu’on les tue tous”, and viewed from his palace the killings that carried off most of the Huguenot nobility.  The slaughter, though, had been triggered by political events and factions rather than preplanned: W. J. Stankiewicz,  “St Bartholemew’s Day, Massacre of”, _Catholic Encyclopaedia_.  Arabic writers, post-Christian or Muslim, hostile to the Catholic Church could indeed have exaggerated wrong acts by the Inquisition. Early post-modern  historiographies were to reassess that institution, although with some institutional projection from a Catholic Church now more prepared to admit that there might have been some faults or mistakes in the past.  See eg. Henry Kamen, _The Spanish Inquisition : a historical revision_ (Yale University Press: 1999).   In 1998, an International Symposium on the Inquisition was organized in Rome: see “Facing the Inquisition”,   _The Tablet_ 7 November  1998; “Vatican meeting examines dark chapter of the Church”,  _National Catholic Reporter_ 13 November 1998; “The Inquisition requires calm objective analysis”, _L’Osservatore Romano_ [English]  11 November 1998.  References from Rosalie Cotter, Deputy Librarian at Catholic Theological College, Melbourne]]FN.
                   We should not overrate ecumenical glimmerings in Fr Sufayr that such devastation in the late War now could force clergy of varied religions to work together.  Sufayr might indeed accept even the odd token rabbi, but he voiced no sense that Muslim clerics might have to be inducted into the peace-making, or that Lebanon’s Catholics had anything to learn from the Islam massively flowing around them.  He reflected that such Muslim polemicists as Ameer ‘Ali when denouncing Catholicism confused it with the atrocities of the Protestant churches in history, and tapped the writings of that West’s anti-Catholic freemasons and freethinkers as well as its Protestants.   Ameer ‘Ali (and Muhammad ‘Abduh, also) certainly painted vivid snapshots of the Inquisition’s burnings, and of the mass slaughters of 70,000 Muslim and Jews by the crusaders when they took Jerusalem and against such groups as the Huguenots --- and the Albigenses whom Sufayr retorted were the aggressors whose “flood” the pontifs of Rome blocked FN[[See Sufayr, “Munahadat” p. 532 as against Ameer ‘Ali’s portrayal of both Catholic and Protestant history as “an uninterrupted chain of intolerance, bigotry and fanaticism” down to the extermination of Amerindians and the USA’s lynchings, in his 1922 _The Spirit of Islam: A History of the Evolution and Ideals of Islam, with a Life of the Prophet_ (London: Christophers’ 1922) pp. 218-221 and his 1889 _Short History of the Saracens_ (London: MacMillan & Co Ltd 1951) pp. 350-372.  Yet ‘Ali discreetly allowed that the Catholic Church after the break of Luther and Calvin made its peace with science, and thus offered a lesson to the restrictive “Sunni Church” of 1922 (_The Spirit of Islam_ p. 454) --- nuances towards the West in acculturated Muslim “apologetics” that Lebanese clerical intellectuals have often missed.   From _al-Manar_ in 1902, Muhammad ‘Abduh assailed persecution and expulsion by Catholics and Protestant Churches alike of Muslims, Jews, proto-scientists and freethinkers: _al-Islam wal-Nasraniyyah ma‘al-‘Ilm wal-Madaniyyah_ (Cairo: Muhammad 'Ali Subayh & Sons, n.d.) pp. 40-41, 64-65.  The Albigensian Crusade proclaimed by Pope Innocent III early in the 13th century had swept away perhaps one million humans and a brilliant Provencal civilization by the time the Church extirpated the Cathar religion in Languedoc: see Christine Thouzellier, _Catharism et Valdeism en Languedoc_ (Louvain: Editions Nauwwelaerts 1969) and Arno Borst _Die Katharer_ (Stuttgart: Hiersemann 1953)]]FN.
                Secularist and Muslim discourse about wars had thus put clerical Catholic writers in Arabic on the defensive.   Yet, though he tried to keep up a granite-hard Catholic apologetics, World War I had buckled Sufayr’s frames of reference in places as it had those of all the factions of Arabic.   His semi-quietist passages that religion and the Church could only ameliorate, not end, social injustice could have been closer to Christianity’s New Testament and sense of original sin.   But the WW1 havoc and the taunts from the Islamists had pushed him to make Jesus the founder of International Law as he claimed a role for the Catholic Church in international relations and politics like that that Islam’s modernists were now imaging for Islam.
              It needed strenuous footwork to deny after 1918 that Christianity and its institutions had failed to motivate its adherents in Europe and the West towards peace and constructive solutions.  Catholic writers and media in Lebanon were restructuring Catholicism in order to maintain it, but many felt that other instruments and groups had to be synthesized with Christianity to save humanity.  Thus, _al-Mashriq_ also gave a hearing to the new international mechanism of the League of Nations, more neutral and secular than the Church, which it saw as set up by governments in response to pressure from the populations that had lost so much blood. The author, Emile Tayyan, was a student at the French Law School who was to become a lecturer in Law at St Joseph’s College.   In 1920, the young Tayyan was in places Francophile in a way conventional among Maronites at that time.  France had acted rightly to exclude Germany from the League of Nations following World War I.  Some had expressed surprise that the Central States and their allies were not accepted into the League, when such a League “by definition… could hardly preserve the peace if it took on the appearance of an alliance of some peoples against others”.  Tayyan retorted that a League meant to promote freedom and justice and the observance of international undertakings could not admit states that had constantly broken their contracts and undertakings and barbarically swooped down upon others [=Germany’s invasion of Belgium and France].  Since actions by the League had to be adopted in advance by unanimous vote, it had been right to exclude such states as Germany and Soviet Russia that it had to control.
           In places, though, Tayyan’s youthful essay diverged from the battered secular-ameliorist ideology of the French State whose language he loved.  Could so purely legal an institution as the League unaided establish and preserve peace?  The young Maronite writer decried the exclusion by the founders of the League of the Papacy, which had immense moral authority over more than 250,000,000 inhabitants of the civilized world.  That exclusion cost the League of Nations what could have been one of the most effective means to achieve its aims. 
            However Catholicist, Tayyan’s view of international relations still privileged the France whose language was his preferred medium of formal expression. He wanted France to be exempt from the disarmament into which the League was to lead its members in order to prevent any future World War.  The League’s Executive Council would let a state surrounded by enemy states hell-bent to seize its lands maintain a standing army much larger than that of a state that did not face such pressure.  France is the state that safeguards the borders of civilization as President Wilson put it: in this function, it had to have a stronger military machine than those of other states such as Italy or indeed the U.S.A.  The League’s inspections could not cope with concealed military equipment [=Germany] and the capacity of states to mobilize and attack swiftly.  Because collective League decisions had to be unanimous, its members were unlikely to act together to defend France from an attack by Germany.  When Persia, one of the League’s members, appealed for its help when Bolshevik troops attacked it, the other League members only held repeated meetings to get out of their undertakings.
            Tayyan’s arguments --- well-presented for a young man --- at least here amounted to a dispiriting characterization of the West’s Christian states as weak, mendacious, cunning and violent.  Intentionally or not, he might have been feeding the reaction among Christian Lebanese against Westerners in general in the wake of WW1, sparked by international realpolitik, contempt from French personnel and military in Lebanon, and by cultural incompatibility.  In a critique of a range of Western states, not just Germany alone, Tayyan condemned the colonialist expansionism that Britain had carried forward through WW1.  He feared that her takeover of Germany’s former colonies (eg. South West Africa and Cameroon) with the League’s ratification would become permanent since none of its texts gave it either the title or the means to supervise and end such supposed “protectorates” or “trusteeships”.   Even if the League had such a function nominally, who was there to compel the imperial state to withdraw from a trustee territory as its population became more able to govern itself?  While dislike of Britain and being Francophile could go together in the 1920s, Tayyan then denounced Rome as a precursor of “civilized” states bent on conquests in his day.  The nature of human beings has not changed for thousands of years: the ancient Romans when they conquered a town, depriving it of its liberty used to then term it free or allied.  “We only hope that the new words will amount to more than a veil”.  Whatever his exact intention, Tayyan had got very close here to France which presented herself as the Latin successor of imperial Rome in the Levant, and some of whose Christian Lebanese admirers gave her title to use Roman-like severity to crush all local resistance as a prelude to the prosperity both Latin powers brought to those who cooperated in the Fertile Crescent FN[[In a 1922 _al-Mashriq_ article, Fr Rene Mouterde imaged that Pompey’s 64 BC conquest was welcomed by many in the Hellenized classes in Syria as an end to the debilitating wars with Egypt, local tyrants and raiding tribes.  Mouterde likened the latter to the Shi’ite groups that attacked Lebanese Christians in the wake of WW1, and which Rome’s successor France was ending: Mouterde, “Musalamat al-Ruman li-Suriyyah wa Difa‘uhum ‘anha” (The Romans’ Pacification of Syria and their Defence of it), _al-Mashriq_ March 1922 pp. 272-280.  This article skilfully cited some archaeological data from Western and local scholars, but could hardly be trusted given that Mouterde was encouraging the Syrians, in thanks for the “kindness” that Latin France was doing them, to volunteer in her armies as their ancestors had flocked into those of the original Roman State: p. 280]]FN.
          Yet Tayyan was highly French-cultured in scanning centuries of France’s history for ideas that had directed humanity towards the more valid impulses in the League project.  The concept of the League of Nations was not original to U.S. President Wilson.  In the wars of religion that devastated the continent, and then the Thirty Years War, Sully (1559-1641) and Abbe Saint-Pierre (1658-1743) called for Europe’s kings to form some confederal council of states to arbitrate international disputes between them and support any of their members facing any aggression.  Tayyan praised Saint Pierre as the first of those pioneer authors to detail a mechanism of a peace-keeping army.  In modern times, continued Tayyan, the French politician Leon Bourgeois a few years before WW1 published a book [_Pour la Societe des Nations_ 1910] in which he projected a League of Nations for compulsory arbitration, good offices and mediation in international disputes and which would implement its decisions through a peace-keeping army drawn from all states.  However, Tayyan also took some account of discussion of a League mechanism by various U.S. politicians prior to 1918 FN[[Amil Tayyan, “Jam‘iyyat al-Umam” (The League of Nations), _al-Mashriq_ October 1920 pp. 754-768]]FN.
              Tayyan wanted to connect the papacy into any international peace-keeping mechanism, but could have well known the ambiguity of the French ideas he reviewed.   The radical freemasonic post-Catholics in Lebanon had made most literate Maronites aware of the Saint Bartholemew’s Day massacre of Protestants that even Sufayr had not tried to defend.   Did so confessionally ambiguous a figure as Sully, who escaped it but converted, or his equally ambiguous monarch Henry IV represent a Catholic stream of French thought or had they prefigured a more secular one?
             All groups of literate Lebanese Catholics had the strong bond of language to the thought and the survival of France.  Yet most writers sometimes hinted edginess towards the hierarchical imperialism of the Western states.  WW1 had shown again that constructive ideologies articulated from the West might not be able to contain violence, or its Catholic and secular streams be synthesized.



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