Lebanese born Joseph Hakim is a patriotic American who is deeply involved in community affairs. A successful businessman who came to America with less than $500 in his pocket, he has built a multi-million dollar business. It is not money however, that excites Hakim and gets him going. He is devoted to a single cause, which is saving the ancient Christian communities in the Middle East. Toward that end, he has assumed the presidency of the International Christian Union (ICU), an organization that seeks to secure the existence of Christian communities across the Middle East through advocacy in the U.S. Congress, as well as educational and informational campaigns, and speaking to diverse audiences.
Hakim has just returned from Lebanon and this reporter asked him how Lebanon has changed since his last visit three years ago. Hakim explained,
I saw more congestion, and more visible poverty. Syrian refugees are all over the streets of Beirut. Child beggars as young as 5-years old roam the streets asking for money and sometimes food. Approximately 2 million Syrian refugees flooded Lebanon, and there are over 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanese camps, as well as Iraqi refugees, fleeing the mayhem there.
It has changed the demography of Lebanon, transforming it from a balanced multi-cultural society to a predominantly Islamic nation. The Christian community feels threatened. I met with Christian religious and political party leaders, and they all spoke about the urgent need to arm the Christian community. They expressed the need to foster a security system for the Christian communities in Lebanon.
Frankly, I was shocked to hear from my Lebanese friends that allegedly the US and the West have conspired with the Turks, Qataris, and Saudis to cleanse the Christian minorities in the Middle East. This is being promoted in the Hezbollah media, with the underlying message that neither the US nor the West is going to come to the aid of the Christian minorities in the Middle East or the Lebanese-Christians. Al-Manar-TV, Hezbollah’s mouthpiece, is seeking to impress the Lebanese-Christians that Hezbollah alone can save them.
There is a feeling that Lebanon is descending back into the 1975 civil war in which the Palestinians and Sunni-Muslims engaged the Christians. The Christian community today understands the Sunni-Shia threat to their existence in the region, as well as in Lebanon.
We continued the interview as follows:
Joseph Puder: As the President of the ICU how do you propose the US should help Christians in the Middle East, especially those in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories?
Joseph Hakim: ICU seeks US Congressional legislation that would provide ironclad protection for endangered Christian communities throughout the region, especially in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories. Violators of the bill or persecutors of Christians as well as denial of their religious freedom, would lead to criminal charges in the International Court of Justice. Governments of Muslim states that sanction terror against their Christian minorities should be dealt with as if they declared war against the US and its vital interests.
As the colonial boundaries drafted by Sykes-Picot are disintegrating in Iraq and Syria, ICU envisions an expanded Christian state in Lebanon that would incorporate areas of Syria with a predominant Christian population. The remaining Christian minorities in Iraq and Syria should be granted autonomous status in a federated Iraq and Syria.
The Palestinians for example, will always choose the radical Islamic leaders over moderate leaders, but the Christians living in their territories are voiceless with few choices but to flee.
The US and its European allies must decide whether they can protect their oil interests while ignoring the growing Islamist resurgence or perhaps they can also secure the lives of peace loving Christians in the region.
JP: ISIS or as it is now called IS (Islamic State) is threatening to overrun Lebanon. What would you propose the US administration should do? Should it provide additional weapons to the Lebanese Army, or send US troops to help the Lebanese Army?
JH: About two weeks ago, ISIS attacked the Sunni village of Arsal in Lebanon. The Lebanese army Special Forces, the moujawkal (a counter-sabotage Regiment) and the Maghawir (Lebanese Commando Regiment) halted the ISIS advance, without which, the Bekaa Valley and Lebanon as a whole would have fallen into ISIS’ hands. As President of ICU, I strongly recommend that the US arm the Lebanese Army with advanced weapons, and secure them in safe military bases in the Maten or Keserwan areas. I also recommend joint US-Lebanese army military exercises and joint operations.
The radicalized predominantly Sunni-Muslim Palestinians in Lebanon pose a grave threat to Lebanon’s delicate demographic balance. Therefore, ICU recommends that the US and the UN devise a roadmap for the removal of the Palestinian camps from Lebanon and their relocation in any one of the vast oil-rich Arab states (Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, etc.). These Arab states should provide them with decent housing, health care, jobs, and educational opportunities. Lebanon simply cannot afford it. Under present conditions, the Palestinians amount to a ticking time bomb for the Cedar state. In settling the Palestinians in Arab countries, it would eliminate the corruption surrounding the UNRWA administration of the camps that benefit Lebanese and Palestinian politicians to the detriment of the poor Palestinians.
Last but not least, along with the Palestinian relocation into the oil-rich Arab states, there must be the disarming of Hezbollah. These two elements along with IS are existential threats to the integrity of Lebanon. Conversely, if that cannot be done, a serious consideration must be given to the arming of Lebanese Christian militias, as well as of Christian communities in Syria and Iraq.
JP: What is your vision for ICU? Given the proper resources, how would you go about protecting Christians in the region?
JH: ICU’s mission is to build solid bridges of understanding and brotherhood among Middle Eastern Christians throughout the world, especially in the US. We are a global organization that seeks to unify Christians everywhere, and serve to awaken the Christian conscience to the suffering of Christians throughout the Islamic dominated Middle East.
As we approach the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian-Christian genocide by the Ottoman Turks, we need to remember that over a million Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Christians perished. The looming threat of the IS is to the remaining Assyrian Christians as well as to Greek-Orthodox and Catholic-Maronite Christians in Syria and Lebanon. Hopefully, ICU is not a lonely cry in the desert. Ours is meant to be a warning call to western Christians to show solidarity with their persecuted brothers-in-faith.
ICU has dedicated its efforts towards empowering Christians to assert their unique way of life and values. This runs in conflict with the jihadist aims of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, and IS, whose violent agendas threaten the survival of Christians in the region. This is the reason ICU is calling for an independent Christian state, as a haven for persecuted Christians, just as Israel served as a haven for the persecuted Jews.
Our vision of the future is one of building rather than destroying (the MO of radical Islam). We seek religious harmony instead of religious intolerance as practiced by the Islamists and jihadists. We want to build libraries and theatres while they want to burn them. We hope to contribute to humanity’s advancement, while they seek to roll us back to 7th Century barbarism and bloodshed. With the above in mind, our future rests with a secure and independent Christian state allied and protected by the US and the West.
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