sabato 24 novembre 2012

A Maalula non c'è posto per l'odio settario

I residenti della antica città  cristiana di Maaloula - uno degli ultimi luoghi in cui
 l'aramaico, la lingua di Gesù Cristo, è ancora parlata - hanno promesso fin dall'inizio del conflitto siriano 20 mesi fa, di non cedere al settarismo e di non essere trascinati nel caos.
Qui i cristiani sono in gran parte di appartenenza greco-cattolica e antiocheni ortodossi, i musulmani sono sunniti. Ma la maggior parte delle persone è riluttante a classificare se stessa a partire dalla religione, preferendo dire semplicemente: "Io sono di Maaloula."
"Ognuno è un cristiano e tutti sono musulmani", ha dichiarato Mahmoud Diab, l'imam sunnita. "La situazione qui non si deteriora, è il contrario. Le persone si sostengono a vicenda. "
"Se diventiamo salafiti", ha detto, riferendosi al ceppo fondamentalista dell'Islam che ha assunto nuova importanza nella primavera araba, "perdiamo tutto questo mix etnico, e questo è tragico. Ognuno dovrà essere come impongono loro. Non ci sarà spazio per nessun altro. "

Mountaintop Town Is a Diverse Haven From Syria’s Horrors

 November 21, 2012   
MALOULA, Syria — In a country clouded by conflict, where neighbors and families are now divided by sectarian hatred, this mountaintop town renowned for its spiritual healing qualities and restorative air is an oasis of tolerance. Residents of the ancient and mainly Christian town — one of the last places where Western Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, is still spoken — vowed at the beginning of the Syrian conflict 20 months ago not to succumb to sectarianism and be dragged into the chaos. Their determination was all the more remarkable given the town’s location, on the main road from the battered city of Homs to the increasingly embattled capital, Damascus. But it reflects a bitter history.
A Unesco World Heritage site, Maloula was besieged during the Great Syrian Revolt in 1925, when rebel Druze, Christians and Muslims tried to throw off the colonial yoke of France. The history of that insurrection lingers bitterly; many older residents were weaned on stories of women and children hiding in the caves of the three mountains that surround the town to escape atrocities.
The Christians are largely from the Greek Catholic and Antiochian Orthodox offshoots; the Muslims are Sunnis. But most people are loath to classify themselves by religion, preferring to say simply, “I am from Maloula.” Mahmoud Diab, the Sunni imam of the town, said: “Early on in this war, I met with the main religious leaders in the community: the bishop and the mother superior of the main convent. We decided that even if the mountains around us were exploding with fighting, we would not go to war.”
Born and raised in Maloula, Mr. Diab, who is also in Syria’s Parliament, sat in the courtyard of his mosque, shadowed by olive and poplar trees and a fading poster of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, whom he supports. “It’s a sectarian war, in politics, it’s another name,” he said with a shrug. “But the fact is, there is no war here in Maloula. Here, we all know each other.”
Mr. Diab said that tolerance had been a tradition since St. Takla, the daughter of a pagan prince and an early disciple and possibly the wife of St. Paul, fled to these mountains in the first century. She was escaping soldiers sent by her father, who was threatening to kill her for her religious beliefs. Legend has it that, exhausted and finding her way blocked by the sharp, rocky sides of a mountain, Takla fell on her knees in desperate prayer, whereupon the mountains parted. Hence, “Maloula,” meaning “entrance” in Aramaic. Here in these mountains are all different people, different religions. But we decided adamantly that Maloula would not be destroyed,” Mr. Diab said.
At the ancient shrine of St. Takla, Christian nuns, true believers in the Assad government, live isolated, quiet lives, devoted to God and country. They sleep in small, spotlessly clean chambers and pass their time working, praying and tending the needs of the sick.
The convent is silent except for birdsong and the sound of nuns scurrying up and down marble stairs with large glass jars of apricot jam, which they make and sell.
The convent is one of 40 holy sites in Maloula, which before the war was a place where Muslims and Christians prayed to cure infertility or other ailments, and drank water from the crack in the rock that St. Takla was said to have parted.
The nuns rise at dawn and spend the day in prayer and contemplation and welcoming the sick. They also run a small orphanage.
But religion is not an issue, said Mother Pelagia, who has lived in this convent for 30 years, and is Greek Catholic.
“We had an Iraqi Muslim man who was badly wounded who came here to be healed,” she said.

Maloula was once a place where doctors sent patients to recuperate, so fresh was the air. Now, in the 21st month of the uprising, while people are fleeing embattled Homs, Damascus and Aleppo to seek refuge with relatives overseas or in parts of Syria not at war, people are also returning to Maloula.
“It’s my country,” said Antonella, a Syrian-American who left Los Angeles and Miami three years ago to return to her birthplace and start a cafe.
She had a chance to leave when the war started and fighting was close to Maloula, but refused. “I want to be here,” she said.
“There were 50 tour buses a day here when I first came back,” she said wistfully, looking around her empty cafe, where she serves American-style food.
Last winter, when there was fighting in Yabrud, across the mountain, and people were dying, she realized her country was at war. “I fell into a depression.”
But Antonella said, “The truth is, even if Maloula is quiet, no one knows where this is going,” adding that her allegiance was largely with Mr. Assad. “The rebels have destroyed our country.”       
It is the war, but also the economy. Because of sanctions and the fact that transit has been halted across borders, food costs are skyrocketing. Foreign tourists have stopped coming. People buy only what is necessary. Small businesses, like Antonella’s, are dying.
“This is the beginning of World War III,” predicts her brother Adnan, also a returnee. “It is starting in Syria, but it will engulf the region. This is a proxy war.”
It is a common refrain in Syria — that the country is being used because of its geopolitical significance — but most people interviewed in Maloula and other small Christian and Alawite villages believe the war will spread beyond the country’s borders.
The question lingers, unspoken, here. Can a town renowned for its tolerance resist the centrifugal pressures of a vicious, sectarian civil war?
“Everyone is a Christian and everyone is Muslim,” said Mr. Diab, the imam, who refused to break down the percentage of Muslims in the town. “The situation here will not deteriorate; it’s the opposite. People support each other.”
While Mr. Diab is reluctant to take sides — far less so than the Mother Pelagia, who said she “loves” Mr. Assad — he said: “I am with the law. I just want the country to be legally run.”
“If we become Salafist,” he said, referring to the fundamentalist strain of Islam that has taken on new prominence in the Arab Spring, “we lose all of this ethnic mix, and that is tragic. Everyone has to be like them. There is no room for anyone else.”
While Maloula is only one hour from Damascus, it is still untouched. But during a drive down the mountain, back on the Homs highway and into the city again, reality crept back. At more than a dozen checkpoints, grim-faced soldiers checked documents and car trunks, searching for weapons and rebels.
Another car bomb had exploded in Damascus, and the gray, acrid smoke plumes curled in the air, a warning sign of darker days to come.

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