Head of Syrian Catholic Church slams Italy for covering nude statues during Iranian president’s museum visit

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Shianee Mamanglu-Regala
Standing beside the statue of Marcus Aurelius astride his horse in the Capitoline Museums, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (left) joins a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Rome, Italy, on Jan. 25, 2016.
The head of the Syrian Catholic Church has expressed concern over the decision of Italian authorities to cover nude statues during the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, saying Western culture should have been respected.

“This is our culture. If you [Rouhani] don’t want to see it, close your eyes!” Patriarch Youssef III Younan told a media conference in Rome on Thursday, according to the Washington Post.

The patriarch’s statement added to the overwhelming reactions and memes from critics mocking Italy’s decision to cover up nude statues at Rome’s Capitoline Museum with big white boxes and large panels when the Iranian president visited the facility last week.

The decision was condemned by critics as “incomprehensible,” “ridiculous,” and “submission” to principles that are against Western culture.

Younan spoke about the persecution experienced by Iraq and Syria’s Christians, saying the Catholic majority in Italy should have taken a stronger stance during Rouhani’s visit.

“This gives a lot of pain to us Christians who have remained, seeing our brothers, who are ready to forget everything for reasons of humanitarian interests, or opportunism,” he said, noting that many Christians have been targeted by Salafist militant groups in recent years.

The patriarch also talked about the havoc and instability in the region triggered by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, blaming the U.S. action for much of his constituency’s present suffering. Iraqi Christian priests have made similar claims.

“Western media speak about the ‘monstrosities’ of Assad, saying he’s killed 100,000 Syrians,” Younan said. “But they don’t speak about the 1 million people who died in Iraq as a result of the allied military intervention in 2003. It’s all been forgotten.”

Speaking on Jan. 27 in Rome, Rouhani said Tehran had not contacted Italian officials to ask for the statues to be covered up. “This issue is something journalists and the press like to discuss,” he said.

Some Iranians, meanwhile, have likened Italy’s decision to cover up nude statues to Iran’s state censorship, including tough Internet censorship that targets tens of thousands of websites.

“Smart filtering of statues during #Rouhani’s trip to #Italy,” reads the tweet that includes a photo of the nude statues covered in the page that Iranians see when they try to access banned websites, according to news reports.