Jun 23, 2012

What to Do About Syria

Joseph FarahBy Joseph Farah

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There’s a certain eery consistency to the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

It’s always wrong.

U.S. support for the rebellion in Syria is a sad illustration.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have always been a staunch critic of Bashar al-Assad and his tyrant father before him. But, in the Middle East, the choice is often between bad and worse. And, predictably, Barack Obama has chosen worse by siding with Islamists over the authoritarian dictator with plenty of faults of his own.

For Americans, our prime concern should be humanitarian in a conflict like this. While Syria is an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel police state, what will inevitably follow the fall of Assad will make the current regime look like a benevolent picture of stability by comparison.

Syrian Christian village

Christian Persecution

Syria is the home of one of the largest Christian populations in the Middle East. That is largely due to the Christian refugee crisis that was brought about due to the turmoil in Iraq since the U.S. intervention there. While Assad is a bad actor, he has been tolerant of religious minorities, including Christians. In fact, Assad, an Alawite, is part of a religious minority himself.

But if the Assad regime falls, it will mean genocide for the Christian community. In fact, the escalating rebellion is already taking its toll on Syrian Christians.

This hits home for me as the descendant of Christians who fled Syria and Lebanon long ago, as Islam gained more and more influence.

The radical Islamists who form the vanguard of this rebellion are forcing Christians to flee their homes as they advance and intensify their fight to topple Assad.

At least 9,000 Christians from the western Syrian city of Qusayr were forced to seek refuge after an ultimatum from a local military chief of the armed opposition, Abdel Salam Harba, reports the Fides news agency.

In the latest outburst of violence, a Christian man was shot dead by a sniper in Qusayr, which neighbors the restive city of Homs.

There have been reports that some mosques in the city have announced from the minarets: “Christians must leave Qusayr within six days.”

Two Catholic priests who fled Qusayr confirmed to the news agency that they heard the ultimatum “with their own ears” repeated from the minarets.

“The situation is unsustainable in the area and exposed to total lawlessness,” Fides sources on the ground say. They also fear that the fate of Christians in Qusayr could soon affect the 10,000 believers who live in other villages in the area.

The areas controlled by the opposition are witnessing the rise of radical forms of Sunni Islam with the extremists not willing to live in peace with the Christians. Many of these gangs and armed groups operate independently of the Free Syrian Army, which officially rejects such kinds of discrimination against minorities.

Two generations of the Assad regime have guaranteed secular rule in Syria, protecting Christians from discrimination and guaranteeing their rights.

Last week, an armed group broke into and desecrated the Greek-Catholic church of St. Elias in Qusayr.

“It is the first time in the ongoing conflict that such an episode has occurred in which sacred symbols are deliberately hit,” a local source told Fides.

Some 2 million Christians make up about 10 percent of the country’s population with most belonging to the denomination of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch.

The chaos and sectarian violence in post-Assad Syria “will be confessional [religious], and war in the name of God is far worse than a political struggle,” Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Yonan warned last October, just seven months into the uprising. “And this is what we fear.”

A similar situation has already unfolded in Iraq, where violence has caused more than one-half of the country’s 1.5 million Christians to flee since the beginning of the American-led invasion in 2003. More than 70 churches have been bombed in Iraq during the past eight years, many by al-Qaida insurgents. One of the most serious incidents took place in October 2010, the so-called Black Sunday Massacre, when terrorists opened fire on a service in Baghdad’s Our Lady of Deliverance Chaldean Catholic Church, killing 53 Assyrian Christians.

After the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, about 10,000 Christians have been forced to leave. The trouble is there’s no place for Christians to go in the Middle East. While Jordan is still hospitable, it may also be the next domino to fall to the Muslim Brotherhood revolution sweeping through the region—with the support of the Obama regime.

Is this what Christian America wants to see?

Interventionism in the Middle East is often a bad idea. But it’s worse when the U.S. intervenes on the wrong side.