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The Arab Springtime is a Nightmare for Syrian Christians

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/2440/the_arab_springtime_is_a_nightmare_for_syrian_christians.aspx#.Ue9CwG37a8B The Arab Springtime is a Nightmare for
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 23, 2013
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      http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/2440/the_arab_springtime_is_a_nightmare_for_syrian_christians.aspx#.Ue9CwG37a8B

      The Arab Springtime is a Nightmare for Syrian Christians
      July 23, 2013
      Middle Eastern Christians decry how Western media misrepresent the
      increasingly violent events in Syria.
      Alessandra Nucci

      Now that Syria is in shambles—with an estimated 93,000 dead, 1.5 million
      refugees, and 4.5 million internally displaced; ancient churches
      torched, destroyed, or vandalized; Christians targeted for murder and
      kidnapping and even used as human shields—now the mainstream media is
      starting to admit that, yes, the rebel forces appear to include quite a
      few Islamist guerrillas. Now that even chemical warfare has made its
      appearance, with Carla Del Ponte, a member of the International
      Commission of Inquiry on Syria, confirming that “the chemical weapons
      are being used by the rebels, not the men faithful to Bashar al Assad”;
      now that clergy are being kidnapped, with still no word of kidnapped
      bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi and with the beheading of a
      cleric by Islamist rebels available on YouTube for all to see—now the
      London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has started including
      some jihadist rebel atrocities in their reports.

      Now that women are having to cover up with the abaya, or at least keep a
      veil handy when they venture out, just in case (something previously
      inconceivable in Syria), now the press is reporting the establishment of
      sharia courts which, according to the Washington Post, pass sentences
      “daily and indiscriminately” on Christians and anyone else who violates
      precepts of Wahhabi Islam.

      Now that the economy has been brought to its knees by the widespread
      destruction and looting of stores and workshops; now that famine is at
      hand in the city of Aleppo, and foodstuffs are to be had only at
      enormous prices; now that the terrorists have reached Homs and Aleppo
      and the mountains above Damascus—now at last the press seems to have
      stopped describing the rebels’ fight as a high-minded struggle for
      “freedom.”

      Syrian culture used to be distinctive among the lands of the Middle East
      for a coexistence between Christians and Muslims which went beyond mere
      tolerant forbearance, a reality of which Syrians were proud. Under the
      iron fist of the ruling Alawite dictators, who kept fundamentalists at
      bay, a good degree of religious freedom was preserved. Christians
      fleeing persecution in other Middle East countries found refuge in
      Assad’s Syria, including Iraqi Catholics fleeing post-Saddam persecution.

      Yet today, after two years of “Arab Spring” rebellion, the
      2,000-year-old community of Assyrian Christians—some of whom still pray
      in Jesus’ Aramaic tongue—is facing extinction, and the international
      media is complicit.

      Since 2011, mainstream Western media, along with Al-Jazeera, has
      produced a steady stream of reports on the brutal suppression of liberty
      by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, ignoring the fact that the regime had
      long ensured that Syria’s nearly 2.5 million Christians—who include
      members of some 10 different faith traditions—were guaranteed the same
      rights as the Islamic majority. If the Assad regime, rather than being
      toppled, has become more popular with the passing of time and in the
      face of escalating violence, as many reports from the region indicate,
      it is because government tanks were the only thing standing between the
      people and sniper bullets from—or potential kidnapping by—rebel forces.

      Nonetheless, as late as June—while the Vatican news agency Fides
      reported that the armed opposition was forcing Christians to leave the
      country, and PIME news agency AsiaNews identified Saudi Arabia and Qatar
      as the prime instigators of this move—the New York Times’ reporting on
      Syria persevered in laying the blame for the nation’s troubles largely
      upon on Assad and his supporters.

      Yet Catholic authorities and Christian patriarchs of the different
      religious traditions in Syria have spoken up whenever possible.

      “Eighty percent of the population is on the side of the government, like
      all Christians are,” was the assessment, months back, of the Catholic
      Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo, SJ, one of the many to accuse
      the mainstream media, including the BBC, of slanted reporting.

      Msgr. Giuseppe Nazzaro, OFM, apostolic vicar of Aleppo, said: “The
      papers take up only the news published by Al-Jazeera and other Arab
      media, which are financed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These countries are
      among the main supporters of the rebel forces whose only aim is to
      foment chaos in order to topple the Assad regime.”

      Gregory III Laham, patriarch of Antioch and leader of the Melkite Greek
      Catholic Church, which is based in Damascus, revealed in an interview in
      June that Syrian Christians are being used as human shields in the armed
      battles between the Syrian army and the rebels. “The truce has been
      violated by the rebels, not Assad,” the patriarch said, contradicting UN
      envoy Kofi Annan, who had blamed the violation of the cease-fire on the
      government. “It is in the regime’s best interest that Kofi Annan’s peace
      plan succeed. There have been thousands of casualties among the
      soldiers, out of the ten thousand dead since the beginning of the
      revolt. On behalf of the other Syrian bishops, I can assure you that
      there has never been an unarmed demonstration that was attacked by the
      army. The government does not attack unless it is attacked.”

      In June 2011 pro-government civilians carried a 60-foot wide,
      one-and-a-half-mile long Syrian flag through the streets of Damascus,
      hoping their demonstration would leave no uncertainty as to where the
      population stood, and that accounts of vast popular indignation against
      the government would be belied by the turnout. However, initial reports
      on the demonstration described it as being against the government rather
      than for it. To the camera a crowd is a crowd, their words are in
      Arabic, and any signs in English can be excised or spoken over.

      In June 2012, the chief correspondent for Britain’s Channel 4, Alex
      Thomson, reported that his crew was led by the anti-government rebels
      into a sure ambush in “no-man’s land.” Why? Because their deaths by
      gunfire from government forces would have backed up the rebels’
      accusations against the regime. “Dead journos are bad for Damascus,”
      Thomson pointed out.

      The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, in a recent interview with
      Catholic weekly Tempi, summed up the situation: “Of course, it’s true
      that Syria needs reforms, who doesn’t? But this does not warrant
      destroying the entire country just because there are a few who want
      change. We religious leaders of the Middle East are all of the same
      opinion: I prefer an imperfect regime with a dictator to 80,000 dead and
      one and a half million refugees.”

      “I thank the world’s solidarity,” the patriarch continued, “Italy’s and
      America’s, Caritas and the Muslim charity of the Gulf nations. But I
      would rather have not had to thank them.” On the subject of the two
      kidnapped bishops, the patriarch said: “Still no news. Under the Assads
      no bishops were ever kidnapped. But now we have change, we want to
      better our condition, and here we are.”

      In the interview, which was given before President Obama decided to send
      arms to the rebel factions, Patriarch Twal worried that it might be the
      European nations who would do so: “All the Muslim radicals that were in
      Jordan have now gone to Syria. It is the utmost irony that we are now
      collaborating with them. Europe professes high values, yet collaborates
      with people who terrify them and their people, and terrify our Arab
      regimes. To think that Europe, and above all France and the UK, would
      even like to send arms to the rebels, in order to help defeat Assad!
      Aren’t 80,000 dead enough? Do we really want more victims and
      destruction, to change this famous Assad regime? Okay then, send in more
      weapons and the dead are bound to increase.”

      One-sided reporting

      Among the first cracks in the invisible iron curtain of mainstream media
      coverage was the testimony of the Trappist nuns of the Beata Maria Fons
      Pacis monastery, located in a small village near Aleppo. Of Tuscan
      origin, the sisters had come to Syria in 2005 to devote their lives to
      God and to their neighbors, Christians and Muslims alike. In an
      interview three years ago, with the uprisings already brewing, the
      community’s superior, Sister Martha, spoke about the demonstrations in
      support of Assad. “President Bashar was truly beloved by many people,”
      attested Sister Martha. “Today, of course, with the passing of time,
      there has been a growing awareness of a need for more justice and more
      liberty. But there is also a realization that among the rebels there is
      a violent faction that wants to exploit this situation to take over the
      country.”

      Is there an international conspiracy? “I can’t say,” replied Sister
      Martha. “All we know is that the Saudis have bought land and houses, or
      lent money to people to buy land and houses. We know that weapons are
      pouring into Syria, along with money and soldiers. This can’t help but
      increase the instability.”

      The sisters hoe their vegetable garden, pray, work, comfort the people.
      They never dreamed the situation would come to this when they came. “But
      where else would it make more sense for a monastery to be, than here?”

      A well-known religious figure who has spoken out on the plight of Syrian
      Christians is Carmelite nun Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix. Of Lebanese
      origin, Mother Agnès-Mariam, 60, is the superior of a convent near Qara,
      about 50 miles from Damascus. In June 2012 she was warned of a plot to
      abduct her after she revealed that about 80,000 Christians had been
      “cleared out” of their homes in Homs province by rebel forces, and
      forced to flee the country. After the uprising began, Mother Agnès said
      she had noticed growing numbers of “aggressive, armed gangs which wished
      to paralyze community life, abducting people, beheading, bringing terror
      even to schools.” Slowly these gangs were identified: some were al-Qaeda
      recruits and affiliates, some had been involved with the Muslim
      Brotherhood, some were attached to other Islamist factions.

      “Only about one in 20 of these fighters is Syrian,” Mother Agnès said in
      an interview with The Australian. The rest come from places ranging from
      Britain to Pakistan, from Chechnya to Indonesia, from Albania to North
      Africa, many fought in Iraq, some also in Afghanistan. “Now their cause
      is being recycled to kill Syrians,” Mother Agnès said.

      In the beginning, the Carmelite nun explained, the uprising embraced
      freedom and democracy. “But it steadily became a violent Islamist
      expression against a liberal secular society.” As one of many examples
      of the disinformation made possible by the language barrier, Mother
      Agnès cited an al-Jazeera report about the murder of a child in Homs,
      which was blamed on Syrian security forces. The video shows Sari Saoud’s
      mother crying out in front of her dead son, with a caption in English
      quoting the woman as saying, “Security forces committed this crime”.
      But, “we know this woman,” said Mother Agnès. “[She] is the niece of a
      stone-cutter who works at the monastery. What the woman said in fact
      was, ‘If security forces had been here, my son would not have been killed.”

      Chemical warfare used, goes unreported

      Another Christian voice out of Syria is Sister Marguerite of the
      Community of Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition, stationed at St.
      Louis Hospital, Aleppo, who writes that the people are so impoverished
      that they cut down the trees of city parks to get wood to heat their
      houses: “People resort to anything to support their families,” she says.
      “Even middle-class, well-to-do people, lawyers, engineers,
      tradesmen…Along the roads there are innumerable improvised street
      vendors selling whatever. School buildings are no longer for teaching,
      but are filled with displaced families, so children are in the street
      all day long, in the cold and rain, selling cigarettes, biscuits,
      chewing gum for a few pennies… a famous Christian musician who is
      practically ruined can be seen living outside the house where he used to
      live, playing the violin with tears in his eyes.”

      Sister Marguerite also describes the menace of chemical warfare: “On St
      Joseph’s feast day, in March, the terrorists launched a missile with a
      chemical warhead on the province of Aleppo, killing 25 people and
      wounding others. Why is it that no press organ has spoken of this crime
      or condemned this act of chemical warfare on civilians?”

      Christians targeted; the West looks the other way

      By all accounts, while many people are suffering and dying in the Syrian
      conflict, no group is suffering more than Christians, stranded in the
      middle of a brutal war in which each side—rebel and regime—fires rockets
      into civilian areas and carries out attacks on a daily basis.

      The Christians are not, however, simply collateral damage. As Nina Shea,
      director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said at
      a subcommittee hearing at the US House of Representatives in June,
      “Christians are the targets of an ethno-religious cleansing by Islamist
      militants and courts. In addition, they have lost the protection of the
      Assad government, making them easy prey for criminals and fighters,
      whose affiliations are not always clear. Wherever they appear, Islamist
      militias have made life impossible for the Christians.”

      Christians, peaceful and without anyone to protect them, are the first
      to be persecuted and harassed into leaving Syria. According to a report
      from last December of the UN Human Right Council’s Commission of Inquiry
      on Syria, although no religious community has been spared suffering, it
      is the Christians who face an “existential threat.” And in contrast to
      Syria’s Alawites, Shiites, and Sunnis, Syria’s ancient Christian
      community has no tribal system and no foreign power to defend it.

      Shea’s detailed report cites numerous sources from within Syria, along
      with needed perspective on the foreign policies of Western nations with
      respect to the country’s imperiled religious minorities. She points to
      the attacks on religious freedom which took place in Afghanistan and
      Iraq under both Democratic and Republican administrations, which
      received no significant policy response from the United States. “For
      example,” relates Shea,

      while there were 90,000 American and NATO troops on the ground in

      Afghanistan, that country’s last remaining church, in Kabul, was razed
      in 2010 after its 99-year lease was cancelled. The US State Department
      knew of this, and even reported on it in September 2011, but no US
      official took any measure to stop or reverse it. The destruction of
      Afghanistan’s last church did not draw the international protest that
      accompanied the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhist statues in
      2001, but it is equally emblematic and even more consequential,
      depriving a religious community of its only house of worship. While the
      American people supported President Karzai’s government, financially and
      militarily, Afghanistan joined the infamous company of hardline Saudi
      Arabia as a country that will not tolerate any churches. America’s own
      diplomats and contract workers in Afghanistan must now hide their
      worship services.

      Other examples include Iraq in 2005-2008, when Christians, Mandaeans,
      and Yezidis experienced persecutions that ultimately led to a nationwide
      “religious cleansing” campaign against non-Muslims,under the noses of
      the US occupying power and more than 100,000 American troops. American
      foreign policy officials apparently believed that it would constitute
      “special pleading” to do anything to help when 20,000 Christians were
      violently driven from Baghdad by Islamists in 2006. Yet by then the US
      was involved “in intensive efforts to ensure that nonviolent Sunnis
      gained positions in the Iraqi government, which, thanks to the overthrow
      of Saddam Hussein, was run largely by Shias, whom the administration had
      helped politically strengthen and unify,” according to Shea.

      With these precedents, there is no use expecting a reaction to the July
      2 report from Vatican news agency Fides that the jihadi faction known as
      Jabhat al-Nusra (which has heavily infiltrated the rebel forces in the
      area of the Latin Church of Saint Anthony, near Aleppo, where Father
      Francois Murad was murdered), have declared as their sole objective the
      establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, under which the law will not
      allow even the mere presence of “kafir” (“infidels,” or, in other words,
      non-Muslims).
      With Islamic regimes gradually replacing the hoped-for democracies and
      extending from Morocco to Iran, thanks to Western influence, one
      wonders, with Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix, what exactly is going on:
      “We are bewildered by the position of Western countries; we aren’t used
      to seeing France as a country that favors fundamentalism, and we are
      even more surprised at the United States: didn’t they invade Afghanistan
      to get rid of al-Qaeda? What is the West out to achieve here…: freedom
      or fundamentalism? Or is it freedom for fundamentalism?”
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