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The Devil You Know: Syrian Christians Support Assad

Christians have not had a good time in the modern Middle East.  Sadly, that doesn’t seem likely to change as Butcher Assad’s hold on Syria slowly slips.  While Via Meadia is no fan of Iran-enabling tyrants who kill thousands of their own people, there are good reasons to be concerned about the plight of minorities in region during this era of upheaval.  Facing no other alternative, Christians in Syria have quietly thrown their support behind President Assad.  A recent article in Der Spiegel highlights their dilemma:

Many of Syria’s 2.5 million Christians are supporting President Bashar Assad amidst ongoing protests in the country. They prefer a brutal dictator who guarantees the rights of religious minorities to the uncertain future that Assad’s departure would bring. The president is exploiting their fears of Islamists for his own ends.

Syria contains one of the oldest Christian communities in the world courtesy of the ministry of St. Paul.  Aside from recent converts stemming from the days of French colonialism, Syrian Christians, like their cousins found in Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon, are a remarkable continuous link to the region’s deep and rich past.  These Christians have preserved nearly extinct languages such as Aramaic — believed to be the language Jesus spoke in daily life — and the ancient Egyptian language that dates back to the days of the Pharaohs.

The Christian plight in the Middle East is not unprecedented. Ancient Jewish communities throughout the region have been nearly wiped out due to expulsions related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  (In Libya recently, an exiled Libyan Jew returning to rebuild a ruined synagogue was forced to leave by threats from an angry crowd, although he had permission from both the government and a local Islamic cleric to begin the restoration.) Christians, like the Jews, are an easy target for Muslim societies under pressure. In some though by no means in all countries, Christians tend to be wealthier and better educated than their Muslim counterparts.  Middle Eastern Christians are also often linked by Muslims to their cousins in the West and as a result are blamed for the history of Western imperialism in the region — or thought to be conniving with the west or with Israel.

Nevertheless, over the past 50 years, Middle Eastern Christians under secular Arab dictatorships have been able to live in relative peace. A lot of this is courtesy of the fact that these Arab dictators such as the late Saddam Hussein, Hafez Assad or Hosni Mubarak, subscribed to the now discredited Arab Nationalism that dominated Middle Eastern discourse throughout the 20th century.  Arab Nationalism was a secular movement that enabled Christians to join with Muslims under the banner of pan-Arabism.  But today the last rotten remnants of the Arab Nationalist past are being toppled as part of the Arab Spring.

As Via Meadia has reported in Iraq, the toppling of a brutal Arab dictator led directly to a rise in extremist violence directed against Christians.  Today Christians in Egypt are fearful of the recent elections that may usher in governing coalition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist Salafi groups.  Like Egypt, Syria has its own Muslim Brotherhood that the Assad family has brutally repressed. If or better yet when, President Bashar Assad is toppled, Syrian Christians may also face the uncertain future of the Arab Spring.  Their backing, however reluctant, for Assad is something their angry Sunni neighbors may find it hard to forget.

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  • Jim.

    America — and Europe, if we can get its support — must make it clear that any attempted genocide against native Christian communities by new governments will be met with force if necessary.

    There is potential here for a genocide across the region approaching 4-5 million, easily. For any modern country to sit back and allow this to happen — even that we have allowed it to START in Iraq and Egypt — makes a ghastly joke of all the anti-Holocaust pieties observed by the West’s chattering classes.

  • Lexington Green

    The so-called Arab Spring is nothing of the kind. Is just another wave in the outgoing tide sweeping away the last of the secular rulers of the Middle East. The destruction of the Caliphate in 1923 left a vacuum that was filled first by monarchies propped by colonialism. These countries then mostly fell into the hands of secular often military dictators. This was also an alien imposition in the Middle East. Now these populations are regressing toward a more explicitly Muslim rulership. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in response to the destruction of the Caliphate. In Egypt it has waited a long time to come to power, but it may be about to do so. Secular rulers tended to be relatively kind to Christians and other minorities, who it could coopt and use. Saddam did the same thing with his Christians. Islamists governments will wipe out the last of these vestigial populations which survived under Ottomans, direct colonial and puppet colonial rule, and under secular dictators. Their days are now numbered. Expect massacres and huge refugee movements. Coptic Christianity has been in Egypt since the Muslims conquered the place. If the Army gives way in Egypt to more fundamentalist leadership, their world may at last come to an end. I read recently that the USA has adopted a UN ruling that Christians from Muslim countries cannot be given asylum. If so it will be like the Jews in the 1930s all over again. For us, a shameful episode, for many others, unmarked mass graves.

  • Jim.


    Secularism is no protection for Christians. Ataturk’s secular Turkey committed genocide against its Christian population between the world wars.

    America needs to be willing to use force to prevent any moves against Christians as a result of the Arab Spring, or far more are going to die than would have died had Gadfly done what he had threatened to do to Benghazi.

    We went to war to protect Muslims in Kosovo and Benghazi; we are willing to go to war to protect Jews in Israel; any definition of evenhandedness, fairness, or basic rationality dictates we must be willing to go to war to protect Christians, too.

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