The Persecuted!

"In Defense of Christians" Summit was a three day event that took place in Washington, D.C. between September 9-11, and included a meeting with President Obama.
“In Defense of Christians” Summit was a three day event that took place in Washington, D.C. between September 9-11, and included a meeting with President Obama.

The author of this op-ed, Mr. Rich Ghazal, an ordained deacon in the Syriac Orthodox Church, makes some excellent points about the plight of the Middle East’s Christian communities, that is, until he gets to those two paragraphs that capture the real message that he and the IDC conference organizers wanted to deliver to President Obama and the American people at large: preserve the Assad regime.

The first paragraph: 

“In Lebanon, a large segment of the Christian demographic has chosen to stand against Hezbollah and Syria at their own peril, while others have elected to work earnestly within the Lebanese political system—of which Hezbollah is a part—to preserve some semblance of national stability. It would be a gross inaccuracy to assert that such Christians are Hezbollah “supporters” when survival necessitates co-existence.

In this carefully phrased paragraph, one is forced to conclude that the “large segment of the Christian demographic” in Lebanon that chose to “stands against Hezbollah and Syria” were, in effect, standing against “national stability” and “coexistence,” because their stand here is contrasted with the position adopted by those Christians who stood by Hezbollah and Syria, not because they were “supporters” of Assad or Hezbollah, heavens forbid!, but because they supported “national stability” and “coexistence.” 

Moreover those Christians who are standing against Hezbollah and Assad are doing so “at their own peril,” in Mr. Ghazal’s words. As such, they are the ones who should be blamed if something happen to them, and to Lebanon, as a result of their stand, not Hezbollah or the Assad regime. 

The second paragraph: 

“Christians in Syria are also in the unenviable position of having to choose between a totalitarian despot, and Salafi terrorists bent on cleansing the region of anyone who does not profess their Islamist world view, specifically the indigenous Christians. On the other hand, Christians proudly serve as officers in the Israel Defense Force and as elected officials in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

So, the fight in Syria is between Salafi terrorists and the Assad regime! There are no moderate rebels here, no prodemocracy activists, and no people in the opposition who could represent a better alternative to both. None. Where did we hear that before? Oh, yes: the Assad propaganda machine which has been reiterating this message from day one of the revolution. 

Also, we are led to believe here that the Salafi terrorists are “specifically” targeting the region’s indigenous Christians. The fact that these “Salafi terrorists” have killed more Sunnis in their fight so far than Christians seems inconsequential. Mr. Ghazal cannot raise the point of Sunni suffering here, neither at the hands of Assad nor Salafi extremists, because the main point here is to argue for Assad’s survival, even if he is a despot, and regardless of any crimes he is committing. The wellbeing of Christians, from Mr. Ghazal’s point of view and those of the organizers of the IDC, calls for keeping Assad. The wellbeing of the Sunnis, on the other hand, might require his removal, as well as combating ISIS, which is why it needs to be ignored. Ignoring your neighbors’ suffering may not be the Christian thing to do, but Christian values are clearly not involved here. This is about an old story of inter-communal hatred and suspicion that some find it hard to relinquish. 

Indeed, who gives a damn if the Arab Sunni majority in the Levant is oppressed? The important thing for some people is for the Christians, the Alawites, the Druzes, the Kurds, and other minorities to feel safe, even at the cost of their own freedom, and regardless of the fact that large segments of these communities categorically reject this formula that constantly set the desire for freedom and justice against the need for stability and security, reducing our choices to picking one over the other. 

President Obama gestures during meeting with Lebanese cardinal and other religious religious leaders at White House

This mentality of examining certain situations only through the prism of one’s own individual and collective needs, irrespective of what other segments of society want, need or desire, rightly or wrongly, is not conducive to building a true homeland for all. The best that this mentality can produce is a series of ethnic ghettoes and enclaves at war with each other; or, if we are willing to put up with authoritarian and corrupt governance arrangements, we will end up with the recreation of the same old system that existed before and paved our way to this quagmire. 

The Syrian revolution was not a Sunni phenomenon. The fact that the Sunnis made up the majority was merely a demographic reality, not a guiding ethos. Indeed, the revolutionary ranks were swollen from the very beginning with Christian, Alawite, Druze and Kurdish participants, and the overall ethos was democratic and secular. People did not seek to establish ideological state but a civil one. 

But, in due course of time, the tactics adopted by both the regime and the Islamists managed to depict the revolution in international and regional media as a largely Sunni phenomenon, both in terms of demography and ethos, so as to justify own sectarian agendas. In the absence of swift moves by the international community to reign in the violence of the Assad regime and midwife a political process, the implosion of the country and the region was made inevitable. Sectarian agendas cannot produce stability, yet, this is exactly what the Christian leaders of the Middle East have brought with them to Washington. 

The peoples of the Middle East will continue to be the main instruments of their own persecution by their own leading elite so long as they refuse to look beyond the communal boundaries that separate them, and so long as they take history as their only guide. Salvation will not come from beyond. The looming American intervention will only help to separate the combatants for some time, but it will not resolve any of their problems.