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08/01/2011 Share/Save/Bookmark
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Could it Happen in Syria?

Could it Happen in Syria?

(Sami Moubayed | DP-News- The Huffington post)

The New Year's suicide bombing of the Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt, which killed 21 people, has raised red alarms throughout the Arab and Muslim world. The dirty work of al Qaeda, the attack came shortly after similar terrorism was unleashed on Iraqi Christians. World leaders have strongly condemned the attack, with President Barack Obama saying that the perpetrators "have no respect for human life and dignity" and must be brought to justice for this heinous and barbaric act." Several journalists have since called me up for quotes on the Alexandria massacre, asking how Syrian Christians can shelter themselves from such a fate -- given what happened in Egypt and what has been happening in Iraq since 2003. Iraqi Christians came to Syria after all, with horrible stories about how al Qaeda affiliates stormed their homes, killed their sons, beheaded their priests, insulted their notables, and bombed their churches.

My answer, which deserves elaboration, was always: "There is no Christian 'problem' in Syria, thanks to the wisdom of some Syrians and the secularism of the state, but there is a Christian fear of what the future might hold for the Christian community at large, if al Qaeda and its sister groups ever get an upper hand in the Middle East. As one Christian friend put it; "We are not afraid of our next door neighbor. We have lived with him in harmony for centuries. We are afraid from the stranger who comes from outside our community."

This "stranger" is the Islamic fundamentalist. He does not have to be an armed fighter from Afghanistan or Pakistan. Theoretically he can be an indoctrinated Syrian living abroad, and the record of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood is testimony to the fact that terrorists can be Syrian after all. So long as he thinks in anti-Christian terms, he is a stranger in Syria. And that is exactly why I was critical of Pope Benedict XVI when he made his famed speech in Germany back in September 2006, which was critical of the Prophet Mohammad. Did he not think of the Christians of the East? Even if his statement was unintentional, he should have thought about its repercussions on Arab Christians who live within the increasingly radical trend of Islamification, among fanatics who are waiting to strike at Arab Christians. This was made clear by the killing of an Italian nun in Somalia and the attack on churches in Nablus in Occupied Palestine. To these fundamentalists, the Pope's statement was almost a blessing in disguise.

I have befriended Syrian Christians and proudly been educated by them since childhood. I know them well. They are highly patriotic, sober, hard-working, honest and law abiding citizens who are good with languages, clean, knowledgeable, and in general, well-educated. As far as my encounter with them goes, they are very good A-class citizens. Syria's Christians are estimated at around 1.8 million of the total population of 23 million. Because of their long history in this part of the world, Syrian Christians feel that they are the original residents of Syria -- which is true, because they were here long before the Muslim conquests. This feeling of belonging is particularly true with the Greek Orthodox community (503,000 members), which is the oldest in Syria, whose patriarch "for Antioch and All the East," Ignatius IV Hazeem, is based in Damascus. Syrian Catholics, on the other hand, are estimated at 118,000. Among the larger Christian family one finds the Armenians, the Assyrians, the Protestants and the few Syrian Maronites. Ever since the republic was created in 1932, they have been treated as first-class citizens. Even under the Ottoman Era, they occupied senior posts in administration and government.

Over the past century, Christians became famous in all walks of life. Among the long list of politicians are men like ex-ministers Mikhael Ilyan and Tawfiq Shamiyya, officers like Wadih al-Muqabari (commander of the air force), Yusuf Shakkur (Chief of Staff during the October War of 1973), and current Chief of Staff Daoud Rajha. The list unravels, reaching academics like Constantine Zurayk, former president of Damascus University, and George Toemeh of the American University of Beirut (AUB), administrators like Hanna Malek, the former Attorney General, and writers like Hanna Mina and Colette Khury, a former MP and current advisor to President Bashar al-Assad. The Christians also worked with and joined the secular Baath Party of Michel Aflaq, who himself was a Christian, and received more senior office when the party came to power in 1963. The most famous of modern times was probably Fares al-Khury, one of the founding fathers of Syria's independence who served as speaker of parliament and prime minister in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Among his many feats, he co-established the Syrian Parliament, co-authored the Syrian Constitution, taught and chaired the Faculty of Law, and founded the Syndicate of Lawyers. He helped eject the French from Syria in 1946. When he died in 1962, Syria's priests and Muslim clerics stood at his funeral, shoulder-to-shoulder, reading from both the Bible and Holy Quran.

An American writer Glan Chancy once wrote that Syria is "the best nation in the Middle East in which to live if you are a Christian." Christian holidays like Christmas, New Year, and Easter, are officially celebrated in Syria, something that is not found in most other Arab countries, and according to Chancy: "On any given Sunday, more Christians are at worship in Syria than in such formerly Christian nations as England." Yes this is true, but what if things change in Syria? What if the fundamentalists get the upper hand? Certainly the Christians will no longer be able to celebrate Christmas, nor will they feel free to express their religious affiliations -- probably not even safe to attend Church. Syrian society and government feel that the day has not come where Syrian Christians, who have served the community at large for over 2,000 years and the modern nation since 1918, would be at fear in Syria. President Assad has made it clear that it is Syria's role to say: Regardless of what the Islamists believe, say or do, Syria is for the Christians as much as it is for the Muslims. It is as much theirs as it is ours -- regardless of what happened in Egypt, or is happening in Iraq.

When the Syrian Revolt was raging against the French in 1925, then High Commissioner Maurice Sarrail ordered withdrawal of his troops from the Christian quarters of Damascus, hoping that they would be stormed and looted by the Muslim rebels. A revolt leader, Hasan al-Kharrat, rushed to Bab Touma where he rushed into a Church and told the Priest, "The French have destroyed the Midan, Hamidyieh, and Bzurieh Bazaars. Father, I have come here to protect you." Puzzled, the Priest asked, "Protect us? From whom? The day that Christians need protection to walk around in Syria has not come! Leave in peace, and take with you the finest young men of al-Qassa and Bab Touma. All of them are soldiers in the struggle for Syria's independence."

Had it not been for the wisdom of those Syrians, something similar to Alexandria 2011, would have long happened in Syria.

Visitors Comments          Number of Comments (1)
Great article
Roland            1/8/2011 10:48:12 PM
Thank you for a great article from a Syrian Christian! Syria gets so much unjustified bad press in the U.S. and I find myself always defining my home country and telling people that i had more rights as a minority Christians in Syria than some minorities get in the U.S. We even had Sundays off at school because the entire population was Christian. I hope you are correct and that such massacres do not ever happen in Syria.. all we need now is peace!
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