Syrian and Middle Eastern Christians Condemn US Strike Plans

Syria and Lebanon are multicultural societies, but the American discourse about Syria tends to focus on the Muslim majority and to ignore the substantial Christian minorities. It is interesting that these Eastern Christians are solidly against an American missile strike on Syria. Many US congressional representatives discussing the possibility of military action against that country invoked God and prayer in their remarks, lending the discussion a Christian ambiance. But they didn’t refer to any statements on the crisis by actual Syrian or Lebanese Christians (the two are closely linked).

On Tuesday, the Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Gregorius III Lahham, said, “The military strike that is expected against Syria will increase the distress of the Christians and lead to the destruction of Syria, of both its Christians and its Muslims–no one will be spared.”

Gregorius added that 450,000 Syrian Christians had been displaced from their homes since 2011, either remaining inside Syria or fleeing abroad.

Christians may make up as many as 14% of the Syrian population of 22 million. That is, there may be as many as 3 million of them (about the population of Iowa or Kansas). The biggest denomination is Eastern Orthodoxy or Greek Orthodoxy, i.e. the same branch of Christianity as in Greece and Russia. The second biggest is the Greek Catholics, who had been Eastern Orthodox but who came into communion with Rome in the 1700s and recognized the Pope. The Christians of Syria for the most part are either neutral toward the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad or support the government in preference to the radical Sunni fundamentalists of Jabhat al-Nusra (The Succor Front). The Christians of Lebanon support the Christians of Syria and also tend to favor the Damascus government versus the al-Qaeda affiliates.

The Bishopric of Damascus praised the call of Pope Francis I to make Saturday a day of mourning and prayer on behalf of Syria. They said that the planned military strike was planned out by the enemies of the Syrian people.

(The US Catholic Bishops have decided against the war; but the Catholic clerics are only allowed to be seen on television in the US on such matters when they support the hawks; i.e., almost never).

Maronite Catholic patriarch of Lebanon, Bishara Butrus al-Ra’i, and the bishops warned against a US strike on Syria on Wednesday.

“The bishops denounce the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but they call for being aware of the risks of a potential military strike…

“We call for resolving the Syrian crisis through dialogue and peaceful diplomatic means; a political solution is the best option for Syria…”

About a quarter of Lebanese are Christian, and about 40% of the electorate is. The majority of Lebanese Christians belong to the Maronite Church, rooted in the teachings of a medieval saint. In the 1500s, the church came into decisive communion with Rome, though contacts went back to the 1100s. (Maronites claim always to have been Catholics, but I’m a historian, not a theologian). As with other Uniate churches, Maronites were permitted by Rome to retain their own liturgy (in Syriac, close to the language Jesus spoke) rather than being made to switch to Latin. The current Maronite Patriarch, al-Ra’i, was also appointed a cardinal by the Pope.

The prospect of the American attack comes at a time when Eastern Christians feel fragile and under the gun. In Egypt, the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government on July 3 was followed by widespread attacks on Coptic Christian churches by Muslim fundamentalists who blamed Copts for the coup/ revolution. (Actually the latter was made for the most part by secular Egyptian youth of Muslim heritage.)

Christians in the Levant are afraid that the Lebanese Shiite organization, the Hizbullah, will retaliate against Israel after an American strike on Damascus. Such an action could lead to a wider war.

13 Responses

  1. The hard-pressed Syrian Christians have complained from the beginning of the conflict about the atrocities committed by the militant groups against them. As early as April 3, 2012, the Orthodox Church News published an article with the headline “Obama-backed Syrian Rebels ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ of Christians.” The article pointed out that already the jihadists had expelled 50,000 Christians from the embattled city of Homs, which accounted for 90 per cent of the Christian community there. The Orthodox Church referred to the persecution as the “ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians” by Muslim militants linked to al Qaeda. According to its report, the so-called “Faruq Brigade” was largely to blame, with Islamic extremists going door to door and forcing the Christians to leave without even collecting their belongings. Their property was then stolen by rebels as “war-booty from the Christians.” Almost exactly the same thing happened in Iraq where large number of Iraqi Christians were slaughtered or forced to flee by the radical groups. However, in their fanatical crusade to weaken Iran by removing the Assad regime Western media and Western politicians totally ignored those reports.
    link to

  2. On the other hand, Real Christians like Pat Robertson, James Robinson, Tedd Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Ralph Reed and Jerry Falwell could not give a fig for those Apostates Over There who are not part of the Confession. Except as bit players in the Great Leviticus-to-Revelation Romp that they pretend will bring Rapture to the Elect, lots of sucker money to their various PACs and perversions, and all that Seven Seals crap to be visited on the rest of us UNBELIEVERS…

    There actually are “dominoes” in the Great Game. The actions that result in tipping them are nothing like as carefully scripted and well planned and controlled and based on minute placement and cooperation as this:

    link to *

    *(No humans were materially hurt in the achievement of this notable if likely short-lived world record.)

  3. That Christians in Syria are against a US strike on the Assad regime is to be expected and makes perfect sense. Assad governs a secular state that has protected its Christian minority. The Christians in Syria correctly fear that an Islamist government might replace Assad, should he be deposed. As we have seen in other instances in the Near East, the assumption of power by Islamists does not bode well for Christians and other non-Muslim minorities.

  4. LOL: “the Damascus government”, i.e., the petty tyrant Assad, president for life, and famous mass murderer.

    These Christian officials speak not from the Bible but from tribal association and patronage. Assad keeps them safe from Sunni fanaticism.

    • Frost,
      haters gotta hate, I guess.

      What do you think the message of Jesus Christ says to the USA today:
      “Go kill more Muslim children, to avenge the deaths of Muslim children ?”

      Note that, as of 5 p.m.GMT, Thursday, 5 September, no actual evidence has been put forth by the US Govt of Syria’s role in the 21 August chem weapon attack.
      Secretary Kerry “feels pretty sure” that al-Assad did it, based on a very suspicious recording.

    • On the other hand, Pat Robertson et al have the Bible on their side. Thou shall not kill can be suspended to accommodate political interest. If their democratic ideals are as solid as their faith, we have to prepare for a big war that only the elites want, and a very uncertain aftermath.

    • Assad keeps Al-Qaeda from beheading the Christians. How selfish of those pesky Christians! They are all in it for themselves. They don’t want to lose their head, literally. And, btw, I have immense respect for peaceful Muslims and even the Quran but the only things the Christians can do to satisfy Al-Qaeda is to renounce their faith and convert to their brand of Islam.

  5. If I recall correctly, Syrian Christians wanted to be neutral from the beginning, happy to be part of a privileged cast which, Assad left alone. Sooner or later, the Alawite regime will fall or retract to the Alawi mountains and the Syrian Christians will not have a strong political standing in the future Syria. Every day of delay to ending the conflict is an opportunity to make al-Nusra and its affiliates stronger. At this point, I believe Syrian Christians need to be part in the struggle for a free and democratic Syria by joining nationalist and moderate factions.

    • It’s quite a gamble to assume that they’ll be left alone, or treated fairly, in the next government (assuming Assad’s regime fails to reclaim power). Particularly since they’ve already been kicked in the teeth by the rebel faction in the first couple of years of the fight.

      If the rebels wanted the Christians support they were always going to have to earn it. They didn’t, and probably won’t, which probably doesn’t bode well for them if Assad is replaced.

  6. It is difficult to see how a “coalition of the willing” is going to amount to much under current circumstances.

  7. “Such an action could lead to a wider war.”

    There are many scenarios that could lead to a wider war.

    What if Russians still inside Syria are made casualties due to American air strikes? During the Vietnam War, only eleven Russian military personnel were killed in action although they manned SAM batteries against the U.S. Air Force and gave instructional support to the North Vietnamese Army. If Russians and Amercan forces do clash in Syria – it would be historic.

    There are some accounts that Syrians near the Golan Heights are streaming into Israel and receiving medical treatment and that this includes injured al-Nusra Front fighters. There are also accounts of ordnance landing in Israel from the Golan Heights area that is a product of fighting between the Syrian government and rebels – which has led to measured Israeli responses so far. Any of these situations could draw Israel into military conflict inside Syria.

    There are also questions whether America could seek an air assault against Jabhat al-Nusra. Under the post-9/11 AUMF issued by Congress against al-Qaeda, there is arguably already Congressional authority to attack the al-Nusra Front in Syria since they have declared an allegiance to al-Qaeda.

    There are also questions whether the Iraqi or Iranian governments may intervene to pevent a Baathist government collapse in Syria.

    U.S. House member John Conyers has wisely recognized the possibility that American military strikes against Syria may usher in World War III – although that possibility may be relatively remote, in all likelihood.

  8. The prospect of the American attack comes at a time when Eastern Christians feel fragile and under the gun.

    IOW, it’s understandable why they’d need to shore up their bona fides with the Assad government.

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