December 2, 2011
Syria is in turmoil. Throughout the year, an uprising has shaken the country, security forces have defended the regime and thousands have died.
There have been calls for the U.S. to intervene. Senator John McCain, for one, is open to the possibility of U.S. military intervention. Is this a good idea?
Let’s take a look at Syria. It is a principally Arabic-speaking nation in the eastern Mediterranean, bordering Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon. The capital is Damascus.
Syria is an ancient land, but a modern nation-state, having assumed its current status as an independent country in 1946. The current dictator is Bashar al-Assad, in power since 2000, who inherited power from his father Hafez al-Assad, in power since 1970.
There is no doubt that Syria is a dictatorship. But does that mean we should be rooting for the rebels? Should we be rooting for anybody?
Let’s put it another way. If the Assad regime is overthrown, will its successor regime be any better? That’s a legitimate question to ask before jumping into Syria.
By Middle Eastern standards, Syria is a rather secular state. And the country’s curious ethnic politics contributes to a higher degree of religious freedom.
The Assad family and much of the ruling class of Syria are from a sect called the Alawi. The Alawi are an offshoot from Shia Islam.
On the other hand, most Syrians belong to the Sunni sect, as are most Muslims worldwide. And many Sunni Muslims regard the Alawites as non-Muslims.
Given the precarious state of Syria’s ruling class, it’s in its interests to grant a certain amount of religious freedom to religious minorities, and not only the Alawites.
Other minorities in Syria include the Druze (a secretive sect) and the Christians.
There have been Christians in Syria since the first century A.D. The Book of Acts in the Bible reports Christians in Damascus in the early years of the Church.
So Christianity is very ancient in Syria. The Christian population comprises about 10% of the population of the country, which is quite sizable for an Arab country.
In most majority Muslim countries, Christians are persecuted. Sometimes it’s the government that discriminates against them, sometimes it’s the people. Sometimes it’s both.
In Syria, there has been some persecution of Christians, especially missionaries. It can be dangerous for Christians to share their faith.
That being said, it also appears certain that the Syrian Christian community is much more secure and much more respected In Syria than in most Middle Eastern countries.
We have to look at Syria in a Middle Eastern context, not in a Western context.
By Middle Eastern standards, by the standards of a Muslim majority country, by the standards of an Arab country - by those standards the Christians of Syria have a significant amount of religious freedom. For one example, during Easter in Damascus, the Christians are allowed to have processions in the street.
As Gregorios Ibrahim, a church official in Syria put it, “If Syria were not here, we would be finished. It is a place of sanctuary, a haven for all Christians.”
Next door in Iraq, sadly, the situation of Christians has worsened since the U.S. invasion of 2003. And many of the Iraqi Christians have found refuge in Syria.
It is very likely that, if the Assad regime is overthrown, that Christians (and other religious minorities) will be treated worse. It may even lead to a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood or a similar group, who will institute some form of Muslim tyranny over the whole country. Even many Sunni Syrians may regret that.
This should lead us to have second thoughts about getting mixed up in Syria.
Certainly, Bashar al-Assad is a tyrant, and we shouldn’t support him or his regime. On the other hand, we shouldn’t intervene to overthrow Assad, because we don’t really know that a replacement regime would be less tyrannical. In fact, there’s a good chance it would be more tyrannical.
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Do we really want to get mixed up in Syria, a country over which we have almost zero influence? How do we know what sort of new government we would be bringing into power?
The Middle East is a complicated region. There are all sorts of rivalries. And behind it all is the Islamic steamroller – a totalitarian system incompatible with Western Civilization.
Besides, our military is over-extended and we are in debt up to our ears. Getting involved in yet another country is not in our interests.
Let’s just stay out of Syria.
© 2011 Allan Wall - All Rights Reserved
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Allan Wall recently returned to the U.S. after residing many years in Mexico.