Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wading into ignorance

Willful or otherwise.

So Mark Shea posted the response from the Antiochian Orthodox Church to Trump's (and, it's worth noting, other countries') actions in Syria.  I wasn't going to bother, except I notice one of the commenters threw a barb at the Orthodox leaders.  Since I have been banned from Mark's sites, this is the best I can do to set the record somewhat straight, at least as far as I understand things.

I won't go into whether or not we should have launched these attacks.  Today it's almost impossible to know what is happening and who is right or wrong.  Nations appeared to be convinced that Syria had launched a chemical attack against its civilians.  Russia, the great threat to our nation since 2016, disagrees.  Or not.  I don't know.  But the countries that concluded Assad had used chemical weapons did what they felt they needed to do, and attacked Syria's capability for using chemical weapons on civilians.

Nonetheless, there is more to it than what Mark has posted.

Before the attack, the Antiochian Orthodox Church sent a form letter around to churches to be signed and sent to President Trump, asking him not to launch the attack.  Since my wife and kiddos go to an Antiochian Orthodox church, they received a copy of the letter.  Here it is:
Dear Mr. President:​​In this Easter season, I greet you with the words "Christ is risen!" 
As an Orthodox Christian, I stand united with my fellow parishioners, many of whom are Syrian and Arab Christians. As you assuredly know, any debilitating action against the Syrian Arab Republic will only enable the enemies of the United States and its allies to prevail amidst the chaos that has been slowly ending. Extremists and terrorists would undoubtedly step in as they did in Iraq, Egypt and Libya, and make a bad situation much worse. The small Christian community in Syria would suffer irreparable damage and death, much the way it did in Iraq. 
I also urge your Administration to fully investigate any claims of attacks within Syria and to properly identify their perpetrators so that the U.S. can avoid a wrong, unjust response. Therefore, I implore you not to bomb Syria, but rather to insist the Syrian government and U.S. allies bring lasting peace and healing to war-weary civilians.  
Yours in the Risen Christ,(Person's name, church, city)
Note the respect that is so lacking in Shea's treatment.

Here's the point as best as I can tell.  The reason they fear an assault on Assad is likely because, at the end of the day, they fear the toppling of the Assad regime.  Why would they fear that? Do they deny that Assad is a brutal dictator? No.  But it seems they would prefer a brutal dictator that brutalizes the people across the board, to a Muslim tyranny that singles out Christians in the same way that happens around the Islamic world.  We'll get to why in a minute.

From East to West, almost every Muslim majority nation treats religious minorities poorly.  In some cases minorities are mildly intimidated and harassed.  In others they are treated as second class citizens. In a few it can spiral into outright persecution and death. As a friend of mine from Nigeria said years ago, those who don't fear Islam don't live in the shadow of Islam.

The reason we don't hear this when the issue is discussed is that it flies in the face of American liberalism's take on the issue.  First, you'll note that almost no oppression or persecution of Christians in the world is brought up by America's progressive outlets unless they can somehow point the finger back at the US.  The fact is, Christians live in oppression and persecution around the world, in many places that have nothing to do with US policy.  There's almost something creepily wrong with people who only focus on human suffering that benefits a particular agenda.  But then, as Black Lives Matter and other recent Leftist movements have shown, we've become particularly adept at ending our concern for the sanctity of life when it no longer benefits the cause.

The other reason this is important, however, is that it destroys the 'Islam is the Religion of Peace' narrative.  This isn't to say all Muslims are murderers who are out to destroy the Church.  They're not.  Far from it.  Most Muslims are like most anyone.  Most are just trying to pay bills, raise kids, find the car keys and choose the best cable package.  But that's been the case throughout history.

What so often happens, however, is that those gentle 'most' people will be drawn into the currents of history that are going on outside their window.  Inevitably, 'most' become the foot soldiers for whatever power that rises and oppresses.  And for now, in the Islamic world, the best of Muslim majorities would barely pass the fundamentalist label here at home. That is the current of history going on outside their windows.

I think that is why most of the Syrians at my wife's church support - Assad.  The reason was given to me by a fellow I'll call Ned.  Ned explained that most of their friends back home are Muslim.  They get along well enough. But they know that, if the situation changes, those same friends could turn on them in a heartbeat.  They've already seen it with ISIS.  Not all ISIS fighters were born that way.  Many were just like the little Nazis in Germany.  Remember how I've pointed out the underlying theme of Universal's The Wolf Man (see here)? Remember how the point was that those murderous Nazis slaughtering Jews had, in many cases, grown up playing with those same Jews or going to movies with them or working next to them?  Same with ISIS.  Same with other Islamic terrorist organizations.  Many of those fellows were playmates with the same people they've spent the last few years slaughtering.

And I believe that's what they fear will happen if Assad is removed.  Just as it has happened in other parts of the Middle East.  They may not like a brutal dictator who will attack his own population, but they'll take that over an Islamic one that will zero in on them like a laser and move to terrorize them in the same way Christians are, to various levels, terrorized around the Islamic world.

Why?  Because they can't help but notice that, here at home, we don't seem to care about Christians oppressed or marginalized by Muslims unless we can score points against our own government.  At least with Assad there might be a push to step in and peacefully get him to behave himself.  With Assad, there could be hope that outside nations will pressure him or in some way get him to stop without turning the reigns over to an Islamic government.  Since it's not a Muslim majority causing us to focus on Muslim things, we can all be outraged and demand the world do something.

Let Muslims take over and begin oppressing Christians on their own?  Their guess seems to be that too many Americans and Europeans will turn a blind eye.  After all, that would destroy the 'Peaceful Muslims who are victims of evil Islamaphobic Christians' narrative that is so crucial to the modern Left.  If it becomes a case of calling out a Muslim majority, any hope of intervention to improve their situation might just fade away like wisps of PC narratives in the face of inconvenient truths. As one of them told me at a fellowship meal a year or so ago, for being so sensitive to things like America's past sins, we seem awfully tolerant of the world's current sins.

The fact that Christians in the Middle East might be willing to accept life under a brutal dictator, because they feel life under a brutal Islamic regime would be ignored by their brothers in Christ in America due to the lack of political capital that comes from calling out Islamic oppression, is quite damning if you think on it.  But it looks like that's the reputation we've help build over the years.  Well done us. Anyway, that's the part that Mark and his commenter failed to point out.  I might not have everything understood as accurately as those I've talked to might say, but I don't think I'm too far off the point.


  1. The best present any Christian in the West can give to any Christian in a muslim ruled land is a one way air ticket out. Christians in the Middle East have often had a sad affinity for tyrants, because the tyrants often will play politics of divide and rule. Assad, a truly blood stained monster, is an Alawite, Shia heretics, just like his father, another blood stained monster who ruled Syria. The Assads have proven themselves quite adept at using minorities as props for their rule, although the Alawite leadership did try to distance themselves from the Assad regime in a statement issued back in 2016.

    Christians in the Middle East in most Muslim nations always live on the precipice of a volcano, and their embrace of tyrants to guard them from worse is quite understandable. It is also quite shortsighted. Sooner or later such regimes fall, and then things tend to go poorly for the supporters of the tyrants. I have no advice for the Christians trapped in such a tragic circumstance other than to get out as quickly as they can.

    1. Yeah, I've never understood the whole 'better a turban than a miter' attitude that seems to dominate those regions, and I remember a priest saying something of the kind back in the Iraq days. He seemed to lament the choice to get behind Hussein just because at least he wasn't a Muslim tyrant ready to single out Christians. Sort of an apology for possibly selling out the soul to save the body. But I also get that it's their home, and I can see them wishing somehow to be rid of the problems rather than being forced to leave.

    2. I think it would only count as short-sighted if Christians could expect to do better from a post-tyrant regime if they'd refrained from supporting the tyrant. In the short term that might be true, but in the long run Muslim persecution of Christians is so widespread that I suspect it would make little difference.

    3. I think the point isn't just that they hope for a tyrant, though that has happened. It's also that they feel if it becomes a 'Muslim' problem, they will be ignored, while at least for now, the world is paying attention.

  2. To add to what Donald said, this also seems to run up against the belief that consequentialism must absolutely be bad and that to pick the lesser evil is still evil, etc etc of the combox saints.

    It often seems such concerns are the domain of the comfortable. For the rest, it seems they have to face the realities of sometimes having no good choice. We should thank God every day our lives have far less weighing on them. May He watch over our brothers in far off lands.

    1. When we went for my wife's side of Holy Week, we talked to a woman there from Syria. She was going through a lot of things now with family, kids, trying to find a house and all. We told her some of what had happened to us and we were comparing notes. But then she added that she was still thankful that she and her immediate family were here, not back in Syria, where her other relatives and friends were dying all the time. ISIS is a big weight on them, despite the fact that here we hear it presented as if they're all just dying for Assad to be overthrown. I get the problems with 'we'll take tyrant behind door #3' mentality, but then the gamble seems to be at least we in the West will care. If it becomes a 'Muslim Problem', we'll look away and hope the problem just vanishes - one way or another.


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