Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Syria's descent into hell, and the West's bewildering complicity.


By Elizabeth Kendal

Long one of the safest, most hospitable places for Christians in the Middle East, Syria is descending into "hell". Surely UN and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi was right when he said at the 29 Dec 2012 talks in Moscow -- talks the Syrian opposition refused to attend -- "If the only alternative is hell or a political process, then all of us have to work continuously toward the political process". Brahimi warned that, without a political process, the situation in Syria could become similar to that in Somalia.

For prayer points see: SYRIA: descending into 'hell'
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, 6 Feb 2013

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Syria's descent into hell

Hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, the "Arab Spring" has morphed into a Sunni Ascendency in which intolerant, totalitarian, fundamentalist Islam is rising to subjugate, if not eliminate, all moderate, secular and pluralist elements. Sunnis rejoicing at the prospect of restored hegemony are naive if they think that the Islamic terrorist elements they are leaning on will either moderate or retire once Sunni hegemony is restored. For these elements are not interested so much in Sunni hegemony as in the establishment of a talibanised Caliphate -- so they will continue fighting, eliminating all resistance, until they either achieve their goal or die trying.

Fides New Agency reports that kidnappings for ransom and intimidation are becoming endemic, especially in the ethnically and religiously mixed Kurdish and Assyrian/Syriac-dominated north-east province of Al-Hasakah [MAP] which is adjacent to Kurdish-dominated eastern Turkey and the Assyrian-homeland of Ninewa/Nineveh, northern Iraq. Fides reports (4 Feb): "In recent weeks, in the city of Hassaké [Al-Hasakah, about 220km due west of Mosul, Iraq (Syria MAP)], there were fifty kidnappings, and almost half against Christians. 'Many of them are doctors, lawyers and professionals', stresses Mgr. Hindo [Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, titular of the Syrian Catholic archeparchy of Hassaké-Nisibis], 'but now the poor are beginning to be kidnapped'."

A Protestant pastor writes from Aleppo: "The people of Aleppo are living without fuel for heating homes, no gas for cooking, no water, no electricity, no medicines, no doctors, no bread, and the prices of the daily necessities are five times more." He tells of people begging for heating fuel, crying for bread and medicines and trying in vain to sell their possessions in order to buy basic necessities. He reports that extreme stress is leaving new mothers unable to produce milk for their babies, while families that have become homeless are literally starving and freezing. No longer moved by bombs and bullets, their only thought is of acquiring food. "Our Shelter and Refuge is our LORD (Psalm 91)," he writes. "HE is keeping us . . . HE is our HOPE."  He says that while most church activities are "frozen", he "thanks God that every Sunday morning, 75 - 85 people are coming to church for Worship Service," risking their lives to walk there, just so they can pray together "for the Prince of Peace to change people's hearts and minds, in order for the human being to live peacefully with God and with each other".

George Shalhoub (63) is the founder and pastor of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Livonia, a western suburb of Detroit, Michigan, USA. He grew up in the Christian quarter of Hama, Syria, and recently told the Detroit Free Press that it was "an idyllic life". He notes that while the Christians were surrounded by Muslims, they were safe. "We played in their mosques, and they played in the courtyard of our church. We were safe. We visited each other, and were part of each other's lives. I never once felt discriminated against by the Muslims. It was the happiest time of my life." Today, however, there is only sectarian strife and bloodshed. 

Rev. Joseph Antypasc (65), pastor at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Troy, about 30 km north of Detroit, told the Detroit Free Press that before the uprising, Syria was "extremely secular. . . You had equal opportunity, rights for women . . . separation of church and state." Today however, Islamic jihadists are destroying churches and driving Christians out through intimidation -- including death threats -- and forced Islamisation. Antypasc's testimony confirms reports from other sources of Islamists setting up Emirs (Muslim rulers) and enacting Sharia law in areas they control. "Our country (the U.S.) is fighting against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but in Syria, we're supporting them," Antipasc observes. "That's bewildering to me."

The West's bewildering complicity

Through its 2003 invasion of and subsequent litany of strategic policy failings in Iraq, the West unintentionally yet totally predicably facilitated the Shi'ite ascendency.
See: Religious Liberty Trend -- Shi'ite Ascendency
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 5 Feb 2007
ALSO
See: Religious Liberty Trends 2007-2008
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 15 Feb 2008
(Under subheading: "A Word on the Middle East")

Today the West is backing the Sunni Ascendency, naively believing it can make an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and help the "good" jihadists achieve victory before sending the minority "bad" jihadists home.

This is exactly what the Tuareg-nationalists fighting for independence in northern Mali thought when they -- supposedly committed secularists -- allied with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) against the Malian State. The Islamists had their own agenda which did not involve establishing a secular democracy!
See: MALI: Islamists oust Tuareg-nationalist MNLA -- making the reality official.
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 29 June 2012

This is exactly what the US and NATO thought when they backed the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) against Gaddafi, only to find the LIFG taking a key role in the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi on 11 Sept 2012. (Copley, Strategic Policy, 9/2012)

Gaddafi perceived what the West did not.

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was a committed anti-Islamist, frequently railing against "the bearded ones" as he called them. After the 11 Sept 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington, Gaddafi became an ally in the War on Terror, keeping al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) hemmed in and hamstrung for years. In mid-late 2011, as his regime teetered on the brink of collapse, Gaddafi warned that should his regime fall, then jihadists would subjugate northern Africa.

Gaddafi had been waving this red flag for decades!

In May 1989, the West's eyes were firmly fixed on Europe and the USSR as Gorbachev's policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (re-structuring) brought light, energy and hope to peoples long repressed.

Further east, however, Gaddafi, an Arab socialist, was more concerned about the rise of militant fundamentalist Islam, a trend that seemed to be off the radar of most Western intelligence.

In his book, "The High Cost of Peace" (Forum, Prima Publishing, New York, 2002), terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky reports:
"In late May [1989], twenty-one Arab monarchs and other heads of state, as well as dozens of senior officials and staff, gathered in Baghdad for an all-Arab summit. . .

"Qadhafi delivered an alarming and perceptive speech. Time was running out for the Arab world, he proclaimed. The Arab political system was on the verge of collapse because of the popular groundswell of Islamist radicalism. Furthermore, the new wave of radicalism was all-Islamic and thus undercut the region's Arab identity. 'We must all, virtually today,' Qadhafi warned, 'establish a joint alliance to stand strong and steadfast against the radical-extremist Islamic groups that are seeking to take over the entire Middle East. They multiply with the speed of lightening. We are likely to wake up one morning to face the masses raises slogans to the effect that "Islam is the solution to all our economic and social woes" and demanding that we, the present rulers, vacate the arena'."


As it turned out, the Arab leaders were not interested, believing they could exploit the militant Islamists for their own ends. As Bodansky explains, Islamist "networks were indispensible to launching terrorist operations at the heart of the West". Saddam Hussein recommended promoting an all-Arab, as distinct from Islamist, jihad -- a jihad the Arab dictators would facilitate rather than succumb to (pages 30-31). Pity no-one had listened to Gaddafi.

The motto of this story is: the enemy of my enemy is NOT necessarily my friend! Pandering to Islamic jihadists has never helped anyone -- except Islamists!

". . . the traitor betrays, and the destroyer destroys". (Isaiah 21:2 ESV)

We watch the news and think that Islam is strong -- but it isn't; Islam is weak! In all its battles, Islam has been and is the weaker force in an asymmetric conflict. Islam holds on to its adherents through threat of death and tolerates no dissent while relying on terrorism and propaganda, the weapons of the weak. Islam advances because the West arms it, funds it, blows in its sails and even fights it battles for it! The legacy of this policy will likely be the decimation, if not genocide, of the indigenous Christian communities in Iraq, Syria and possibly the wider Middle East (as well as Sudan, which is only a slightly different case); as well as the establishment of al-Qaeda bases in northern Mali and possibly Upper Mesopotamia; and maybe even the Islamisation of International human rights -- including the global criminalisation of criticism of Islam.
See: UNHRC: Resolution 16/18
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 21 August 2011

To say this is bewildering is an understatement!

In December 2012, the US recognised the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) while proscribing al-Qaeda in Iraq's al-Nusrah Front as a terrorist organisation. The SNC denounced this, maintaining that al-Nusrah Front is an ally, a label 29 Syrian opposition groups rose to support.

Now Turkey (a US-ally) is using al-Nusrah as a proxy to fight the Kurds (another US ally). A Kurdish resident of Ras al-Ain, a city about 80 km north-east of Al-Hasakah, on the Turkish border, reports that on Thursday 17 January, jihadists entered the city after crossing the Turkish border with three tanks.

The al-Nusrah Front has banded with nine other jihadist groups in the Syrian province of Deir al Zour and formed a Mujahideen Shura Council, the aim of which is to integrate jihadist groups under a central command. On 21 January 2013, Stratfor Intelligence reported that eleven Syrian opposition groups had declared the formation of the "Unified Syrian Islamic Front".  While the al-Nusrah Front has refused to join, the groups will coordinate in the field. Furthermore, "The two sides will establish a joint Sharia court that is called 'Sharia Society Court in the City of Aleppo'."

So the US and NATO assure us that they are only supporting the "good" jihadists, while the "good" jihadists openly and unashamedly confirm that they are allied to the "bad" jihadists. In reality, we are all in bed together! Indeed, everyone should be not just bewildered but totally incensed!

The West supports regime change in Syria in the hope that by taking a massive bite out of the strategic Shi'ite Crescent -- which stretches from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon via Hezballah to the northern border of Israel -- it might isolate and hurt arch-nemesis Iran.

However, there is no guarantee that Iran would be isolated. Egypt and Iran -- which lauds the Arabs for their "Islamic Awakening" -- are looking to pull off a diplomatic coup in Cairo this week and normalise ties after 34 years of hostility.

It makes you wonder, what could the almost bankrupt Morsi offer Ahmadinejad that would be enough to make him withdraw support for Al-Assad?   What could bring these leaders into alliance? Could it be their common hatreds and their common "revolutionary" goals: including the total Islamisation of a Middle East emptied of Jews and "Crusaders"? If Morsi is not interested in what Ahmadinejad has to offer, maybe other Arabs will be.

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In 680 AD, the Arab Caliph in Damascus sent forces to Kufa (in southern Iraq), to put an end to the rebellious Shi'ites and their Persian allies. [Shi'ites believe a descendant of Muhammad should be Caliph, not an appointed "strongman".] The Battle of Karbala (in southern Iraq), in which Muhammad's grandson Hussein ibn Ali was killed, was decisive in establishing enmity in perpetuity between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites.

Today the question must surely be: will this regional struggle between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites lead us "back to the future" -- to Karbala, to 680 AD? OR will Sunnis and Shi'ites, Arabs and Persians, find a way to avoid Karbala? And what might the cost of that be? 

For Middle East's remnant Christians, the future looks very bleak indeed.

But the Islamic advance won't end there, for Islam's ambitions are global. The West is feeding a fire that will refuse to be contained.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
"Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today"
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)