Arab Christians come out strongly against US strike in Syria

Opposition to Western intervention on behalf of beleaguered Christian minorities emerged as a key theme of a regional Arab Christian conference hosted by Jordan this week.

Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
Activists hold banners, Lebanese flags and pictures of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad during a sit-in near the US embassy in Awkar, north of Beirut, against potential US strikes on Syria September 6, 2013. As President Barack Obama tries to rally the world around a proposed attack on Syria, Christians and Muslim leaders who met at a conference in Amman this week have come out as strongly opposed.

As President Barack Obama tries to rally the world around a proposed attack on Syria, Arab Christian leaders have come out as strongly opposed, worried an attack could create a backlash against their communities.

At a conference of more than 50 regional Christian leaders and a handful of global Christians and Muslim scholars in Amman this week, the dangers of Western intervention to the region's Christian minorities emerged as one of the strongest themes. With political Islam on the rise after the Arab uprisings of 2011, the region's ancient Christian communities are already feeling under threat and have the recent example of the devastation of Iraq's Christian community following the US-led invasion of 2003 to make them worry about the consequences of action.

“We stress that we reject foreign interference in Syria,” said Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch for the Syrian Catholic Church, in a statement read before the conference, which was sponsored by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan.

“We don’t accept any intervention by foreign powers … to protect minorities,” Pope Anba Tawadros II of Egypt’s Coptic church, who was unable to attend the conference due to the tense situation in Egypt, said in a statement. “It is basically a pretext … to advance their countries’ interest in the Middle East.”

The largest Christian community in the Middle East is found in Egypt, with approximately 9 million Coptic Christians, while the country with the highest percentage of Christians is Lebanon, where they constitute an estimated one-third of the country's 4 million residents. Iraq, Syria, Israel, and the Palestinian territories have traditionally had significant Christian populations as well, but political and economic troubles as well as military conflict has caused many to leave.

Many Christian minorities are afraid that their communities will suffer a similar fate to Iraq's, where the US-led war and subsequent sectarian fighting pushed roughly half of the country’s 1 million Christians into exile, many for good. 

“[America’s] upcoming military strike in Syria will definitely detonate this situation and will definitely heighten sectarian divisions,” said Karim Pakradouni, a Lebanese Christian and former leader of the far-right Phalangist political party and militia, Hizb al-Kataeb.

Christian exodus

Father Raymond Moussalli of the Chaldean Church, who has been ministering to Iraqi refugees in Amman for years, says the number of Iraqi Christian refugees here has decreased from 15,000 to 5,000 as many left for Europe, America, or Australia.

He worries about a similar exodus from his native Syria, where his family is still living, if the US were to strike.

“The Syrian Army is protecting the Christian community [in the Syrian city of Aleppo],” he says, estimating that about 10 percent of its 220,000 Christian residents have fled. “But if [the Army] leaves, they will be massacred.” Many share his concern, particular as reports emerge of some militant rebel groups in Syria targeting Christians, a trend that could become widespread if the Assad regime were to fall.

Father Raymond criticizes the West for supporting the Syrian opposition and rebel groups instead of peace and reconciliation efforts. “If we are bombing Syria now, where are all the Christians going? There are 2 million.”

Despite such fears, Arab Christian leaders at the conference rejected the idea of seeking help from other powers, emphasizing the need for dialogue instead.

“Do we run under the skirts of a warlord? Are we weak and persecuted and thus in a perpetual need of other Christians to rescue us?” asked Bishop Munib Younan of the evangelical Lutheran church in Jordan and the Holy Land. “No, we don’t need that. We seek justice, equality, dignity.”

Some leaders pointed to the teachings of Jesus Christ as a model for how to respond to persecution, even as Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church called for a day for prayer for Syria on Saturday, Sept. 7.

“Given all the enormous challenges, we remain steadfast and we call out the words of the Holy Book,” said Pope Tawadros's statement. “Jesus Christ says we will never respond to a curse with a curse.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Arab Christians come out strongly against US strike in Syria
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today