ISIS, Assad, and What the West is Missing About Syria | Alessandra Nucci | CWR
Syria, once home to a unique, multireligious society, is being destroyed. The West is turning a blind eye to the real cause of the tragedy.
Last year Pope Francis called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and the whole world, setting the date for September 7 and himself presiding over a prayer vigil in Rome. In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan reports that in September of 2013, “the American people spontaneously rose up and told Washington they would not back a bombing foray in Syria that would help the insurgents opposed to Bashar Assad. That public backlash was a surprise not only to the White House but to Republicans in Congress, who were—and I saw them—ashen-faced after the calls flooded their offices. It was such a shock to Washington that officials there still don’t talk about it and make believe it didn’t happen.”
That, of course, was before ISIS, the Islamic State, appeared on the scene, cutting through a third of Syria and Iraq and advancing rapidly, tragically, into the area with the strongest Christian presence in Iraq. A shocked world witnessed the ghastly beheadings of innocent Westerners, along with the displacement, raping, and murdering of Iraqi Christians and Yazidis, the looting and burning down of churches, and the marking out of Christian homes. The leaders of the Western world all vowed to take immediate action. The president of the United States solemnly committed to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. Yet in a matter of months, even the beheadings seem to have receded into the background. It would seem that if you dither long enough, even the most acute world-wide indignation will fade away, as observers become increasingly inured to outrages. Only days after President Obama’s solemn denunciaton, the anti-government Syrian “rebels” announced a deal with ISIS. What for? To join forces against their common enemy: Bashar al-Assad.
Despite a stunning one-time-only admission by President Obama to a delegation of patriarchs in Washington last September—in which he reportedly said, “We know Assad has been protecting the Christians”—the bipartisan attitude towards the Syrian government has continued to hover between aloof and openly hostile.
The depiction of Assad by credible witnesses is quite different. Speaking at a private meeting held at the Veritatis Splendor Diocesan Center in Bologna, Italy last October, Msgr. Giuseppe Nazzaro, former apostolic visitor to Aleppo and former Custodian of the Holy Land, had this to say:
[Assad] opened the country up to foreign trade, to tourism within the country and from abroad, to freedom of movement and of education for both men and women. Before the protests started, the number of women in the professional world had been constantly increasing, the university was open to all, and there was no discrimination on the basis of sex. The country was at peace, prosperity was on the rise, and human rights were respected. A common home and fatherland to many ethnicities and 23 different religious groups, Syria has always been a place where all were free to believe and live out their creed, all relationships were characterized by mutual respect. The freedom that is purportedly being brought to us by the rebels is precisely what this rebellion has taken away from us.
Msgr. Nazzaro was also among the heads of the Churches of the Middle East who were invited to speak at the UN headquarters in Geneva on September 16, where he denounced the “massacres and the atrocities, together with the crimes against humanity” committed by the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq. The Syrians pinned great hopes on this meeting, but were bitterly disappointed.