Friday, December 7, 2012

Syrian Christians and the Assad Regime

I just finished reading Neil Mcfarquhar’s small and highly readable book, The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah wishes you a happy birthday. Neil is the former New York Times reporter in the Middle East. I met him and had dinner with him one time when he was writing a story on American Muslim charities. I was at the Middle East Studies Association meeting in Denver last month. I was talking to a colleague when the topic of Syria came up. My colleague said things that almost everyone else that I talked to in the US usually says when the topic of Syria comes up- Syrian Christians: “Assad is good to the Christians” and “what would happen to the Christians if Assad is removed.” This common reaction is testament to the very effective propaganda work of the Assad regime and its supporters. Who cares about the tens of thousands of people killed and the excessive use of force against the civilian population? Syria is not a country with a bloody history of sectarian relations. There are historical incidents of tensions and violence but they are the rare exception rather than the rule. There is no better response to the question about the Christians in Syria than this quote on page 335 from Neil’s book regarding the Christian Syrian Anwar al-Bunni [ I am familiar with Al Bunni from my readings on the Middle East- I did not know he is a Christian until I read Neil's book] and his encounter with the regime: “In 1982, Bunni was a recent college graduate living in Hama, where the government began rooting out supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The old Muslim quarter was their stronghold and the army eventually turned the entire district into a parking lot. Bunni, a Christian, resided in an adjacent neighborhood, but security agents nabbed him because he sported a beard- often the trademark of a devout Muslim male. Even as they were beating him, he refused to tell them whether he was a Christian or a Muslim. His wife quoted him as saying to them, “I have lived here for twenty years and nobody has ever asked me that question so I won’t answer.” Finally a neighbor emerged from his house and vouched that Bunni was a Christian. The officers let him go, but first set his beard alight.”

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