Syrian rebels are targeting Christians

Islamists among the Syrian rebels–whom the United States is supporting–are engaged in “religious cleansing” against that country’s 2 million Christians.  Many are being murdered, dying for their faith.  Details after the jump.

From Nina Shea, The Shadow War Against Syria’s Christians | National Review Online:

On June 23, Catholic Syrian priest Fr. François Murad was murdered in Idlib by rebel militias. How he was killed is not yet known and his superiors “vigorously deny” that he was a victim of beheading, as some news sources are claiming. It is apparent, however, that he was a victim of the shadow war against Christians that is being fought by jihadists alongside the larger Syrian conflict. This is a religious cleansing that has been all but ignored by our policymakers, as they strengthen support for the rebellion.  [The story goes on to give grim details about Fr. Murad's murder.] . . . .

As in Iraq, Syria’s two-million-strong Christian community, the largest next to Egypt’s Copts in the entire region, is being devastated. Targeted by jihadist militias, they are steadily fleeing Syria, and whether they will be able to return to their ancient homeland is doubtful. . . .

Fr. Murad was only the most recent cleric to be targeted by these militias. The highest profile attack was the kidnapping by gunmen in April of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim. This sent an unmistakable signal to all Christians: none is protected.

Some other examples of Syrian Christians, from various faith traditions, who have been kidnapped and killed or never seen again include:.

27-year-old Father Michael Kayal of the Armenian Catholic Church in Aleppo was abducted in February while riding a bus after Islamists spotted his clerical garb. He has not been seen since.

Greek Orthodox priest Maher Mahfouz was kidnapped around the same time and has not reappeared.

Syrian Orthodox parish priest Father Fadi Haddad was kidnapped last December after he left his church in the town of Qatana to negotiate the release of one of his kidnapped parishioners. A week later, Fr. Haddad’s mutilated corpse was found by the roadside, with his eyes gouged out.

Yohannes A. (whose last name has been redacted by Fides protect his family) was summarily executed.  An Islamist gunman stopped the bus to Aleppo and checked the background of each passenger. When the gunman noticed Yohannes’ last name was Armenian, they singled him out for a search. After finding a cross around his neck, one of the terrorists shot point blank at the cross, tearing open the man’s chest.

A woman from Hassake recounted in December to Swedish journalist Nuri Kino how her husband and son were shot in the head by Islamists. “Our only crime is being Christians,” she answers, when asked if there had been a dispute.

18-year-old Gabriel fled with his family from Hassake after his father was shot for having a crucifix hanging from his car’s rear-view mirror. The son told Kino: “After the funeral, the threats against our family and other Christians increased. The terrorists called us and said that it was time to disappear; we had that choice, or we would be killed.”

Christians and others also have been targeted by the courts of the “Caliphate of Iraq and the Levant,” the name the al-Nusra Brigade and other Islamist rebels use in reference to the Syrian territory under their control. . . .

These extremists have wasted no time in establishing sharia courts. In the towns of al-Bab and Idlib and other villages under the control of Islamist groups, sharia has been enforced for the past year. These courts, according to a Washington Post report,  pass sentences “daily and indiscriminately” against Christians and anyone else who fails to conform to Wahhabi Islam. All women are required to cover up with the abaya, a black, full-length gown. It was in Aleppo that al-Nusra executed a 14-year-old Muslim boy last month for insulting the prophet; they shot him in the mouth and the neck.

Syrian Christian refugees told Dutch blogger Martin Janssen that their village of 30 Christian families had a firsthand taste of the rebels’ new sharia courts. One of Janssen’s accounts was translated by renowned Australian linguist, writer, and Anglican priest, the Rev. Mark Durie:

Jamil [an elderly man] lived in a village near Idlib where 30 Christian families had always lived peacefully alongside some 200 Sunni families. That changed dramatically in the summer of 2012. One Friday trucks appeared in the village with heavily armed and bearded strangers who did not know anyone in the village. They began to drive through the village with a loud speaker broadcasting the message that their village was now part of an Islamic emirate and Muslim women were henceforth to dress in accordance with the provisions of the Islamic Shariah. Christians were given four choices. They could convert to Islam and renounce their ‘idolatry.’ If they refused they were allowed to remain on condition that they pay the jizya. This is a special tax that non-Muslims under Islamic law must pay for ‘protection.’ For Christians who refused there remained two choices: they could leave behind all their property or they would be slain. The word that was used for the latter in Arabic (dhabaha) refers to the ritual slaughter of sacrificial animals.

As for the larger conflict, the Christians are caught in the middle.  The churches have not allied with the Assad regime.  They have no armed protector, inside or outside the country, and they have no militias of their own. But they are not simply suffering collateral damage.  They are being deliberately targeted in a religious purification campaign – one that the United States government finds convenient to overlook as it supports Syria’s rebels and praises Saudi Arabia as one of our “closest partners.”

HT:  Paul Marshall

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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