Ghosts in those one-sided reports about victims in Syria

Rare is the day that I do not receive at least one or two emails from Eastern Orthodox Christians, or those sympathetic to the plight of Christians in the Middle East, containing URLs pointing toward new reports about alleged atrocities linked to the fighting or acts of terrorism in Syria, Egypt or elsewhere. The common question: Why are these events rarely if ever covered by mainstream news organizations in North America?

These people are smart and they know their history. They understand, for example, that most American journalists see Christians and other endangered religious minorities in Syria as the allies of the corrupt regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his battle against a complex swarm of rebels and Islamists, including forces with strong ties to al-Qaeda and other jihadist networks. They also know that Russia supports the current Syrian regime and that President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department now support many groups in the Syrian rebellion.

Let’s see: That would be Russian President Vladimir Putin vs. Obama. Of those two, which leader is more popular with the American press?

My friends know all of that. However, their views are sure to be closer to those of Bishop Basil Essey of Wichita, Kan. Here’s a snippet of a column I wrote on that:

Anyone who prays for peace in Syria must acknowledge, at the beginning, that “vicious wrongs” have been done on both sides and that “there’s really no good armed force over there. No one we can trust. None,” concluded Bishop Basil.

“So the choice is between the evil that we know and that we’ve had for 30-40 years in that part of the world, or another evil we don’t know about except what they’ve shown us in this awful civil war.”

So my Orthodox friends are not asking why the American press seems to favor the rebels. They are not asking why so much ink is dedicated to coverage of atrocities against Islamist communities in Syria. They can do the math. What they want to know is why there is so little coverage of what is alleged to be happening to Christians and other persecuted religious minorities in the region. They struggle to understand the sins of omission.

Thus, they keep sending me reports like this one, which is from an alternative source, but includes lots of specifics and attribution links:

Negotiations intensify for release of Syrian nuns

The nuns of Maaloula may soon be in Lebanon, their abductors’ last refuge, if mediation and open channels with them do not quickly reach a solution, before the Syrian army’s attack on Yabrud expands in the next few days with the launch of the second phase of the military
operation in Qalamoun.

There are 12 kidnapped nuns — four Lebanese and eight Syrians. Three negotiating channels have taken turns trying to find out what the kidnappers want in exchange for releasing them. That the kidnappers immediately agreed to multilateral negotiations is cause for optimism because this is the first time Jabhat al-Nusra has wanted to quickly make a deal to release hostages it is holding. In the past, it took months before the fate of kidnapped persons was revealed or before the kidnappers agreed to negotiate.

Kidnapped nuns? What kidnapped nuns? Right, that Pope Francis guy is concerned about their plight, but it certainly appears that coverage of this story is strictly a Christian media or conservative media affair.

Or how about this report, from a religious press source? Yes, it includes doses of anti-mainstream media venom:

One of the worst Christian massacres — complete with mass graves, tortured-to-death women and children, and destroyed churches — recently took place in Syria, at the hands of the U.S.-supported jihadi “rebels”; and the U.S. government and its “mainstream media” mouthpiece are, as usual, silent (that is, when not actively trying to minimize matters).

The massacre took place in Sadad, an ancient Syriac Orthodox Christian habitation, so old as to be mentioned in the Old Testament. … In late October, the U.S-supported “opposition” invaded and occupied Sadad for over a week, till ousted by the nation’s military. Among other atrocities, 45 Christians — including women and children — were killed, several tortured to death; Sadat’s 14 churches, some ancient, were ransacked and destroyed; the bodies of six people from one family, ranging from ages 16 to 90, were found at the bottom of a well (an increasingly common fate for “subhuman” Christians).

The jihadis even made a graphic video (with English subtitles) of those whom they massacred. …

Now, contrast these reports with the contents of the sprawling feature package — in print and online — that The Washington Post ran the other day about the hellish conditions facing Syrian refugees and how the exodus from Syria, and other related conflicts, is changing the face of the Middle East.

Let me stress that this Pulitizer-bait effort — 18 stories in all, with amazing photography — is astonishing good and packed with the kinds of brutal and touching human details that grab readers and never let them go. This is strong stuff and, well, I cannot recommend it highly enough, even though I believe that it has predictable flaws.

And what role does religion play in this package? Here is a key summary passage in the main story:

The United Nations and governments in the countries where the refugees have taken shelter estimate that between 2.3 million and 2.8 million Syrians have fled their homeland. The United Nations says that number is rising by nearly 3,000 people a day, with no end in sight for a conflict that has lasted nearly three years.

The cost of the Syrian civil war continues to rise beyond the estimated 125,000 people killed and the tens of thousands maimed. The massive influx of refugees into neighboring countries — especially Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey — is crippling fragile economies and damaging delicate political and religious balances in the region.

“These places will never be the same,” said Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, who now spends much or her time in the region as head of the U.N. Development Program. “Many of these people will never go home.”

U.N. officials estimate that a third or more of the people living in Lebanon will soon be Syrian refugees — 1.6 million in a country with a prewar population of just 4.4 million people — or, as Clark said, “the equivalent of the entire population of Mexico taking refuge in the U.S.”

And what are the “religious balances” that are changing?

Unless I missed it, the answer is total silence — in thousands of words of text.

And if the rebel forces are driving thousands of Christians out of their homes (government forces are displacing just as many, of course) and persecuted Christians in Syria have traditionally fled to Lebanon (visit any Antiochian Orthodox parish and ask about that), how many Christian refugees are featured in this Post package?

Unless I missed something, the answer is zero — in an 18-story package.

It appears that the conflict in Syria is completely one-sided, in the eyes of the Post editors, and the conflict essentially is a showdown between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. All the victims are on one side of the fighting. And the impact on largely defenseless religious minorities caught in between the government and the Islamists? Silence.

You would expect that I would hear complaints about this Post package from friends and other Orthodox readers. I have not, so far.

I guess, at this point, they have stopped reading The Washington Post.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    Just thinking as reading this excellent analysis.
    Lebanon has been becoming a less and less Christian country in percentage of Christians there. But most of those huge numbers of refugees in Lebanon appear to be Christian. Could the Syrian Christians flooding into Lebanon be a catalyst for Lebanon again becoming a majority Christian country??? And how would that affect Middle Eastern religious history??? What repercussions, if any??? In which case the Post missed what could possibly be a future Big Story about the Middle East.

    • tmatt

      The pressure is also growing on Jordan to be more openly pluralistic, which, in turn, then invites more attacks by radical Islamists. That’s another story.

  • tmatt
  • James Patton

    This is no different than the coverage of the Israeli/Palestine conflict.

  • jenny

    Christians are caught in the political battle .

  • opinionated1945

    The political and media Establishments of the West are steering us toward dhimmitude, using the weapon of political correctness and faux tolerance. I fear this will lead to an ever-expanding tragedy of historic proportion as with the Second World War. To get an alternative perspective to the mainstream media noise, I frequently check out: http://www.jihadwatch.org/. My best regards to all people of Goodwill.


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