She’s not your average Aunt Agnes. At age 15, her dad died and she turned “hippie.” Says she smoked lots of marijuana. Says the best pot is in Beirut, Lebanon. But at age 19, she quit grass, returned to the religious moorings of her youth, and became a nun.
For many years, Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross was the superior of the Monastery of St. James the Mutilated. It’s a Melkite Greek Orthodox monastery located in Homs, Syria’s third largest city, after Dasmascus and Alleppo. Although she avoided Syrian politics, she did speak out publicly in opposition to Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, which occurred in 1976-2005. But in 2011, she started her own research of Arab Spring in Syria, which included considerable interviewing of Syrians. Then she began speaking out publicly against the increasing, violent opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime.
Last month, the Syrian government was accused of using chemical weapons that killed hundreds (some estimates are 1,400 deaths) of Syrian citizens, which included many children. President Assad denies it. Videos have circulated showing the frightening carnage, and these recently have been shown often on televised newscasts around the world. But Mother Agnes, after spending days analyzing these videos, alleges they are “fakes.” She claims that a close examination of them reveals discrepancies. Although she does not venture a guess as to who made them, others of her inkling allege that they were created by Islamists to deceive outside governments, especially the U.S., and thereby incite them to further oppose the Assad regime, if not militarily invade the country to overthrow it. Mother Agnes’ critics, of course, rightly argue that she is no expert criminologist.
Mother Agnes has risked her life with these allegations. Some rebels, located near the St. James Monastery, who have been fighting against the Syrian government, then warned Mother Agnes that Islamist insurgents fighting alongside them were planning to assassinate her. She accepted their offer of aid and fled to Lebanon, where she now temporarily resides.
The New York Times reported today quoted Mother Agnes as if she sounds like Syrian President Assad by explaining, “What happened is the interference of half the globe in Syrian affairs, infiltrating Syria with foreign fighters, recycling Al Qaeda and putting under threat the civilian population.”
Syria’s population is mostly Muslim. But 10% of it is Christian. Bashar al-Assad and his family belong to the Alwite religion, which is centered in Syria, yet he conducts a secular government. The Alwites represent 12% of the population of Syria, and they are an offshoot of the Shiite sect of Islam. Alwites are very mystical and believe in keeping their religious beliefs secret among themselves. Historically, Alwites have suffered much persecution by Sunni Muslims. Many of the armed insurgents among the rebels fighting the Assad regime in Syria are Sunni Muslims. They include many Al Qaeda fighters, and some of them reportedly are financially supported by the Saudi Arabian regime.
The Christian community in Syria is mostly of Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic. Historically, Syrian Alwites have gotten along fine with Syrian Christians. Mother Agnes and other Syrian Christians insist that if the Assad regime is overthrown, it likely will be replaced with something worse for their Christian community. They fear it will be an Islamic regime hostile to Christianity.
Because of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, U.S. President Obama announced last month that he favored the U.S. bombing Syria for the sole purpose of destroying its large arsenal of chemical weapons which are much dispersed throughout Syria. That likely would result in some collateral damage. Then, only days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that it might be possible to convince Syria to forfeit all of its chemical weapons. (Russia is Syria’s #1 ally and an important trading partner.) Such an action would jeopardize Syria’s security since, technically, it still remains at war with Israel. All the world’s leaders believe that Israel has nuclear weapons, although Israel has never admitted or denied it. Syria has no nuclear weapons. Largely due to Israel’s nuclear weapons, Syria has one of the largest caches of chemical weapons in the world.
Syria did acknowledge that it would allow UN inspectors to examine its country and destroy all of its chemical weapons if the U.S. promised to not bomb Syria because of them. The UN has now verified that chemical weapons were used last month in Damascus, although it did not determine who used them. These UN conclusions may contradict Mother Agnes’ allegations. Russian President Putin claims there is evidence that these chemical weapons were used by the rebels and therefore not by the Assad government. In support of the Assad regime, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov recently cited Mother Agnes’ accusations.
I know! Some mucho, macho, American dudes who want to go to war in Syria will counter, “she’s still smokin’ pot!” But really, what if this lady of the cross is right!