If we’ve learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that intervening in the Middle East is never clear or simple. What is clear right now, though, is that the majority of American citizens do not want this country to get militarily involved in Syria, be it via missile strikes, boots on the ground, or some other method.
There are a number of reasons why getting involved in Syria may not be the best of ideas for the United States, ranging from doubts concerning the rebels our actions would be supporting to weak international support. However, Christians have an additional reason to be concerned about U.S. military intervention: namely, the effects that such intervention could have on our brothers and sisters in Christ currently living in that war-torn land.
History professor Philip Jenkins has written a detailed piece for The American Conservative in which he outlines the long history of Christianity in Syria, its existence under the current Assad regime, and the potential ramifications of Assad being overthrown and the rebels aided by American intervention wresting control.
Quite apart from their political influence, Christians have done very well indeed in modern Syria. Although they try to avoid drawing too much attention, it is no secret that Aleppo (for instance) has a highly active Christian population. Christian numbers have even grown significantly since the 1990s, as Iraqis fled the growing chaos in that country. Officially, Christians today make up around 10 percent of Syria’s people, but that is a serious underestimate, as it omits so many refugees, not to mention thinly disguised crypto-believers. A plausible Christian figure is at least 15 percent, or three million people.
To describe the Ba’athist state’s tolerance is not, of course, to justify its brutality, or its involvement in state-sanctioned crime and international terrorism. But for all that, it has sustained a genuine refuge for religious minorities, of a kind that has been snuffed out elsewhere in the region. Although many Syrian Christians favor democratic reforms, they know all too well that a successful revolution would almost certainly put in place a rigidly Islamist or Salafist regime that would abruptly end the era of tolerant diversity. Already, Christians have suffered terrible persecution in rebel-controlled areas, with countless reports of murder, rape, and extortion.
If the U.S., France, and some miscellaneous allies strike at the regime, they could conceivably so weaken it that it would collapse. Out of the ruins would emerge a radically anti-Western regime, which would kill or expel several million Christians and Alawites. This would be a political, religious, and humanitarian catastrophe unparalleled since the Armenian genocide almost exactly a century ago.
In addition, Rod Dreher has posted several articles that all raise the same basic question: If you’re a Christian, to what extent should the welfare of Syrian Christians affect your opinion regarding U.S. action in Syria?
Or, to put it another way: If you’re a Christian, and you believe that America should intervene in Syria, and you subsequently come across reports that indicate that such intervention could hasten the persecution and demise of the Syrian church, does that change your opinion of intervention? If not, why not? How do we reconcile the situation of our Christian brothers and sisters with our views on American foreign policy?