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Saturday, September 7, 2013

This is a must read on Syria. I am posting the whole copy since it was from FB and not everyone has access. I don't think Father Guy would mind.

Yesterday I said I post post about Syria. I'm running a little behind today because my my allergies but I'll try to make a short post that can open a dialog which can lead to better understanding of the situation, at least as I see it.

Syria itself is an incredibly important place for all of humanity though most of us in the US have the impression that it is little more than just one of those Middle Eastern countries that wearies us with its modern politics and Islamic religion. Syria, historically speaking, is the birth place of civilization. Alphabetic writing started there with the cuneiform alphabet. The first major codex of civil law was written there in Hammerabi's Code. The ancient world would never developed sufficiently for Socrates and Plato to give us philosophy if agriculture had not developed in Syria first. We usually don't realize that Damascus is the city with the longest continuing occupation in the world, going back to 6,000 BC. I write this as an ardent Anglophile and one who is culturally Eurocentric. Honesty requires at least this much.

Syria endured the Hellenization of Alexander the Great and became a greater player in the world of that age than Athens or Sparta. It was one of the leading provinces of the Roman Empire, with Antioch the third most most important city of the empire behind Rome and Alexandria. So it's romantitas was firmly established long before France was French. We find the early Christian Church actively growing in Syria in the Book of the Acts. St Paul lived in Damascus for a few years following his baptism and later had Antioch as his base. In fact, it was in the city of Antioch that those "in the way" were first called Christian. It was later the third Patriarch of Antioch, St Ignatius who first called the Church Catholic (117 AD).

I give this information because we are so fuzzy in our perception of even the Christians who live there now. They are the literal descendants of those first Christians who have suffered persecution and yet remained faithful to this day. This all should be kept in the back of our minds as we consider the current crisis, because things do not happen in a vacuum.

Two years ago I was sent on a delegation to Damascus to see how the Christians are faring, what is the source of the unrest, and what is the position of the government and even of the local Muslims. We were not sent to offer solutions. How could we? To offer one would require us to remain and help them with it.

We arrived in Amman Jordan and then flew to Damascus., the city of the sun, as it was anciently known. We visited the old city, the place where St. Paul was baptized, the street called straight, the place he was let down in a basket, the Christian quarter of town and the Jewish quarter of town. We then visited our Patriarch's cathedral and spoke with one of the bishop's for his insight.

The next day we went to Maloula and visited the monastery of St. Thecla--which town is currently being attacked by radicals to heavy my heart. This village still speaks Aramaic, the language Christ spoke, rather than Arabic. It has always been a Christian village and has no mosque of which I could see. We spoke to the Mother Superior there about the events. We did the same at the monastery of Saydnia (Our Lady) later that evening. At both monasteries the nuns there run orphanages. At Sayednia we were told that the previous Mother Superior had died about 9 months previously. President Assad--who regularly visits these two monasteries with his wife and without guards to work and help the orphans, personally paid for her funeral.

We met with one of the dissident groups, we can call them the old intellectual guard which was largely educated in France in socialism and skepticism in the 1960s. They do not wish Assad thrown over but desire him to move to a more socialistic reform. The Baathist party is actually socialist in pattern which reveals one of the reasons that there is strong unity between Syria and Russia. But that is even older because the Czars used to protect the Orthodox Christians--indeed all Christians--in Syria against Islamic threats by its own power.

Meeting with Michael, the intellectual dissident, we learned that there are many different groups involved but many, if not most, are not actually Syrian. They are radical Muslims that want to reestablish a Caliphate in Damascus. Here is the dark cloud we are really witnessing. They come from all over, Chechnya, Albania, Iran... It is the same as the insurgents we fought in Falujah. Assad is a moderate Muslim who tolerates Christians and western values so he is a marked man.

We met with President Assad for two hours privately, just our delegation and him. No body guards. Our questions were completely free and the dialog was very open. His English is superb. We then met, quite by chance, about 24 sheiks of various tribes who were having a meeting in the same hotel we stayed at. Again we spoke of the current concerns. Finally we met with the Grand Mufti, the head Imam of Syria and spoke of Christian Muslim relations in Syria. I was quite surprised to be honest.

The US Ambassador, appointed by Obama, wanted to meet us and give us grave concerns. I now wonder what this was really about, if there has been a more long term plan by this administration in this area.

My take away: Assad may have ruled in some ways that we would not appreciate or approve of. He may even have been brutal in some instances though I saw no evidence of that. But I did not get the sense that he was an evil man. I have worked among murders in the prison and in the psychiatric ward of the prison and I did not see any of the markers one might expect for an evil personna. I do know that all of the Christians have depended greatly on Assad's protection and support there. Without him, they are indeed doomed because of who many of the rebels are. We have already seen this.

It strikes me that the US is using worse than gunboat diplomacy in the region. We have not even attempted to negotiate a truce or armistice. I have to wonder about the agenda because it is not being given. It believe firmly that we are not in a position, militarily, to begin such an attack. Many of you know my son was a Marine in the surge in Iraq and is now in the Air Force. This is personal to be sure, but I think it objectively true nevertheless.

I have a view of the use of military force that may not be popular. Do not commit troops to engage unless you are willing to turn them loose. They are trained to kill and destroy--not send warning shots. Don't tie their hands too tightly with absurd rules of engagements. They are trained to kill and destroy, if you don't want that don't send them in. We must also have a very specific goal and it must be stated clearly and publicly. Yes, I accept the just theory of a just war.

Okay, that should be enough to start a dialog.