(Photo: REUTERS/Social media website via Reuters TV)
As the U.S. Congress debates authorizing a military strike against the Syrian military for its use of biological weapons against innocent civilians, the impact of such a strike on the Christians in the country has been a cause of concern. To get a better understanding of the situation, The Christian Post spoke with Rupen Das, director for community development and relief at the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development.
Das, who is leading the aid efforts in Syria for LSESD, warned that a strike against Syria could make things worse for Christians there, who have already been attacked by some of the anti-Christian rebel forces.
"If the regime forces are weakened or temporarily off balance, there is every indication that the radical groups will use the opportunity to step up their attack on the Christian and Alawite communities," Das said.
LSESD has been working in Syria since April 2011. The organization is currently assisting about 5,000 families, or over 20,000 individuals, with food, medicine, winter supplies, and education and activities for children. Das also advises think tanks on humanitarian aid.
The rebel forces are a mix, Das says, of radicals, affiliated with al-Qaeda, moderate Muslims and secular forces. While the radicals are a minority among the rebels, they are also the best armed, best trained and most ruthless. The exact proportion of rebel forces that are radicals is difficult to judge, he explained, but some estimates put them between 10 and 40 percent.
Das is not the first to warn of the Syrian Christian's dangerous situation. Geoff Tunnicliffe of the World Evangelical Alliance sent a statement to the White House Thursday warning that a U.S. military intervention could have a "detrimental effect" on Christians in the region. And, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Tenn.) argued on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that if Bashar al-Assad is overthrown he would be replaced by an Islamic state that persecutes Christians.
Christians in Syria do not have their own militias, Das said. On Wednesday, one of the al-Qaeda rebel groups attacked the Christian village of Maaloula.
Maaloula, Das explained, is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, and the only place in the world where they still speak Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke. While the attack made headlines, it was not an isolated incident, he said. There had already been "hundreds" of similar incidents in Syria.
While there are secular and moderate Muslim rebels that would like to set up an inclusive, democratic government if Assad is overthrown, and this government would have peaceful relations with their Christian neighbors, Das does not believe they would be strong enough to gain power and maintain control in Syria.
With Syrian Christians caught between a brutal dictator and radical Islamists, easy answers are difficult to find. Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, recently put it this way: "There are no appealing options in Syria. A brutal dictatorship backed by Shiite jihadists is opposed by an opposition inclusive of Sunni jihadists. ... Christians, in addressing Syria, have to be modest and admit there are no clear answers. Only God can salvage this situation."