The Syrian Crisis in Light of the Decline of Europe
Dmitry MININ | 29.05.2013 | WORLD

The Syrian Crisis in Light of the Decline of Europe

What does the legalization of single-sex «marriages» in France, which even such desperate acts as Dominique Venner's suicide in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris have been unable to stop, have in common with the civil war in Syria? The common factor is that in both cases we can see signs of the self-destruction complex which is devouring Europe. The «Decline of Europe», predicted over 100 years ago by Oswald Spengler, has reached the depths of denying not only its own cultural and historical roots, but the reproduction of life itself... The West, as if possessed by a Freudian «death drive», is trying in some kind of frantic blindness to destroy ancient Christian, and thus European, heritage in Syria. And in exactly the same way it is destroying itself little by little through its attitude toward the institution of the family and toward faith. 

It's some kind of theater of the absurd and a mockery of common sense when authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where there is not a fraction of the freedoms and religious tolerance which have long been a hallmark of Syrian society, become Europe's allies in the fight «for democracy» in Syria. According to the Christian charity «Open Doors», in Qatar, for example, converts to Christianity turn into outcasts and are often victims of violence. Christian migrant workers live in «labor communes», where they are not allowed to gather for worship services, and, as in the times of the first Christians, they pray in secret. In Saudi Arabia any religion besides Islam is prohibited altogether, and becoming a Christian is punishable by death.

Many Muslim citizens of European countries are fighting in the war in Syria on the side of the radical Islamists. It's not difficult to imagine what they will bring back with them to Europe. According to expert figures, over 100 such «volunteers» from England are fighting in Syria, the same number from the Netherlands, over 80 from France, and dozens from Germany, a total of about 600 people, or 10% of the total number of foreigners in the ranks of the rebels. (1) London and Paris are insisting on a resolution to supply weapons to the Syrian opposition. To whom? To the same people who hack British soldiers to death on the streets of their own capital? Is that not a self-destruction complex?

Civilization in Syria was born in the 4th millennium B.C. Damascus is the most ancient of currently existing world capitals. Syria holds an important place in the history of Christianity. It was on the road to Damascus that the Apostle Paul converted to the Christian faith. It was in Syrian Antioch that the disciples of Christ were first called Christians. 

Out of Syria's population of 23 million, approximately 86% are Muslims, and 10% are Christians. Syrian Christians have their own courts, which deal with civil matters such as marriages and divorces. Among the Christians in Syria, half are Orthodox, and 18% are Catholics (mostly members of the Syrian Catholic and Melkite Catholic churches). There are also congregations of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

In addition to Muslim holidays, Easter and Christmas are also state holidays in Syria. In Damascus there are several Christian quarters (Bab Touma, al-Qassaa, Ghassani) and many churches, including the ancient Chapel of St. Paul. The coexistence of world religions side by side here, which could become an example for the Middle East, is especially noticeable in Damascus' famous Umayyad Mosque. In the mosque's prayer hall is a shrine with the Head of John the Baptist (Yahya), who was beheaded on the orders of King Herod. This holy relic is venerated by both Christians and Muslims. One of the mosque's three minarets is named after Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus son of Mary). According to local tradition, Jesus Christ will descend to the earth from heaven via this minaret before the Judgment Day. The mosque is open to people of any faith every day except Friday. 

The leading Christian organization in the country is the Antiochian Orthodox Church, which is commemorated third in the diptych of the autocephalous local Churches. It was founded near the year 37 A.D. in Antioch by the Apostles Peter and Paul. It has produced such illustrious sons as St. John Chrysostom, St. John Damascene, and many others. In 1342 the seat of the patriarchate was moved to Damascus, where it remains to this day. The Antiochian Orthodox Church has 2 million members, of which 1 million live in Syria (5% of the population) and 400,000 live in Lebanon (10%). Hundreds of thousands of parishioners live in the U.S. and other Western countries. Services are held in Greek and Arabic.

An important characteristic of the Antiochian Orthodox Church is the closeness of the clerical hierarchy to the people. In 1898, with the active support of the Russian Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society, the Arab Meletius Doumani became the Patriarch of Antioch. Since then practically all the bishops of the Antiochian Orthodox Church have been Arabs, unlike, for example, in the Jerusalem Patriarchate, which serves Orthodox Palestinians; its bishops are almost exclusively Greeks, which creates a certain distance between them and ordinary parishioners. 

The second most important church in the country is the Syriac Orthodox Church, one of the six Oriental Orthodox churches (along with the Coptic Church, Armenian Apostolic Church and others). In Syria it has 690,000 parishioners.

Syria is also the only place on earth where Aramaic, the language in which Jesus Christ spoke and preached, survives as a living language, particularly in the vicinity of the Orthodox convent of St. Thecla Equal to the Apostles near the city of Maaloula. 

However, all of this could be destroyed in the blink of an eye, and the language of the Savior of the world could die out entirely. The West is closing its eyes to the fact that the first victims of the Syrian rebels they are supporting are often the local Christians. What is this, shortsightedness or betrayal? Or are the Orthodox, who make up the majority of Syrian Christians, still «schismatics» in the eyes of Europe, like in the age of the Crusades? Their situation in the zones controlled by Islamist rebels is very reminiscent of that of their fellow Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo.

The French author Alexandre Del Valle writes that the «post-Christian» West has never attempted to «defend the Christians of Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria or Sudan, who were persecuted by Sunnites... The NATO powers, who still see Russia as the Soviet enemy of the cold war era, have often since 1990 sent their troops against pro-Russian regimes (Milosevic’s Serbia, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Kaddafi’s Libya, etc.), in particular out of «solidarity» with its oil-producing «allies» from the Persian Gulf and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which demanded that they defend Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Kuwait, and the Libyan and now the Syrian Islamists.» According to Del Valle's data, 80,000 Christians from Homs have left for Damascus and Beirut, and in all one-third of all Christians have already fled the country. (2) Many Christian villages in combat areas in Syria have been deserted out of fear of persecution after the arrival of armed rebels, as testified by Anna Neistat, associate director of Human Rights Watch, after visiting Syria.

According to an independent international investigative committee on Syria, Christians (often well-to-do people) are suffering from attacks and kidnappings. «One could cite as examples the Christians in Maaloula who were taken hostage in December 2012; those in Al-Qusayr who were kidnapped in July 2012; the Chaldean Catholics from Al-Hasakah who were kidnapped and then forced to send their children to join the rebellion; the killing of 12 Christians from Jaramana in August 2012; a bombing in...the historic Christian quarter of Damascus, Bab Touma, on October 21 (15 Christians killed); the killing of 8 more Christians...on November 28 in Jaramana... [and] the atrocious case of the Orthodox priest Fadi Jamil Qatana, who was scalped and blinded for trying to free a parishioner who had been taken hostage» (3). 

When the rebels attacked the ancient Orthodox monastery of the Prophet Elijah near the city of Al-Qusayr, which lies 20 kilometers from the Lebanese border and was recently liberated by government forces, they totally wasted the monastery; they stole the sacramental vessels, blew up the bell tower, destroyed the altar and the baptismal font, and knocked down a statue of the prophet, who is venerated in Syria by Christians and Muslims alike. This monastery is over 1500 years old, and it is under state protection as an architectural monument. Over the past two years, dozens of churches in Syria have been destroyed, mostly in Homs and Aleppo. An ancient synagogue in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, has also been damaged.

On April 22, 2013, in a village in the Aleppo governorate, Metropolitans Paul (Antiochian Orthodox Church) and Yohanna (Syriac Orthodox Church) were abducted by armed men. The house of Metropolitan Yohanna was set on fire. (4) The Ministry of Religion of Syria released a communiqué stating that the clerics were kidnapped by Chechen mercenaries from the radical Islamist Al-Nusra Front. (5) Both metropolitans are still being held captive. 

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople stated in an interview with the Milanese catholic newspaper Avvenire that «violence on religious grounds, hatred and intolerance toward Christians continue to dominate in countries in revolution». According to him, the lives of Christians in Syria are threatened every day.

The fall of the regime in Damascus will mark the end of the history of Christianity in the Middle East. The Maronites in Lebanon will not be able to bear the pressure from the Syrian Islamists or the endless stream of refugees. Their emigration from the country, which is already growing, will turn into an all-out flight. Only the Coptic community in Egypt will have a chance of survival thanks to its numbers, but its situation is becoming more and more difficult. 

This bell tolls not only for the Middle East; it tolls for Europe as well.