U.S. policy towards Syria is bafflingly inconsistent. If U.S. leaders are so concerned about regimes slaughtering thousands of their own people, did they notice what just happened in Egypt? If they are so exercised over about weapons of mass destruction, are they aware that Israel has two hundred nuclear warheads, with delivery systems? Will American warships in the region be making those other stops on their liberating mission?
Most puzzling of all, though, is why the United States seems so determined to eradicate Christianity in one of its oldest heartlands, at such an agonizingly sensitive historical moment.
Syria has always been a complex place religiously. Although the country has a substantial Sunni Muslim majority, it also has large minority communities—Christians, Alawites, and others—who together make up over a quarter of the population. Those communities have survived very successfully in Syria for centuries, but the present revolution is a threat to their continued existence.
Sadly, Westerners tend to assume that Arabs are, necessarily, Muslims, and moreover, that Muslims are a homogeneous bunch. Actually, 10 percent of Syrians are Alawites, members of a notionally Islamic sect that actually draws heavily from Christian and even Gnostic roots: they even celebrate Christmas. Locally, they were long known as Nusayris, “Little Christians.” Syria is also home to several hundred thousand Druze, who are even further removed from Sunni orthodoxy.
And then there are the Christians. If Christianity began in Galilee and Judea, it very soon made its cultural and intellectual home in Syria. St. Paul famously visited Damascus, and for centuries Antioch was one of the world’s greatest Christian centers. (The city today stands just over the Turkish border.) A sizable Christian population flourished under Islamic rule, and continued under the Ottomans. Muslim and Christian populations always interacted closely here. A shrine in Damascus’s Great Mosque claims to be the location of John the Baptist’s head.
Read More at the American Conservative . By Philip Jenkins.
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