Thursday, July 05, 2012

Christians in Syria: another response

Among many responses to the report on Christians in Syria by Angry Arab's chief correspondent in Syria, I received this response:
"I am an avid reader of your blog, and a journalist with over two decades of experience in Syria. Congratulations on your contribution to such a thorny and tragic issue. Regarding the recent entry “Christians in Syria II” I would advise more caution re lumping together Fides, the Vatican, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Syrian regime, the anti-Muslim propaganda, in the terms chosen by the fine Akram. Those terms risk mirroring the same propaganda he is trying to demistify.
Regardless of the dispute surrounding the French priest Philippe Tournyol du Clos, the fate of the Christians in Syria has nothing to do with that particular figure - whether du Clos is a fanatical or a conservative, whether he prefers to celebrate Mass according to the Tridentine or the modern rite, whether he was closer to Pope John Paul II (who approved the “Fraternité Saint-Pierre”) or to the current Pope Ratzinger, whether it is “silly” or not to be an exorcist in the Catholic Church, which officially includes such practice and rituals, (and there are many more “distinguos” one could add).
Regardless of M. du Clos, as unpalatable as he may be to some, it would be unfounded, and also unfair, to describe Fides as “nothing than a propaganda arm of the Vatican”. It is unfounded, as the Vatican is everything but a “monolithic institution” speaking with one voice - it is rather a nest of “crows” (i.e. the recent events unfolding under the saga of the “Vatileaks”), plagued by infighting, divided into dozens of different factions, by political and doctrinal issues, both on the domestic and international level. One only needs to read the various publications (the official “Osservatore Romano”, the Bishops’ “Avvenire”) to understand how deeply divided the Catholic official clergy is. Therefore the proposition that Fides is nothing than a propaganda arm sounds rather laughable and misinformed.
It is also unfair to the hard work performed by the lay people and the priests who collect information for Fides, like many other Catholic religious news agencies, not only in the Arab countries but around the world. Famously, priests - as well as imams - are among the best informed people at all latitudes. That is not to say that the news published by Fides must be taken at face value - any professional knows the need to check his/her own sources.
Furthermore, the picture of the Catholic clerical community as such, is itself far from monolithic - many Catholic clerics in the Arab countries being fiercely at odds with the Vatican in Rome. One of the reasons behind the rifts lies also in the some of the most contentious pronouncements by the current Pope regarding Islam, blasted by many senior Catholic clerics even in Syria.
Finally, turning to the central issue of the post, which is the fate of the Christian community in Syria, it is surprising that someone from Syria, who is supposed to have first hand access to the people and the community involved, would have to rely on information provided by a French priest or a Catholic press agency. What about the thousands of Christians who fled from the areas of Homs, or Hama, or Qusayr? Are they not in Damascus, or around Saidnaya, or in Beirut, readily available to tell their stories? Have their stories not been heard? Let them speak.
As to stating with such certainty that “nothing proves that Christians in Syria are abused... not so far”, I personally would add some qualifiers. The infamous slogan “Alawites to the tomb, Christians to Beirut” (Alawiyya 'a tabut, Masihiyya 'a Beirut) is not an invention - it started ringing in Dera’a already back in April 2011, while the first threats to the community in Damascus began before Easter of that year - you might recall that the traditional Easter celebrations were called off. It was the Christians above all who did not wish to publicize those threats - again, ask them directly why - my interpretation is that they feared they would be subject to further threats “by emulation” if the word got around - but, especially, they were alarmed that the spreading of the news would have created a dent in the relationship among the communities, setting them apart.
In the end, it is so tragically sad to hear - and to find now daily in the media - the same language that was imposed upon Iraq, being now applied to Syria - a people being defined by sects, religious and ethnic affiliations. Back in the Eighties, traveling to Syria, it would have been unacceptably rude to inquire about someone’s religious or ethnic affiliation. The simple answer would have been “I am Syrian”. Besides, all Syrians from all backgrounds are now caught in the fire.

I would be grateful if you would not publish my name, nor my e-mail address.
Many thanks and cheers"