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After today’s suicide bombing, what fate awaits Syria’s Christians?

Damascus’s Christian heritage has a glorious past, a terrible present and uncertain future

By on Thursday, 27 June 2013

Christians are caught in the crossfire (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)

Christians are caught in the crossfire (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)

 

The suicide bombing near a church in Damascus’s Christian quarter is another warning to the world about the fate awaiting Syria’s faithful.

The Greek Orthodox Virgin Mary Church is in Bab Sharqi, on the eastern edge of the old city, where I was four years ago for the feast of St Paul; I even remember a banner by Bab Sharqi gate welcoming “on behalf of the patriarch of Antioch, all visitors to Damascus for the year of St Paul”.

We attended a service at the nearby Maryamie Cathedral on Straight Street and at night visited bars and restaurants, which mostly had a vaguely French, old-world feel to them (except for the Piano Bar on Hananoa Street, which I recall having terrible euro-pop and its Arabic equivalent).

It was for a press trip organised by the Syrian tourist board, which I had obvious qualms about. Syria had one of the worst human rights records on earth, a deeply sinister regime engaged in all sorts of dubious activity abroad, and promoting its tourism was aiding it in some way.

On the other hand Syria at that time had just re-opened relations with the United States, and there was a hope that it could be detached from Iran, and I believed that more interaction and trade (including tourism) with the west might provide the best future for Syrians. The more trade crossing borders, the less chance of boots. Also, I believed then, as I do now, that economic reform should come before democracy; without the rule of law, economic freedom and the middle class that follows, democracy turns into dictatorship or ethnic conflict.

And you’d have to be a total naïve idiot in the Webb tradition not to see that this was a country with all the worst politics. Its guiding philosophy was Ba’athism, a sort of mixture of European nationalism, socialism and fascism, blended in with various local prejudices, creating a Syncretism of all the most terrible political ideas in the world. This was reflected in the Stalinist architecture, the banknotes that idolised non-existent industrial strength, and the idolatry of the ruling family, whose images were ubiquitous (often in a brutally masculine pose that denotes strength in this part of the world but to western eyes screams “massive personal insecurity”).

But I believed then, as I believe much more now, that people did not put up Bashar Assad’s image purely out of fear of him but of fear of what might follow. The country was teeming with Iraqi refugees, and there was a clear sense that in this religiously diverse country the same catastrophe could unfold. If the moustachioed men one saw all around were rather distasteful, then they were preferable to the bearded men who would follow. For in Middle Eastern politics these days, always back the guys with moustaches against the guys with beards.

Listening to the choir of young Christian girls and boys at the cathedral, in the country in which Christian music has its very origins, I remember feeling profound sadness about what might happen one day. All around the 5,000-year-old city, with its windy, ancient streets with images of the Virgin Mary, and tiny old houses and rooms dating back to the first millennium, one really feels the story of early Christianity, but can it last forever?

  • anon

    Aid to the Church in Need UK is accepting donations on its website, for Christian communities in Syria and the Middle East.

  • Benedict Carter

    I don’t want to imagine what could be their fate. Let’s hope this stops right now.

  • noble price

    Obama and Cameron will help to exterminate every single christian in Syria and will gain something no muslim rulers was able to do in the last 1500 years: a free christians Syria.

  • LocutusOP

    If your prime minister and his evil twin across the pond their way, then surely what awaits is annihilation.

    There can’t be much doubt about that.

  • Samo Umer

    Go pro-democracy rebels. Kill all infidels!

  • Mitch okaza

    Problem is “capitalism” Every wealthy to wealthier individual(s) contribute to hate and henceforth conflicts of all sorts. Richie rich is nothing but a thief who will stand at nothing to fill his coffers. Rape? murder? civil war? i don’t see nothing. I am safe in my mansion. My henchmen are doing all the dirty work. I go to church and pray to chees’is chrysler with bellpeppers as a halo.

  • Old Badger

    Astonishing You don’t mention the beheading on 24 June of Fr François Mourad (or as the Catholic Herald would have it ‘Murad’)

    http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/06/25/syria:_franciscan_monk_killed_in_raid_on_monastery/en1-704567

    Christians in Syria, a few renegades apart, are staunchly behind Assad. They are not neutrals caught i the crossfire. Neither should we be. Our clear moral duty as Christians is to oppose the wicked policies towards Syria of Obama, Cameron, and Hague. These are the men who bear responsibility for the war and the lives it has claimed.