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Syrian civil war: no good outcome?

17 September 2013

The threat of a US bombing of Syria, which seemed imminent last week, has receded somewhat, with US acceptance of the Russian proposal for the dismantling of Syrian chemical weapons. Some have been talking as though war has been averted, but it has not. The civil war in Syria, which has been going on for two years or more, continues, only without the air support that the rebels were hoping for. They had already sent their US backers a list of targets they wanted bombed.

So the war continues, and it is difficult to see how there can be a good outcome.

To begin with, the rebels may have been fighting for freedom and democracy, and President Bashar al-Assad’s violent repression of peaceful demonstrations led to a violent backlash which has no escalated into civil war, in which other parties, whose aims are anything but democratic, have joined in. Perhaps the meeting of the US and Russia and the agreement to dismantle chemical weapons could lead to more meetings, and the parties in the Syrian conflict could be brought together, but then what? What kind of political process could take place? It would take a miracle to bring peace in such a situation.

In 1959 an Anglican priest, Werner Pelz, who had gone to the UK as a Jewish refugee grm Nazism, and then been interned as an enemy alien, wrote, “We are afraid of our problems because we fear that nothing short of a miracle can solve them, that nothing short of a miracle can save us. But we are never saved by anything short of a miracle” (W. Pelz, Irreligious reflections on the Christian Church).

So perhaps that is all we can do — pray for a miracle.

And perhaps something of a miracle has already occurred, in that the relentless drive of the political leaders of USA and the UK to add fuel to the fires of war  in other parts of the world has apparently been halted. It may have been war-weariness that led the British parliament to vote against armed intervention, and to try to facilitate peace rather than more conflict. President Vladimir Putin of Russia may have gauged the mood of the American people better than the American president, and better than the Western media, which have, for the most part, been advocating war, and been impatient with anything that hindered the rush to war. What the Western warmongers have failed to provide is any convincing evidence that the fire is more comfortable than the frying pan.

So the avoiding of the escalation of the war to an international conflict is already a miracle of sorts.

So what can be done by those far from the conflict? What can Christians in other places do to help Syrian Christians?

Even when the warmongers have been halted, or at least slowed, there is the danger that peacemakers, in their eagerness to help, can be counterproductive, and kill with kindness rather than with bombs. The urge to “Do something”, and the anguished cry of “We can’t just stand by and do nothing” too often leads to cultural imperialism.

The best thing that Western Christians can do for Syrian Christians is to learn from them, and there is a lot to learn.

A couple of years ago a US publication Christianity Today carried an article “What’s in a Name? Christians in Southeast Asia debate their right to refer to God as Allah.” Muslims were urging governments to make it illegal for Christians to refer to God as Allah. In places like Syria, Arabic-speaking Christians have always referred to God as Allah, and this had spread to other languages, such as those of Southeast Asia, that had been influenced by Arabic.

Some of the comments that follow the article show the most appalling ignorance. Here are a few examples:

A christian should never refer to the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob as being Allah, because the two are clearly different. Every christian believer should uphold and stand firm on what the Word of God teaches; any comprimise [sic] is clearly and unequivically [sic] unacceptable.

Allah is NOT the God of the Bible. The author states “Few question whether Allah is the God of the Bible—to Malaysian Christians, Allah is simply the word for God.” He is right. Not enough question it. Just because Allah tranlates to god does not mean we are talking about the same God.

There are also several comments on the article that contradict these, so the ignorance and chauvinism are not universal. Nevertheless, people who despise Syrian Christians because they address God in Arabic or Aramaic rather than English are not likely to be able to help them.

I hope that some of the other contributions to this synchroblog will help people in other parts of the world to learn more about Syrian Christianity.

Kidnapped Syrian bishops: Metropolitan Boulous Yazigi and Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim

Kidnapped Syrian bishops: Metropolitan Boulous Yazigi and Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim

Syria is the home of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East, and they trace their bishops back to St Peter. It was in Antioch that the disciples of Jesus were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26), so it ill-behoves johnny-come-latelys to tell Syrian Christians that they use the “wrong” name for God.

It was from Antioch that the first Christian missionaries set out to take the gospel to Europe (Acts 13).

As a result of the viccistudes of war and politics in the nearly 2000 years since then, Antioch is now in Turkey, and the seat of the Patriarchate has moved from Antioch to Damascus in the present-day state of Syria.

So before rushing to “help”, it is advisable to learn and to pray. Pray especially for the missing bishops, who were abducted on 22 April 2013.

The mindless activism of the “we’ve got to do something” may make the activists feel good, but it is sometimes better to think before acting. Feeling that one has to do something because people are dying very often just leads to the killing of more people, as it did in Yugoslavia (1999), Afghanistan (2002) and Iraq (2003).


This post is part of a synchroblog (syncronised blog) in which various people write about the same general theme from different points of view, and thus help one to see the bigger picture. Follow the links below to see the other posts. More links may be added later, as more people add their contributions.  If you are participating in the synchroblog, please copy the links below and paste them to the end of our own post.

  1. Fr John D’Alton (Antiochian Orthodox) of Fr John D’Alton on THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR AND RESPONSES TO IT
  2. Richard Fairhead (missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian) of Relational Journey on Who would Jesus bomb?
  3. Ryan Peter (neo-evangelical) of Life-Ecstatic on Syria: The Show Must Go On
  4. Steve Hayes (Orthodox Christian) of Khanya on Syrian civil war: no good outcome?
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