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A Civil War in Syria

Two things you are told not to talk about in America is religion and politics. Two things everyone talks about in the Middle East is religion and politics. Normally I do not write of political events but some explanation may be helpful as they unfold in Syria.

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Photo Credit: CAFOD Photo Library (cc)

Making Sense of the Middle East

Shiites and Sunnis. Iran and Iraq. Israeli and Palestinian. The Middle East is a diverse and challenging part of the world, often difficult to understand.

Overseeing a school in Jerusalem I work with the Founder, someone living in the Middle East for 30 years. In the Gulf War he watched from his rooftop when SCUD missiles were fired at Israel and subsequently shot down with Patriot missiles. Here is his summary of the current situation:

In the beginning

After the death of Mohammed there was a dispute over who should serve as his successor. Some thought his relatives should continue leading Islam; they later became known as Shiites. The Sunni think the person most qualified should lead.

Approximately 80-90% of Muslims are Sunni while 10-20% are Shia. Sunni-Shia relations experience both cooperation and conflict. Hardly a day goes by without news about one group violently attacking the other.

What about Iraq?

The majority of Muslims in Iraq are Shia but Sadam Hussein was Sunni. He ruled as a member of the minority group.
Presently, the Shia have selected a Shiite leader and the majority rules in Iraq, sharing a common Shia heritage with their neighbor Iran.

Figuring out Syria

The majority of Muslims in Syria are Sunni, but the current leadership follows a sect of Shia, the Alawites. With a minority group leading the country, other minority groups (Christians, Druze, Turkmen, and many others) maintain a measure of favor with the government and want it to remain in power.

Minority groups

When a minority group leader is in power in the Middle East, Christians are normally treated better because the leader needs their support. Minority groups work together to keep a minority leader in control of the country. In Iraq many Christians wanted Saddam Hussein to continue in power. They were treated better under his leadership. In Syria many Christians want to see Bashar Al-Assad remain in power because they have favor with him, even though he is not a Christian.

What’s going on with Al-Qaeda?

Founded by Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda is a network uniting multinational groups within radical groups of Sunni Muslim. Al-Qaeda envisions a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries and the creation of a new world-wide Islamic caliphate.

The Arab Spring

Revolutions occurred throughout the Middle East in the Spring of 2010. Al-Qaeda groups took advantage of these uprisings and worked to establish themselves within the newly forming governments.

Groups backed by Al-Qaeda came to power in Tunisia (Ennahda), Egypt (Muslim Brotherhood), and are advancing in Libya.

Wanting control of every country in the Middle East, Al-Qaeda groups are trying to topple existing governments and are at work in Syria.

Suffering in Syria

Two million refugees, 100,000 people dead, 1,400 people killed by Sarin gas. The people in Syria are suffering. An Al-Qaeda backed group (Jabhat al-Nusra) wants President Assad removed from power. A smaller and less influential moderate Muslim group wants to take his place, something the U.S. is hoping will happen. The moderate group, however, only has limited military strength in Syria and cannot guarantee these results.

Double standards

If an armed militant group within the United States decided to overthrow the government, the citizens would expect military intervention.

Syria has challenges and the current government has not made the best humanitarian decisions, but when Al-Qaeda backed groups want control of a country the International community should act with great caution.

Why intervene now?

Since the civil unrest broke out in March 2011, one hundred thousand people are said to have died by both government troops and rebel forces. A chemical weapons attack left approximately 1,400 people dead (including 400 children) in a town outside of Damascus.

The U.S. president is now appealing to the International community to act.

Some 100,000 people have died from bullets and bombs but only now is intervention being requested? Children being fatherless is just as horrific as children dying?

With talk of shooting a few missiles at Syria, is this simply an attempt to save face?

America’s support of Al-Qaeda

America has military bases in Jordan but King Abdullah will not give permission for those bases to be used in an attack against Shiites in Syria.

King Abdullah knows once Syria’s current government is removed Al-Qaeda will be instrumental in the creation of a new one. Once the conflict in Syria is over Jordan will be next and Al-Qaeda will attempt to take over its government.

The Syrian government has stated if the U.S. attacks government installations, they are helping Al-Qaeda. American soldiers have anonymously been posting signs declaring,

I did not join the military to fight for Al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war.”

Many think it odd America is on the side of Al-Qaeda.

Why are other countries abstaining from this conflict? Are they unwilling to side with Al-Qaeda?

A war of attrition?

The Shiites in Syria, the current government, currently have the advantage in the Civil War. If America strikes communication platforms, military installations, and air strips, the advantage shifts toward Al-Qaeda.

The people gaining from an attack are the very people the U.S. wants to defeat in the “War on Terror.”

Is the U.S. hoping for a war of attrition, weakening both the Shiite government and Al-Qaeda fighters and making a way for moderate Muslims to gain control? This outcome is highly unlikely.

Praying for peace

The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom” and is best defined as wholeness or well-being. Pray for peace in the Middle East and for the well-being of everyone. May every group find wholeness in the midst of conflict and ultimately peace with God.

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