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Listen to All Syrian Voices

30 May 2013 One Comment

"A woman whose young son was killed by ‘rebels’ in Syria, and his body has never been returned to her." Photo Credit: Susan Dirgham.

Susan Dirgham

Elaine Tucci is asking us to empathise with the people of Syria, to see them as we might see our neighbours. This is something we all should be doing, without a doubt. However, we must hear the stories of as many of the 23 million Syrians as we can, not just stories which present one side of this war as presented in her article, and especially not that side which supports a further militarisation of the conflict.

I have recently returned from Lebanon and Syria. I was part of a group of 15 peace activists led by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire. Mairead and various members have written reports of that fact-finding trip (see references below). We went to support the people of Syria and their efforts to achieve peace and reconciliation.

The Syrians we met included religious leaders, government ministers, victims of terror, refugees (in Lebanon), political dissidents – some who had been in prison – and members of opposition parties. They spoke in support of the regular Syrian army’s battle against the 50,000 or so foreign fighters in Syria, many aligned to Al-Qaeda or other extremist groups. No doubt there are just as many Syrians giving these fighters support, some because they are paid to do so, some out of fear, some because they have been persuaded by radical clerics to fight for an Islamic state. (Note, the people we met did not all endorse the tactics of the army or security forces, but what seemed to unite everyone was the belief that Syria must not fall apart and only the army can ‘save’ it.)

One of the things we heard from Christian leaders first in Lebanon and then from Christians and Muslims in Syria was the deep sorrow people are feeling since the kidnapping of two Syrian archbishops in the north of the country. Thousands of people have been kidnapped since the beginning of the crisis, but the abduction of the archbishops is especially troubling because it takes what ‘rebels’ are prepared to do to another level. When they were kidnapped, the archbishops were involved in the very delicate and difficult task of trying to negotiate the release of kidnapped priests.

Priests and imams, people who support peaceful reform in Syria and refuse to align themselves with the militarised opposition which is sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular are regularly targeted and assassinated by terrorists. (“Terrorists” seems the appropriate term because they are killing unarmed civilians.) The most prominent and perhaps most highly regarded imam in Syria, Sheik al-Buti, was killed in a suicide bomb attack along with 50 of his students in a mosque in Damascus earlier this year. He was a ‘moderate’ Muslim who promoted peace and spoke against an armed Islamist revolution. If Syria weren’t seen by some very powerful forces in the US as an ‘enemy’, he would have been hailed as a true friend of peace-loving people everywhere and his assassination would have been headline news in the world.

There was an interesting article in the Catholic News about the kidnapping of the archbishops.

One Catholic priest was quoted as saying “The Syrian war is not a crisis between Muslims and Christians or Muslims and other Muslims and it’s not a Syrian civil war from and for Syrians.. This is a war imported from outside and we have traitors who have sold themselves to outsiders for a bit of money.”

There have been claims that the Syrian regular army soldiers rape women as a tactic of war. Every family in Syria would have at least one member serving in the army. It is composed of people from all faith backgrounds. If rape was a tactic of the army, the army could not have maintained the support of the population. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that rape is a tactic of those fighters who have no regard for people of other faiths or sects. These are the same people who behead and torture and mutilate priests and imams.

The Syrians I met are desperate for a political solution to the war in their country. They want the international community to stop the funneling of arms, money and fighters into Syria. Only then is there any hope for peace. And the truth must be sought much more rigorously by peace-loving people in America because they can help determine peace for the people of the Middle East.

Mairead Maguire’s report:

Interview with Mairead Maguire

Report by Antonio Rosa on visit to Lebanon and Damascus

Report by Paul Larudee on visit to Lebanon and Damascus

Some of the priests and imams assassinated by ‘rebels’

Susan Dirgham is National Coordinator of “Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) In Syria


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