SaveThere is no doubt that it is an atrocity to use chemical weapons against anyone, even more so your own citizens. It is right that governments and the UN, in the interests of peace and further loss of life, should be considering a response to the chemical attacks in Syria. However, anyone who has even a basic understanding of the situation in Syria will be able to see that it is a vastly complex and difficult situation and that there are no easy answers.
Past intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us that military intervention leads to unforeseen and unpredictable outcomes, many of which can be disastrous for civilian populations. Whilst the situation in Syria is horrendous, and the urge to intervene is a natural response, unless the UN or Western governments somehow manage to piece together a credible plan of action that will significantly improve the situation, any intervention could be considered foolish at best. It’s therefore welcome to see that some lessons appear to have been learnt from the Iraq war as we see so many MPs voicing serious concerns going into today’s debate and vote in Parliament.
I very much welcome the condemnation by David Cameron and others of the chemical attacks, but have also been frustrated by the lack of similar condemnation of the way the Syrian church is being destroyed and persecuted despite overwhelming evidence. We are not talking about a handful of people, but instead, around 2 million Christians, many of whom have been killed or forced to flee their homes. For more than a year I have been writing about this great tragedy and today Archbishop Cranmer has written a powerful and sobering piece on the West’s indifference to the situation of Christians in Syria along with those in other Arab countries. In it he writes:
There used to be 80,000 Christians in Homs. The last one was murdered almost a year ago. Only five months ago in Benghazi, Libya, 60 Christians were rounded up by extremist vigilantes. Some were tortured; one was murdered. The media didn’t stream the horrors live into our living rooms: HM Government ‘stood by’ and ‘did nothing’.
Last night the charity Open Doors, which has an intimate understanding of the situation in Syria, wrote to David Cameron and a number of other politicians emphasising the potential negative aspect of Western military action on Christians in Syria. This is the letter in full:
Dear Prime Minister
On 9 July Open Doors—as you know, a charity set up to support Christians facing persecution and based in your constituency—presented a report to Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt at a Parliamentary meeting that highlighted the particular vulnerability and targeting of the Christian minority communities within the wider Syria crisis.
We have been clear that while an end to the crisis is vital for the sake of all the people of Syria, Open Doors has committed itself to speak up on behalf of the Christians in Syria in particular. That is why I am writing now in the light of the recall of Parliament following last week’s awful outrage.
You are on record as saying that Britain is a Christian country. I had the humbling privilege of spending time with church leaders from Syria on a visit to Lebanon a few weeks ago. One, completely unprompted, urged me to tell my government how dangerous it would be if the West became militarily involved in the crisis. He said “Through sending arms to our countries and through meddling in our internal affairs what is happening is that the militias and people on the ground see these countries as Christian countries, they don’t know any different. They assume that they are sending arms as Christians and so we are the ones that take the brunt of it. They want to revenge themselves on these countries so they take their revenge on the Christians in the country.”
I have enclosed a copy of our report. Of course you will not have time to read it before tomorrow’s debate, but I wanted to emphasise one comment that is highlighted in it: Philip Jenkins, Emeritus Professor of Humanities, Pennsylvania State University, said “Any Western intervention in Syria would likely supply the death warrant for the ancient Christianity of the Middle East.”
There are many issues to consider as you weigh up the options in responding to this crisis. I have written to ensure that the voice of Christians in Syria is not forgotten, especially as around 100,000 people have now signed our Save Syria petition urging, on behalf of the Christians of Syria, that all those with influence and power do everything possible to protect the lives, livelihoods and freedoms of all the people of Syria.
My colleagues recently met a group of church leaders from Syria who were clear and emphatic that the priority for the international community was to support an inclusive Syrian-led political process to find a political solution, and to do their utmost to get all relevant actors at the table to discuss the future of Syria and all Syrians. We want to ask the question: will this process be helped or hindered by any military intervention by the UK and the USA?
We know that Parliament will debate this issue seriously and carefully. We want to assure you of our prayers for you and your colleagues at this vital moment.
Deputy CEO, Open Doors UK & Ireland
The point is not that Christians are in any way more important than Muslims, Jews or any other religious or ethnic group. All human life is of equal value. What is of importance is that as our government and Parliament meet to thrash out this issue there is an acknowledgement and awareness that there is far more to be considered than just the use of chemical weapons. For some living in Syria any Western intervention is likely to have devastating and long lasting consequences.