June 8th, 2012
10:06 AM ET

Syria’s Christian conundrum

By Hind Aboud Kabawat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Hind Aboud Kabawat is a Syrian attorney. She is also a conflict resolution specialist and senior research analyst at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, which is based at George Mason University in Virginia. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Hind Aboud Kabawat.

One of the most perplexing aspects of the Syrian revolution is the deep ambivalence felt by so many of the country’s Christians when faced with the prospect of freedom after four decades of authoritarian dictatorship. Some Christians have enthusiastically embraced the prospect of democratic change and a more open civil society, but many have not.

As a Christian, this provokes a great deal of sadness in me and others who are committed to transforming Syria into an open, democratic, inclusive, secular and religiously tolerant society. But the problem is that many, if not most, Christians in Syria do not believe that this will be the outcome of changing the regime.

On the contrary, they believe the present regime — corrupt and repressive as it has been — is the only true guarantor of secularism in Syria and, with it, the acceptance of the Christians as equals to their Muslim neighbors. Further, many Christians firmly believe that what will replace the regime is a fundamentalist Muslim theocracy that will strip Christians and other minorities of their political and civil rights, including their right to practice their religion in peace.

I sincerely believe they are misguided in this belief, and one of the principal tasks of the Syrian revolution going forward is to convince the Christian community to forsake such fears in favor of building a new Syria, democratic and secular, with their Shia, Sunni, Alawite, Druze and Kurd brothers and sisters.

Of course, when Christians do “rebel,” the regime responds with particular outrage and violence: “How dare you Christians criticize us when we have protected you all these years?”

Take, for instance, the case of a young Damascene woman named Caroline, who said she was arrested earlier this year and imprisoned for 25 days in a two-square meter cell. Her crime? Giving children Easter eggs wrapped in paper containing verses from both the Koran and the Bible.

For this simple act of kindness and tolerance, Caroline was interrogated for hours by the secret police, she said. Why, they asked, did she include a verse from the Koran on an Easter egg? Why is she involved in this kind of work? Why is a Christian showing support for the Syrian revolution? Although they did not say it in so many words, their main message was: Don’t you know what would happen to Christian communities when you “lose” the protection of this present regime?

Christians do know what could happen. In the wake of Saddam Hussein’s downfall, the Christian community in Iraq has more or less been decimated; those who haven’t fled the country are confronted with systematic repression. After the civil war in Lebanon, which Christians are generally perceived to have lost, the Christian community remains on the defensive and is shrinking. And in post-Mubarak Egypt, the Coptic Christians – 10% of the population - remain vigilant about their rights and their security.

None of these events has been lost on the Christian community in Syria, which is why many of them have not enthusiastically embraced the revolution.

Many of those who are predisposed to support the revolution do not because of the weakness and division within the Syrian opposition. For a Christian community that is inherently skittish about confronting established political authority, a weak opposition movement does little to allay their fears about challenging an entrenched 40-year-old regime that has shown time and time again its willingness to use brutal violence to silence its critics.

More from GPS: The great Syria divide

There are, however, many Christian Syrians who are, in fact, playing a pivotal role in opposition to the regime. Some, like George Sabra and Michel Kilo, are politically out front and vocal. Others, including many women, prefer to work behind the scenes doing humanitarian work inside Syria’s besieged towns and cities.

Among the Christians performing this vital humanitarian work is Yara Chammas, a 21-year-old woman who is the daughter of a well-known human rights lawyer, Michel Chammas. When unrest erupted in Baba Amr, Yara organized the distribution of medicine, food, blankets and baby milk. Her courageous display of Christian compassion resulted in her being jailed for 60 days over the Easter holidays. Yet not one leader in the Christian community came to her aid. Why? Because many of them vilified her as a “traitor” to their community for deigning to help the “enemy,” i.e., the children of Baba Amr. So much for their sense of compassion and caring.

Despite such hardships, the political engagement of Christians like Chammas hark back to a period in Syrian history when the Christian community was critically important to the political life of the country. Indeed, Christians founded both the Baath Party and the Syrian National Party. One of Syria’s greatest political leaders, Prime Minister Fares Khoury, was a Christian.

But since the advent of the Baath regime, Christians have played a much less visible role in the country’s politics. Minister is the highest position ever held by a Christian since the 1960s, and no Christian has ever held a serious leadership position. Even under the present proposed constitution, no Christian can be elected president.

Given their relative lack of status, why do Christian Syrians remain so loyal to this regime? It likely revolves around their fear of Islamic fundamentalism and their belief that the so-called secular state will be replaced by an Iran-style theocracy. There is also a fear that what will ensue from the collapse of Bashar al-Assad’s repressive police state will be Iraq-style chaos and sectarian civil war.

How can such fears be addressed and allayed? It is time for all Syrians, no matter what their faith, to begin thinking like citizens of a common state rather than just members of a sectarian religious community. Our focus should be on the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a free press, free markets, democratic elections and an accountable government. Those will be the bulwarks of a free, independent, secular and inclusive Syria.

I am a devout Christian, proud and respectful of the church’s teachings. But in the political realm, I am first and foremost a citizen, a citizen of the new free Syria. I believe that my fellow Christians will come to feel the same way. I also believe the same should be true for our Sunni, Alawite, Druze and Kurdish sisters and brothers.

Recently, a rather extraordinary scene unfolded at the funeral for young Bassel Chehadeh, the young Christian filmmaker gunned down by the regime in Homs.

As thousands from all religious faiths gathered at a church in the Christian Kassaa district of Damascus, security forces bolted the church doors shut and began beating and terrorizing the mourners. The parishioners responded by reciting Christian and Muslim prayers and chanting “Syrians are one people.” It was a beautiful sight.

We are one people, and citizens of one state. Not a Christian Syria or a Sunni Syria or an Alawite Syria. Just Syria, the homeland of all of us.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Hind Aboud Kabawat.

Topics: Religion • Revolution • Syria

« Previous entry
soundoff (265 Responses)
  1. abusinan

    I am mohamad zohair khatib, Syrian Muslim brotherhood member, I would like to thank the writer Hind Kabawat for the nice article. I would like to assure that the Syria revolution will practice a real democracy and justice, no fear any more for Syrian people after the close victory. We all, Christian, Muslims, Aalawis and Drooz... all one hand for Syrian bright future.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Reply
    • Micah

      and to be somewhat believable, you should have mentioned Jews.
      You would have been one guy to rise about all the poop Islam puts out.
      Oh Well!

      June 12, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  2. Karekin

    Well, someone should investigate and report exactly who is arming and supplying the rebels. I have read that it is the US, acting thru the Saudis and others, who are doing this to dislodge the Assad regime. Yet, Hillary Clinton has the nerve to accuse Russia of helping Assad? This is largely a proxy war being fought between the US, Israel and Russia, over who will control Syria. None of them really care about the Syrian people, no matter what religious affiliation they might have. When the elephants fight, we know the grass always gets trampled. Such is the case in Syria today. Very sad, very sad indeed.

    June 12, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Reply
  3. Eliza Wood

    Are Christians in Syria wise to support any leader who remains in support of them?

    Just ask the Syrian Jews.

    Wait.

    There are no more Syrian Jews in Syria.

    They all were killed or kicked out.

    June 26, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Reply
  4. AK

    Methinks the author would have a different viewpoint if she was actually still living in Syria. Truth is, religious minorities are persecuted in ANY religious regime in present times.

    Just take a look at the Christians in Iraq... the author's viewpoint is baffling.

    August 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  5. Air Jordan 11 concord

    It's actually a cool and useful piece of info. I'm glad that you shared this useful info with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

    September 15, 2012 at 3:44 am | Reply
  6. millionaire date

    Hello there, You have performed a fantastic job. I will definitely digg it and in my view recommend to my friends. I am sure they'll be benefited from this site.

    September 16, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  7. Samsung Galaxy S3

    Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts. In any case I'll be subscribing on your feed and I am hoping you write once more very soon!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:52 am | Reply
  8. dating in cardiff

    Woah this blog is excellent i really like studying your posts. Stay up the good paintings! You understand, lots of individuals are looking round for this info, you can aid them greatly.

    September 19, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  9. Mahmod

    Europe should not let any arabs to come what ever they are christians muslims , this arabs are worse then a pest.
    They are all liers cheaders and only taking advantege. Stop this people from coming and dont be stupid they will ruin our countries. The arab by nature is rebelion and do not respect any laws . It is very stupid to let them in and Sweden, Germany , France and Belgien will pay very high price for the stupidity of their politians.

    April 3, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Reply
1 2 3 4 5

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

« Previous entry
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,542 other followers