25th September 2012
The violence that has engulfed Syria since March 2011 provides the latest and arguably most brutal evidence of the extremes to which a totalitarian regime will go to maintain its grip on power. The depravity of the Assad government, on display for the whole world to see, is nothing new to the people of Syria. And it seems likely that the worst is yet to come. Syria is poised for the kind of tribal and sectarian bloodbath that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but on a much broader scale. And while this will be horrific for all segments of the Syrian population, it will likely be the final blow for Syria’s embattled Christians.
The Assad family represents the Alawites, a minority offshoot of Shiite Islam that constitutes 12 percent of the population of Syria. Throughout more than forty years of draconian rule, the Assads,père et fils, have manipulated Syria’s other minorities—Kurdish, Druze, Ismai’li, Jewish, and Christian—by stoking their fears of a takeover by Sunni fundamentalists and then vowing to prevent it. In exchange, these groups have given the regime their nominal support, which the Assads have then trumpeted as evidence of a policy of benevolent protection.
In the political struggles of the Middle East, Christians—all too aware of their minority status—historically have survived by supporting whatever group has come to power. This has put them in the position of being reliant on the protection of ruthless dictators, a fact not lost on the Islamist extremists who have infiltrated the Syrian insurgency. UN observers have documented attacks against Christians singled out for retribution as a result of their pro-Assad affiliation. Along with other minorities who enjoyed the government’s protection, they have been expelled from their ancestral lands, and in some cases kidnapped, raped, and murdered.