I have been wanting to write about a Christian response to Syria for a while now, but honestly, don’t know enough about it. So I contacted my friend, Abu Elias, who lives and works in Jordan to gain his perspective. and the perspective of the people who live there. Below is his response. Abu Elias is a graduate of Hope College (B.A.), Western Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Wheaton College Graduate School (M.A., Intercultural Studies and TESOL). He has lived in Amman, Jordan for nine years and is director of an Arabic language school. Please forward any communication through Nate Pyle.
I have lived in Amman, Jordan for nine years, speak Arabic and spend most of my time among Arabs, especially evangelical Christian Arabs, including some Syrians. I am deeply concerned about the potential results of the proposed actions by the US government, as are the overwhelming majority of my friends and acquaintances, both Arab and expatriate.
Over the past nine years in Jordan I have been blessed by the opportunity to gain perspective on America and its actions by living alongside those people who, although they are not able to vote, are nevertheless deeply affected by American foreign policy. I want to ask a few questions which may help us to understand what can be gained or lost by the proposed actions.
Are we sure that Assad’s regime carried out the most recent chemical weapons attack?
- There is conflicting evidence. Should America once again go to war based upon reports that are not completely verifiable?
- The rebels have the most to gain by a chemical attack. According to recent reports, Assad’s regime has the upper hand. What would motivate them to use chemical weapons, generally considered an act of desperation? The rebels, however, if they can blame Assad, can count on American support for their cause, based on President Obama’s questionable “red line” threat.
- The world has increasing difficulty trusting American intelligence claims. America still has egg on its face after its failure to find WMD in Iraq. Many residents of the Arab World also question whether 9/11 was a conspiracy to provoke American military involvement against radical Islam. I find such claims hard to believe, but the perception is quite real and should be taken into consideration.
What is the intended outcome of attacking Syria?
- Does President Obama think he can overthrow the regime with a few surgical strikes and no “boots on the ground?” Or are we going to commit ourselves to increasing involvement and another prolonged war and occupation?
- The President seems to want to make good on his threats and show no tolerance for use of chemical weapons. Exactly how many bombs will be sufficient? How many Syrians have to die as “collateral damage” before we feel we have taught Assad a lesson? As one Jordanian said in my presence recently, “American wants to teach Assad a lesson not to kill Syrians. And they will do it by killing Syrians.”
What is the expected response from Syria?
- Most of my neighbors are quite concerned about retaliation from Syria. There is little that Syria can do to hurt America. Striking Israel would have drastic consequences for Syria and the whole region. If Jordan is perceived as cooperating with America, it may very well be targeted. I live in a city of three million people, only one hour’s drive from the border of Syria. Arabs tend to not worry much about the future, but rather take things as they come. But they are worried now.
If there is regime change, what is next?
- There seems to be little hope for anything but chaos and sectarian violence on the one hand and an Islamic dictatorship on the other. Are either outcomes desirable? What kind of Syria are the rebels fighting for?
What is next for Syrian Christians?
- Iraq’s Christian community was devastated after the war. Some estimate that the Christians in Iraq numbered around 1.5 million in 2000, and now only 200,000. Most are in the grave or living in other countries, unlikely to ever return, almost certain to lose their culture and language.
- A power vacuum is dangerous for Middle Eastern Christians. Iraq and Egypt are prime examples. In a situation where law enforcement is absent in certain areas, there are elements of the population that will target Christians for robbery, kidnapping or murder.
- We are facing the possible disappearance of one of the most ancient Christian communities. This is a great setback for the kingdom of God in the region. An entire nation would be left virtually devoid of a witness for Christ. This is a nation which has had a witness for Christ since the book of Acts, and is home to churches which have a unique expression of Christian faith to offer the world. Their expressions may not look much like western evangelicalism, but they are deep and sincere.
What is next for America’s friends and sympathizers in the region?
- Increased lack of trust in American foreign policy. Most Jordanians I know are sympathetic toward America, even have relatives who live in America. However, their trust in American policy has grown thin in recent years. When I meet people they often comment that they love Americans but not the policies. I usually respond that we don’t like our politicians either, which serves well to break the tension. I heard one Jordanian say recently, “Why do they play around with us like chess pieces?” Can America afford to break the fragile trust it holds with some Arabs and many other non-Americans?
- The burden of a refugee crisis. Jordan and other countries are simply not able to continue to provide services for the large numbers of refugees. Jordan already struggles to provide services to all of its citizens and keep costs low for the growingly discontent millions of citizens who are increasingly unable to make ends meet. Additionally, violence is breaking out between Syrians and Jordanians. One friend, who lives in northern Jordan, can hear gunfire from his home resulting from a feud between Syrians and a Jordanian clan.
- The possibility of additional revolutions. Jordan’s monarchy is pro-Western, tolerant of minorities and at peace with Israel. The Arab Spring and economic difficulties have made the monarchy’s hold on power more fragile than it has been in a while. Any perception of Jordan’s involvement in military strikes, or any Syrian retaliation against Jordan, could be the tipping point which results in a radical Islamist revolution here.
What can be gained from attacking Syria?
- Many claim that we cannot allow chemical weapons to be used without retaliation. If indeed they have been used by the Syrian government, there should be reaction from an international body, not America alone, as there is no clear threat against America. If America acts unilaterally, it should do so through non-violent methods.
- President Obama probably feels he has to back up his “red line” comment and that his reputation is on the line. I would like him to realize that sometimes leaders make foolish threats. I have done so as a leader, definitely as a parent. A wise leader will realize that the threat was foolish and reconsider. Take the tragic case of Jephthah in Judges 11. He made a vow to the Lord that if he was victorious in battle he would sacrifice as a burnt offering the first thing to come out of the doors of his house. When he came home, his daughter, his only child, was the one to come out and became the victim of his foolish vow. God’s Word in the Levitical law provided a way out for Jephthah ( Lev. 5:4-6).
In the end, American has little to gain and much to lose in attacking Syria. I call for ironclad proof of Assad’s responsibility in the chemical weapons incident and, granted there is proof, non-violent ways to sanction his government. If there is no proof, let God be the judge. Almighty God will do right, and I call on His people to pray. More American bombs and bullets in this situation are likely to lead to more suffering.