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Violence won’t aid Syria, say clerics

20 November 2015


Islamic State fighters on the streets of Raqqa, Syria, last year

Islamic State fighters on the streets of Raqqa, Syria, last year

MILITARY action in Syria was categorially rejected this week by two church leaders born in the Middle East.

“Violence is not the answer, and bullets are not the agents of peace, and military victory is not what brings peace to the Middle East,” said the Revd Nadim Nassar, director of the Awareness Foundation, and a Syrian-born priest in the Church of England. “I am disappointed that the Church in the West has not done more to push for dialogue in Syria.” Such a dialogue should involve all the main players in the conflict, “without conditions; with no exclusions”, he said. 

The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, agreed: “It is such a complicated situation it cannot be resolved militarily, and everyone involved needs to be there.” Keeping those involved out of discussions was “delusional”.

They were speaking at a briefing on Christians in the Middle East convened by the Council for Christians and Jews, on Monday.

The second round of talks on Syria began on Saturday in Vienna. Unlike previous talks, it includes Iran, but neither the Syrian regime nor the opposition.

In the absence of a political solution, Mr Nassar has been working on the ground to build peace. The Awareness Foundation has now trained 270 young people in Syria and Iraq as “ambassadors for peace”, including getting them to run a summer camp for traumatised children. The participants initially expressed a “volcano of emotions”, he said. They were “in despair, hopeless, and helpless”.

The situation in Syria, a country “bleeding brains, skills, people”, was “appalling”, he reported. “People are in despair; the country is on their knees.”

There were signs of hope in Egypt, Bishop Angaelos said. Copts were “doing well at the moment”, compared with life under the “oppressive and self-serving” Muslim Brotherhood. In Egypt, there was “a greater sense of people coming together, because they have seen what a divisive power that was”. The fact that Christians had not retaliated after the burning of churches in the summer of 2013 (News, 30 August 2013) had been “miraculous” and had “broken the cycle”, he said.

There were no easy answers for Christian leaders in the Middle East, the two clerics agreed. Mr Nassar suggested that those in Syria had not been able to speak freely for the past 50 years. “In general, we want the change, but not through violence,” he explained. Change was “inevitable”, because “the corruption invaded every detail of our lives before the conflict.”

“What we have seen in every situation in the Middle East is that so-called reform has not been stability, but instability and destruction,” Bishop Angaelos said.

“It is very easy to look at Christian leadership in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt and condemn them for following the regime, but the lack of regime creates such chaos that it puts their people at risk. . . As Christians, we reject corruption, but at the same time, we cannot endanger people by rashly supporting regime change that allows a vacuum that is then filled by violence.”

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