As the US prepares to begin directly providing arms to rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, one of the country’s religious minorities faces increasing amounts of violence. Through a series of recent events, the Syrian Christian population faces a difficult existence.
This past week, several Christians were murdered by elements of the Syrian opposition. Francois Murad, a Syrian Catholic priest, was killed in a monastery in northern Syria. The monastery was subsequently burned down. In a separate incident, another Christian was beheaded. An undated video on YouTube, since taken down, showed the execution.
Also last week, a suicide bomb exploded in a Christian neighborhood of Damascus. This particular attack is unclaimed, but early reports stated that the bomber chose Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox church for the site.
This is also not the only time Christians have been beheaded by elements of the opposition. In late December of last year, another Christian was abducted, decapitated, and the corpse left to feed dogs.
In a notorious incident in April, two Syrian bishops were kidnapped. Despite rumors and pleas for their release from groups of several religions, the bishops are still in captivity. A May report detailed that the bishops are in “good health.”
These recent acts of sectarian violence further complicate a situation that is already delicate for the US.
In late May, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes announced that the US would begin directly supporting the rebels fighting to depose Assad. By providing this support, the US made a calculated attempt to eventually produce a rebel victory over the current government.
In late 2012, the Obama administration placed the terrorist label on the al Nusra Front, one of the main forces fighting in the Free Syrian Army. Although the arms going to Syria are not addressed to the Nusra Front, there were widespread fears that American weapons would eventually end up in the hands of terrorists. Another fear was that US involvement would help spur on sectarian violence.
After the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, one of the consequences was that an estimated one-half of that country’s Christian population fled for fear of persecution under an Islamist government. With the spate of violence directed at them in recent weeks and months, many observers are concerned that the Syrian Christian population will endure a similar fate.
Very few segments of the US population support the Obama administration’s policy of arming the rebels even as the weapons and aid to this point are limited. However, the American people may questioning why their tax dollars are being used to support such a policy with such opaque national interests. If incidents of violence against Syrian Christians, a religious minority, continue, they may begin asking what US involvement in Syria stands for.