Truth and Lies in Syria

During the past several weeks I withdrew from secular affairs in general, and the news and politics in particular, in order to focus on my duties at the monastery and especially on the observance of Holy Week, Pascha, and Bright Week. The joy and peace of those sacred weeks was, however, somewhat marred upon learning that on Bright Friday, the Feast of the Life-Giving Spring of the Mother of God, our country launched over 100 Tomahawk missiles at Damascus and Homs, Syria.

The pretext for this strike was yet another alleged chemical weapons attack by Assad on his own people. In accordance with what has become our standard operating procedure, the missile strikes were launched several hours before the impartial investigation into the alleged incident had even begun. And in the meantime, there have been profound doubts raised as to whether the chemical attack even happened at all. France did claim at the time of the missile strikes to have proof that the chemical attack had occurred, and that Assad was responsible, but refused to produce any evidence citing “intelligence concerns.” The “proof” was declassified following the missile strikes, and was found to be based on… YouTube. I am, alas, not joking. “After examining the videos and images of victims published online, [French intelligence services] were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority are recent and not fabricated.”

It is perhaps doubtful that “a high degree of confidence” in YouTube videos justifies 112 Tomahawk missiles being launched at a sovereign nation before an investigation even starts, but what is not at all doubtful is that the missile strikes were totally illegal under international law. To this point French President Macron responded with the jaw-dropping statement that the missile strikes were actually legal, since if the legally necessary step of seeking UN approval had been carried out, the approval would not have been granted due to a Russian veto. Apparently “international law” means “bombing whoever we want without asking permission since we know we wouldn’t get it.”

YouTube videos aside, the idea that Assad used chemical weapons against civilians in Douma is completely absurd. To put it in context, Syrian government forces had almost completely retaken Douma, and Trump was at that exact moment announcing the upcoming withdrawal of US troops from Syria. There is almost no conceivable action which could have been taken by Assad at such a moment that would make less sense than deploying chemical gas against his own people, in front of tons of witnesses with cameras. What could he possibly have hoped to gain? And did he somehow forget that it was precisely the possession and alleged use of chemical weapons which almost got him bombed to smithereens by the US back in 2013?

If all this sounds familiar, it is probably because last year, on the eve of Holy Week, our president also launched a similar missile strike against Syria, likewise on the pretext that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people. Coincidentally, at that precise time the Syrian forces had likewise been making sweeping territorial gains against the rebels, and our Secretary of State had just announced that regime change in Syria was no longer considered mandatory by the United States. Therefore Assad, in a fit of totally counterproductive bloodthirstiness, supposedly ordered sarin gas to be deployed against civilians, likewise in front of tons of witnesses with cameras. And likewise with no conceivable motivation, other than being a totally unhinged lunatic.

YouTube played a role in that one, too. A prominent group of humanitarian aid workers called the White Helmets has been instrumental in the dissemination of YouTube videos of both alleged chemical attacks. The only problem is that the White Helmets have ties to al-Quaeda. Also, that they somehow felt no need to even wear gloves when purportedly rescuing victims of a sarin gas attack. Also, that they are known to have staged videos in the past. Also, that they have literally won an Oscar. So when you read articles about Syria citing the reports of humanitarian aid organizations, it might be best to take them with a grain of salt.

But in the grander scheme of things, all this might also sound familiar because these two incidents are not exactly the only times that the US and its European allies have launched a unilateral attack on a Middle Eastern nation in clear violation of international law, justifying themselves on the unproven claim that said nation is being ruled by a crazed dictator in possession of WMDs. Let’s just say that in cases such as this, our track record of truthfulness is not exactly stellar.

And if anyone thinks that America and Britain would never countenance a false-flag attack in Syria as a pretext for military action, think again.

Even a few socialists, who generally have little reason to make common cause with the Russian or Syrian governments, are pointing out that due to endless Western propaganda people “now find it easier to believe that Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin are deliberately killing civilians with poisonous gas for no reason whatsoever than to believe that the same empire which deceived us into Iraq is deceiving us into Iraq’s next-door neighbor Syria.” And on the other end of the political spectrum, there are also a few conservative voices pointing out what really ought to be totally obvious. But unfortunately such voices are being drowned out by nonstop warmongering propaganda from both sides of the aisle and almost every significant media outlet in the West.

Such propaganda has convinced the world that Assad is a depraved and murderous lunatic. But though the world may be convinced of this, the actual Syrian people most certainly do not believe any such thing. He was elected in 2014 with over 88% of the vote.

But what is far more important for us Christians in the West to understand is that the Christians in Syria support him wholeheartedly. Because they know the obvious truth: Assad protects the Christians of Syria, and the rebels will do no such thing if they gain power. They know this because the rebels have done no such thing wherever they have gained power. What is more, many Christians in Syria fled there from Iraq after the US toppled the government of Saddam Hussein, a government which had likewise protected the Christians who afterward faced immense persecution at the hands of those who came to fill the vacuum of power. And these Iraqi expatriates “see history repeating.”

Every event of history has a spiritual dimension. These missile strikes are no exception. And it is no coincidence that last year the strike occurred on the eve of Holy Week, and that this year they occurred on Bright Friday, a feast day of the Mother of God. They are echoes of the horror that we visited on Serbia during Holy Week and Pascha nearly two decades ago. The demons hate these days above any other days in the year, and they will do anything during these days to inflict as much suffering as possible on Christians.

The truth is that every cache of weapons that America delivers to the Syrian rebel forces is a blow struck against the Christians of Syria. Every missile that America launches against Assad is a harbinger of renewed persecution in his land. And every action we take to prolong the horrific war against the legitimate government of Syria condemns the Christians of that country to yet more unspeakable death and destruction.

That is why the Patriarchs of Antioch — Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Melkite Catholic — have all issued a joint statement denouncing the missile strikes by the Western powers. Please read the whole thing. That is why Patriarch Kyrill called Pope Francis to discuss the missile strikes on Damascus by the West, and that is why they both agreed that Christians cannot stand by and do nothing.

Which brings us to the point: what is it that we can do? We certainly cannot solve the problem by voting: before his election, Donald Trump was practically the only presidential candidate who advocated peaceful relations with Russia and withdrawal from a Syrian civil war which is none of our business. We can see how that turned out.

First of all, we must pray. We must pray for the suffering Syrian people, we must pray for a swift end to this terrible war, and we must pray that our own leaders will be granted the wisdom to repent of this lunacy. The situation in Syria could easily explode in an instant, perhaps even to the extent of another world war. The US and its allies have taken up the old game of brinkmanship with a vengeance, and the game could easily spin out of all control. Against this frightening possibility we have no possible recourse other than the fervency of our prayers.

We should also take this as a golden opportunity to give what alms we can. Our country has taken part in the destruction of Syria. Let us do what we can to build it back up. Our country claims to care more for the people of Syria than does Putin’s Russia. But it appears that we have some catching up to do.

And though we most certainly cannot solve this problem by voting, at the least we can refuse to support any politicians who themselves vote in favor of this madness. We cannot in good conscious give our vote to any candidate who supports policies which have nearly led to the extinction of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East.

But above all, we must take this as an opportunity for the deepening of our own repentance. Although I said at the beginning of this article that these events have brought a measure of grief to these Bright Days of Paschaltide, all the same they have been allowed by the Providence of our most wise God, and like everything else in our lives — even the most bitter of tragedies — they are also a divine gift. We have partaken of the joy of the Resurrection, we have been given a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. And now we taste again of the bitterness of this world, and we know beyond any doubt that it cannot begin to compare to Christ. This world is not our home, and we are indeed strangers in a strange land. But the empires of this world will crumble into dust, and those who built them will be left only with ashes. Let us then go forth according to the commandment of our Savior, and build instead His Kingdom which will never pass away.

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