Christians in the Middle East are voting with their feet for the government of President Assad in Syria. With all that American government officials and the news media have said to condemn the secular government of Syria, surely no one should want to return there, with the civil war seemingly winding down in favor of President Assad. But that is not the case.
So far in 2017, more than 600,000 Syrians, both Christians and Muslims, have returned to their homes in Syria, as the Islamic State and the Sunni Muslim “rebels” supported by Saudi Arabia and the United States have been driven back. Of those Christians who fled their homes in Syria, many are returning from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Wealthier Christians who fled the civil war are returning from Europe as well.
Unlike Iraq and other majority Muslim nations, Syria has a secular constitution, so Shariah law is not enforced as the law of the land. Christians have their own court system for family issues, separate from the Shariah court system of Muslims. In fact, Christian religious leaders in Syria call the several decades of rule by the Assad family a “golden era for Christians.”
It is no wonder, then, that Syrian Christians are returning to their homes in Syria in large numbers.
But Christians are not returning to Iraq, where the United States and other Western nations have established a “democracy.” Why? Probably because the constitution of Iraq, written in a “democratic assembly” after the fall of Saddam Hussein, states that “Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation.” To reinforce this, a second clause states: “No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.”
How does this affect Christians? Here are just a few examples: Muslims are forbidden by law to convert to Christianity. “Blasphemy against Islam” is a crime. No child can have a name on his or her birth certificate that does not appear in the Quran, so Christians may not officially name their children Peter or Paul, as an example. (Many Christian children in Iraq are named Yusef [Joseph] or Maryam [Mary] because those two names do appear in the Quran).
Hardly any Syrian Christian refugees registered with the United Nations are seeking asylum in another nation, but a great number of Iraqi Christians want to leave the Middle East.
A Heritage Foundation report found that Syrian Christians make up tiny percentages of asylum seekers registered with the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt – 1.5 percent, 0.2 percent, 0.3 percent, and 0.1 percent, respectively. However, the report found that over 16 percent of registered asylum-seeking Iraqi refugees were Christians. The report is very clear that Christian refugees from Syria planned to go back home if the government won, while Christian refugees from Iraq don’t want to go back, even with an American-supported government in Iraq.
In a World Watch Monitor article, human-rights lawyer and genocide expert Ewelina Ochab made this conclusion after interviewing Christians from Iraq who had fled to Kurdistan or become refugees in Jordan: She stated that Iraqi Christians have faced persecution since the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003. Christians were blamed for the invasion, and in the ensuing chaos, various Islamic extremists destroyed their churches, stole their homes and drove them out of the nation to either northern Iraq (Kurdistan), Jordan or Lebanon.
In the article, Ochab was quoted as saying that the reality for Syria is different because “Assad is perceived as the defender of Christian minorities.” She went on to say that, “Many Syrian Christians worry that once Assad is gone, they will face the same fate as Iraqi Christians suffered after Saddam Hussein’s fall.”
As the director of charity programs assisting Christian refugees, I can personally attest to the truth of Iraqi Christians not wanting to return. Many of the Christians I work with in the Kurdish region are in fact from Baghdad, having fled the violence there. The Christians I have interviewed who fled the Nineveh Plain bluntly state that they will stay in Iraq only if unable to go elsewhere.
Overall, the number of Syrians returning to their homes in Syria as the secular government makes gains is staggering. According to the International Organization for Migration, almost 67 percent of the over 600,000 who went back in the first seven months of this year returned to Aleppo province, which was won back from US-backed Sunni rebels and various jihadist groups working with them. In December of 2016, the government recovered the section of Aleppo city that had been held by rebels. This stopped the almost constant mortar and sniper fire into the 80 percent of the city rebels never held, and allowed many people to move back.
Even Sunni Muslims who did not support the Sunni uprising backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States are moving back from Turkey and other places to claim their property and resettle back into their homes. Only the extremist elements of Sunni Islam accepted the Saudi Arabia supplied guns and money and attempted to overthrow the secular government.
Turkey, which also supported the overthrow of the Assad government, benefited from the looting of Aleppo and other areas. Billions of dollars’ worth of looted goods from factories, stores, homes and even museums were carted off to Turkey and sold. Only after the jihadist snake they were feeding “thanked” the Muslim Brotherhood government of Turkey with terror attacks on the Istanbul airport was the support of Sunni radicals stopped. Now many of the families who fled to Turkey are returning to their looted homes in Syria.
The infrastructure repair in Syria will be hobbled with the expected sanctions and boycotts from Western nations angry that they were unable to dislodge Syria’s secular government and install a Saudi Arabia puppet government with a Shariah-compliant constitution.
There is one certainty: The United States will not pay to rebuild any of the hundreds of bridges, overpasses and roads destroyed in the bombing of Syria as part of the strategy to defeat the Islamic State.
The trauma of the people of Syria will take generations for them to overcome.
Murray is chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition in Washington, DC.
Reprinted with permission from the Religious Freedom Coalition.