One Marine’s view: keep Syria secular, pluralistic, and free of foreign insurgents

Armenian Church of the Martyrs in Raqqa. Under rebel control, it was turned into a mosque and proselytism center, flying the black flag of Al-Qaeda (ISIS)

Armenian Church of the Martyrs in Raqqa. Under rebel control, it was turned into a mosque and proselytism center, flying the black flag of Al-Qaeda (ISIS)

Only a couple of major newspapers in the world have bothered to regularly cover the plight of Syria’s diverse religious and ethnic minorities living in rebel held areas. Lebanon’s The Daily Star and Al-Akhbar newspapers have featured consistent coverage of Syria’s Armenians, Kurds, Iraqis, Druze, Christians, and Ismailis – and the threats these communities face in opposition held parts of Syria. Read the latest Al-Akhbar coverage of two Armenian Christian business owners who dared to stay in Northern Syria, attempting to hold on to their family livelihood in a rebel controlled area. They were arrested, forced to convert, executed with bullets to the head, and denied burial.

The Syrian opposition was sold to the world by mainstream Western press from day one of the Syria conflict as representing democracy, freedom, and a pluralist future for a new Syria. But the last couple of years testify the complete opposite. Anyone who actually spent time in Syria prior to the conflict knows that Ba’athist Syria has always been unique in the region for the high degree of freedom that minorities exercise.

I’ve personally seen the very public way that Syria’s religious and ethnic minorities comfortably fit in to Syrian society. One can see crosses everywhere in nearly every Syrian urban center, or hear church services transmitted over loudspeakers in competition with the Muslim call to prayer echoed from nearby mosques. The multi-colored Druze star is visible in suburbs of Damascus and all over villages in the south of the country. Any visitor to Aleppo immediately notices the very public Armenian presence with Armenian script proudly displayed in market places.

In the Hauran region, one can visit a recently erected huge government sponsored memorial to the Druze patriarch Sultan al-Atrash, who famously said, “Religion is for God, the fatherland is for all.” In the dozens of hotels around the Damascus city center, one encounters Kurdish bellhops who are proud to tell visitors of their Kurdish identity. One of the largest Christ statues in the world was recently erected over the ancient village of Saidnaya. The Orthodox monastery that sits at its base was, in the last months, the recipient of rocket attack by rebel insurgents hoping to gain control of the mountain that dominates the surrounding villages.

Speaking of Saidnaya, on one of my visits in the mid-2000’s I was shocked to see special media coverage on SANA – Syria’s national TV news station, of a reported miracle connected to the village’s 6th century Our Lady of Saidnaya Monastery. A wealthy Saudi Muslim man was attacked and robbed while driving to visit the Christian monastery (revered even among area Muslims as a place of spiritual healing). The man’s throat was slit and he was stuffed into the back of his car and left to die. When the police found him, the man swore that the Virgin Mary came to him, healed his slit throat, and restored him to health there on the spot. The story made national prime time news. Perhaps the most miraculous aspect to the episode for me was the fact that the story of a miracle connected to a Christian village aired on national news in a country that was 70-75% Sunni Muslim.

This is a side of Syria only known to those who have spent a significant amount of time there. Sadly, the standard narrative of the Syria conflict has been constructed by reporters, pundits, and politicians who have hardly stepped foot inside Syria, if at all. This is why, even aside from the silly singular reliance on rebel sources for information, subtle but hugely significant mistakes are made with even the basic facts of Syrian society and history. Hugely influential outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, or CNN routinely identify the regime as “Shia-dominated” – or alternately, Assad as “pro-Shia”. From this, they construct and over-emphasize their narrative of “Shia vs. Sunni” sectarian civil war.

Anyone who knows anything about the esoteric Alawite identity and faith knows it is nothing close to Shi’ism, whatever the historical roots might be. Syria’s close relationship with Iran is, and has always been, a matter of convenience as part of a self-imagined “axis of resistance”. This has little to do with Shia religious ties and identity.

During the 2006 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, I was walking through the Christian section of Old City Damascus. I walked past the window of a prominent Christian bakery and saw large Hezbollah cakes. The cakes featured Hezbollah’s green and yellow AK-47 and clenched fist emblem glazed in icing, as well as small images of a burning Israeli battleship. The cakes were commemorating Hezbollah’s recent successful drone attack of an Israeli warship stationed off the Lebanese coast. That a Christian baker would make and promote such a cake had nothing to do with being “pro-Shia” – but was about a shared feeling and identity of “resistance”. The idea that Assad (or his regime) is Shi’ite with a supposed pro-Shia mission is based in ignorance and disinformation.

Based on my experience living in Syria, my many contacts with Syrians inside the country and abroad, and my personal grappling with the tragedy that has befallen a beautiful country, I’ve come to one certain conclusion:

The fight in Syria is between those that want to continue Syria’s pluralistic and secular identity – those that want to ensure a high degree of personal social and religious freedoms, and those that want to erect fanatic Sunni rule along the lines of a Taliban or Saudi religious police state model. The latter, among actual Syrian nationals (as opposed to the mass flux of foreign fighters), are in the minority; and this means that the current “rebel opposition” is in reality an aggressive terrorist insurgency (and this was so much earlier than the major media pundits will ever recognize). Sadly, this insurgency is only made strong through its significant Saudi, Qatari, and NATO support and funding. I say all of this while fully acknowledging that there have been real crimes and shortcomings of the regime.

The Western pundits don’t know what to make of Assad’s continuing to stay in power – a reality contrary to their every prediction of his immediate demise sounded every few months over the past two years. Since it is they who’ve attempted to frame the narrative in purely sectarian terms, they ought to be asked: why hasn’t Damascus, with its clear majority Sunni population, thrown off the “hated” dictator?

The answer is simple. The majority of Syrians, whether Sunni, Shia, Alawi, Christian, Kurd, Ismaili, are sane individuals – they’ve seen what life is like under the “alternative”. They recognize that there is a real Syrian national identity, and it goes beyond mere loyalty to the current ruling clique that happens to be in power, but in Syria as a pluralistic Levantine society that doesn’t want to model itself on Saudi Arabia.

Brad Hoff served as a Marine from 2000-2004 at Headquarters Battalion, Quantico. After military service he lived, studied, and traveled throughout Syria off and on from 2004-2010. He currently teaches in Texas.

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Comments

  1. Congratulations Brad you are very insightful and 100 percent correct. If western powers at the bidding of Saudi Arabia; would have left Iraq alone and eased its sanctions on them what a different story it would have been too.
    Yes the brutal dictators have an impossible duties keeping such diverse areas functional. Keeping 99 percent of the population living a decent life by their standards, and by keeping the 1 percent dissenters under control by what ever means that they will respond to.

    • Mike Corbeil says:

      Not to argue, but the western powers, led by Washington, let’s not forget, waging war on Iraq most definitely didn’t do this for Saudi Arabia. That is to no degree the reason.

      You need further study about this. One good resource is GlobalResearch.ca. There’re others, but GR is certainly a good place to start.

      Most “Americans” who blindly refuse to blame Washington have always been holding Israel responsible and they’re either living in denial, or they’re such fanatical anti-Zionists that this is blinding them about nearly everything else. It’s not that there’s anything at all good about the Zionism known of today, for it’s totally hell-bent, and I do mean bent towards Hell. But Washington didn’t lead war against Iraq for any other country’s sake. It doesn’t matter if it’d be Israel, Saudi Arabia, or any other country. Washington most definitely didn’t do this for the sake of any foreign governments; none.

      Israel and Saudi Arabia, perhaps also Turkey, wanted this war on Iraq, but this doesn’t mean that this is why Washington committed this supreme international crime, while also acting treachorously, against the U.S. Constitution and international laws, treaties and conventions the U.S. is co-signatory to. It isn’t at all the reason. Washington’s “leadership”, front and back stage, are responsible. It’s just that this extreme crime of psychopaths happened to please other psychopaths as well; and it’s far from being the sole example of supreme international crimes committed, commanded by Washington; both, overtly and covertly.

      They’re all psychopaths. They’re not going to “boo” each other unless they start attacking each other, but they won’t do that, for they need each others’ support. After all, sane people refuse to support psychopathic conduct.

      No other military powers on this planet can confront Washington’s power, but this doesn’t mean that Washington doesn’t strategically need support from others, other psychopaths. Washington can’t work alone. After all, the ultimate aim is … global dominance and this can’t be achievable without plenty of other psychopaths providing their support. We have to hope that it still won’t be achieved, but if Washington garnered only opposition from all governments, including members of NATO, then Washington would be alone and couldn’t possibly have even a remote chance of achieving global dominance, over this whole planet. Washington has the power to obliterate all life on this planet, given all of the thousands of nuclear weapons in Washington’s “arsenal”. Doing that, though, would guarantee that there’d definitely be no chance of dominating over anything. All life would cease to exist on this planet.

      It just so happens that there’re others that wanted the Saddam Hussein government, aka regime, eliminated.

      It’s Washington’s doing and when I say Washington, this includes, both, the stage clown politicians in DC, plus the “elites” Washington listens to in secrecy, behind closed doors.

      Again, psychopaths won’t get support from sane people. And I do mean to use the term “psychopaths”. I’ve used it repeatedly in this comment, but it’s because they are psychopaths. It’s not an exaggeration to say this.

  2. Thanks Tomas. You are right that all of this ultimately hinges on our relationship with Saudi Arabia going back decades.
    I remember growing up only ever hearing about “evil dictators” like Saddam or Gadhafi or the Ayatollahs. Not once did I encounter a serious critique of human rights in Saudi Arabia in media, pop culture, or in my public school education. One hardly hears anything negative about the Saudi Wahabbi police state even now.
    Sadly, the US made a Faustian bargain with Gulf states – all for oil and for blank check support of Israel.

    • Mike Corbeil says:

      But those countries or governments aren’t the reason for Washington waging the totally unjustifiable war on Iraq.

      There were plenty of reports about the hellish government in Saudi Arabia back in the 1980s, though possibly not in msm, corporate news media, which I’ve never used much in my entire life and I’ll be 57 in a few months.

      Control of the oil reserves is a motive. Control over other rich natural resources is a motive for other US wars, overt and covert. The US war on Vietnam was ostensibly an anti-communism motive, but that’s not all there was to it. As some very good and knowledgeable writers have stated, the anti-communism “mode of thinking” for excuses from Washington was a scare tactic, to frighten “Americans” into supporting Washington waging war “to protect us”, as well as the rest of this world from the “scourge of communism”. The Cold War wasn’t about communism. It was about world dominance.

      From what I’ve read, it’s the US that basically made Saudi Arabia into the major oil producer that it is. All of the related infrastructure apparently was constructed by western oil corporations, surely along with Washington providing plenty of US taxpayers’ dollars for funding. Washington didn’t covertly work to overthrow the government of Iran in 1953 for any noble reasons. President Mossadeq refused to de-nationalize the country’s oil. He had to be taken out, in Washington’s secret parlance. The genocide that’s been happening in the Congo, DRC/Zaire, since 1996 and which Keith Harmon Snow has written quite extensively about is again for profiting western corporations, the mineral extraction ones. The Congo is very rich in plenty of minerals that western corporations require for building technologies and western corporations don’t believe in doing business fairly. They want to pillage, plunder, … rob peoples of their resources.

      Global dominance, Washington is working on achieving it and there’s nothing new about it. The process has been underway for decades. One piece of evidence for this is Washington’s global military presence; GLOBALLY. Where Washington’s military is present and local populations want, demand that the US withdraw, Washington imposes itself, totally disregarding the local populations; and US soldiers get to commit crimes with impunity against local populations.

      The Middle East is a big goal in this, but it’s far from being the sole region Washington and its masters aim to dominate over. Ultimately, they’re going after Russia and China.

      Washington didn’t wage war on Iraq for any other government. Instead, it just happens to “coincide” with desires of some other psychopathically led governments.

      Historically, Washington waged war on Mexico. Why? Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil persuaded the U.S. President to launch war on Mexico so that Standard Oil could gain the oil concessions there, booting out the British company that had a concession there.

      The underlying motives are economic, financial interests, as well as power.

      Washington’s military isn’t spread out globally and threateningly for the sake of any other governments. There’re Zionists or pro-Zionists in Washington politics, but they don’t rule. Among the top and hidden “elites” who do rule, there may be Zionists, but their real motives are economics and power.

      And what underlies those motives is INSANITY. They’re insane, psychopathic. Did you ever hear or read of sane psychopaths? They don’t exist.

  3. Mike Corbeil says:

    Excellent article, rich! I just read the copy at GlobalResearch.ca and am glad to have decided to check the home page, for I don’t do it very often, after many years of doing so on a daily basis. It’s just that I’ve acquired hi-speed Internet and make a lot of use of video and audio reports, analyses and interviews.

    It’s great to learn that co-existence between secular and the variety of religious Syrians is normally very good.

    But what is Old City Damascus? I tried Wikipedia and links are returned, but nothing obviously matching the location you’re referring to.

    • Thanks for your insightful comments Mike. “Old City Damascus” is not so much a proper noun as I stated it, but it simply refers to what is called “the old city” of Damascus. It is the more ancient walled part of Damascus (with Roman and later gates and ruins in some places) as opposed to the modern districts. Most Middle Eastern cities have thier “old city” – typically the oldest and walled part of town. The term is used so much that people just say “I’m going to the Old City”.

      • Mike Corbeil says:

        Ah, yes. It’s like in Quebec City and Montreal, though the word “city” isn’t added and this could be a little confusing in the QC for strangers, at first, for the name of the province is the same.

        Doing a search for “Old Damascus” returns hits that appear to correspond to the part you’re talking about; unlike for “Old City Damascus”, which returns nothing that seems fitting.

        F.e., http://www.oldamascus.com

        The following page is about the ancient part of Damascus and says how old it is.

        “Ancient City of Damascus”, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/20

        Quote: “Founded in the 3rd millennium B.C., Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. In the Middle Ages, it was the centre of a flourishing craft industry, specializing in swords and lace. The city has some 125 monuments from different periods of its history – one of the most spectacular is the 8th-century Great Mosque of the Umayyads, built on the site of an Assyrian sanctuary.”

        The page refers to or uses both “Old Damascus” and “old city of Damascus”.

        Excellent photos are provided. Very impressive place! They really liked large and beautiful construction there many centuries and thousands of years ago. Wow. Truly impressive architecture.

        The photo in the top right in the following page makes the Old City seem like a very densely populated area, with a HUGE mosque.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umayyad_Mosque

        I got the link for that from the page for Damascus.

        It seems that parts of the old city are to replaced with modernization. They hopefully wouldn’t replace the important old structures. I very much appreciate old and very old architecture, including for just very old houses, as long as they’re in adequately good condition. It’s interesting to be able to see for ourselves the differences between structures of long ago and those of today. Those of long ago are often much more appealing to the eyes.

        The damn “rebel” forces have been committing a lot of destruction, in addition to killings and kidnappings. These are extremely bad times, today, for the Syrians.

  4. Road to Servitude says:

    Reblogged this on wallacerunnymede and commented:
    Well worth a read. This is also (I believe) relevant to my recent blog post on a scandalous, recently reclassified document. http://wallacerunnymede.com/2015/05/23/smoking-gun-declassified-us-defence-intelligence-agency-document-on-us-authorities-and-their-support-for-daeshislamic-state/

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