July 28, 2014

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon: Delegation to Syria

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Source: Antiochian Archdiocese | Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

During this past September 13-18, I was part of a delegation sent to Syria by Metropolitan PHILIP to investigate the internal political situation in that country, particularly with respect to its Christian minority. Our group consisted of six priests of the Antiochian Archdiocese: Fathers Dimitri Darwich (our guide and the only Arabic-speaker), Timothy Ferguson, Joseph Honeycutt, John Winfrey, David Bleam, and myself; two Protestant pastors: Bonn Clayton and Norman Wilson; and an expert in international law, James Perry, accompanied by his wife, Martha, who served as the delegation’s secretary. Attached to the delegation as a reporter for Ancient Faith Radio was John Maddex, its executive director.

The following narrative is my own assessment of that experience, along with some account of what I learned.

Let me begin by expressing a deep, sincere gratitude to Metropolitan Philip, both for the golden opportunity to visit Syria and for the confidence he placed in myself and the others he sent.

Most of this trip was devoted to matters not directly related to its purpose—namely, visits to shrines and other places of cultural interest. We began, in fact, by first paying our respects at the house of St. Ananias, the first bishop of Damascus, who baptized Saul of Tarsus. We also saw the window in the city wall, through which the Apostle was lowered in a basket. We walked many blocks along and around the “street called Straight,” passing through the Christian and Jewish sections of the city. (There are still 3,000 Jews in Syria, by the way, another of the minorities who find a secure home in that country.)

Also in Damascus (the world’s oldest, continually existing city) we spent some time at the National Archeological Museum, which displays many of the excavated articles (those not absconded in former times by the occupying French!) which reflect the very long and rich history of the region. Foremost among these, in my opinion was the entire 4th century synagogue from Dura Europos, on the Tigris River, uncovered in 1932. If we had seen nothing else, the sight of the frescoes on the walls of that synagogue would have made the entire trip more than worthwhile. I could have stayed in that museum for the whole time!

In addition to Damascus, our group was privileged to pray at the shrine and tomb of St. Thecla in the village of Maalula and to visit the monastery in Saydnaya, where we reverenced St. Luke’s icon of the Virgin Mary and her young Son.

Security

When my parishioners in Chicago learned that Metropolitan Philip was sending me as part of the delegation to Syria, their reaction was uniformly negative. Simply put, the people were concerned for my physical safety. I tried to reassure them that the Metropolitan would never send his priests into danger. I also mentioned that our new bishops-elect would be going to Syria later in the year for their episcopal consecration. That could not happen, if their safety was in doubt.

My argument, however, was to no avail. Parishioners pleaded with me—some with tears—“Don’t go, Father Pat!”

I recognized that my parishioners were taking their cue from the view popularized by CNN, FOX News, and other media outlets that have been, for months, promoting a general and irresponsible hysteria about Syria. As for myself, I was not the slightest bit concerned about safety.

Candor compels the confession, nonetheless, that at one point in the journey, I did feel just a wee bit unsafe: Our little group was conducted into a large room full of scary-looking people, where a security force of more than twenty husky uniformed officers met us, all of them carrying side arms, and several holding assault rifles. As we walked through their midst, this security force gave our group a suspicious once-over. It is worth mentioning that this scene took place in the boarding area in an airport. The city was Chicago.

From the moment we actually boarded our plane, however, and during the entire remainder of the trip—in Jordan and Syria—I did not see a single side arm on any person at all, and I saw only two rifles: one held by a guard in front of the Defense Ministry in Damascus, and the other by the man who opened the front gate for us at the Presidential Palace.

During our whole time in Syria, I saw not a single armed policeman, nor—except for that guard at the Defense Ministry—a single soldier. I saw only one military vehicle, and that was near the Defense Ministry.

The only other weapons I saw in Syria were the 10-inch batons used by the local police to direct the flow of traffic in Damascus. Indeed, the only moments of apprehension we felt in Syria were occasioned by extraordinary displays of spontaneity and boldness on the part of its cab drivers.

In Syria our delegation—together and singly—was permitted to walk wherever we wished and to ask any questions of anybody we wanted. There was only one restriction: the tourist agency, assigned to guide us, mentioned two cities where, out of concern for our safety, it could not take responsibility for us. This concern, they said, was prompted by patterns of violence among some of the “armed gangs and criminal elements” active in those cities—not the Syrian government.

Prior to traveling to Syria, I had checked out the web page of our State Department, where I was warned that travel in Syria was currently very dangerous. Normally I would take such warnings seriously.

Over many years, however, I have done a lot of foreign travel, so I also trust my instincts with respect to safety. Long ago I walked the dark streets of Athens during a period when there were riots and insurrections throughout Greece. That same year—just after the civil war in Cyprus—I roamed all over that island, which was policed by U.N. peacekeepers.

In Kosovo not long ago, again at night, I strolled from the south (Albanian) side of Mitrovica, across the bridge, to the north (Serbian) side—and back again—without incident. I have walked around, after dark, in the neighborhoods of numerous foreign cities, such as London, Paris, Milan, Istanbul, and Tel-Aviv. In 1973 I was at the Athens airport, when terrorists stormed the El-Al customer desk with grenades and machine guns. I believe I can recognize danger when I see it.

I also know what it feels like to move around in a police state. Last year, for instance, I spent a week in Guatemala, where there were guns galore on nearly every street. At the time, the murder statistics in Guatemala City were staggering. One of our group on the Syrian trip, Father Timothy Ferguson, had spent a year in Guatemala, during which he followed the murder reports in the newspaper; he told me that there were 87 women murdered in his immediate neighborhood during that year, but not a single person was ever arrested for those murders. As for myself, within five minutes of entering Guatemala City, I was aware of danger.

So, let me sum up my impression of security in Syria. On a security scale of 1-to-10, I would give Syria 9.7. Using that same scale, I would give Detroit 4, Philadelphia 6, and Disney World 8.5.

Greeting the President

When Metropolitan Philip sent our little delegation to visit Syria, he asked us to make an honest and polite inquiry about the current political situation in that country, especially with regard to its Christian minority. Our interview with President Assad of Syria was probably the centerpiece of that inquiry.

We met with the President for about 90 minutes in the early evening. As the appointed spokesman for our delegation, I endeavored to set the tone in my introductory statement:

Fr. Reardon and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad


Mr. President, Bashar al-Assad, we are a delegation of American Christians, sent by Metropolitan Philip, our archbishop in the United States and Canada, as a renewed expression of his loyal friendship with you and his concern for the people of Syria.

Metropolitan Philip has charged us with the responsibility of learning—first-hand—your assessment of the political conditions in Syria.

Our mission here is likewise an expression of the concern of American Christians for the well-being of this beloved country of Syria, to which our debt is incalculable with respect to religion, history, and culture. To most of the members of this delegation, and certainly to myself, our visit to Damascus represents the dream of a lifetime.

To us, Syria is not just any country in the world. It is, rather, the hearth of our culture as Christians. To the extent that anyone in this room can be described as a cultured person, he is indebted to Syria.

Our journey to Damascus, therefore, expresses a return to the roots of our identity. Please, believe this declaration of our deep respect for Syria and our love for its people.

In the inquiries we humbly make of you today, we beg you to see both this respect and this love.

We bring you the warmest greeting of Metropolitan Philip, who holds your name and person in the highest honor, and we sincerely thank you for meeting with us.

I confess that our experience of the previous few days disposed us to think favorably of President Assad, right from the start. For example, the abbess at the Shrine of St. Thecla in Maalula, described his visit there this past Pascha. According to her, Dr. Assad drove his car, accompanied only by his wife—with no one else in attendance, neither security personnel nor press. They dined with the orphans who live near the shrine and are cared for by the nuns.

The couple spent the rest of the day with the orphans, who—the abbess said—look upon the President as a father. I think I speak for our whole delegation in remarking that the testimony of the abbess seemed very sincere and was most convincing. An identical impression was also conveyed to us, when we met with two Antiochian bishops at the Patriarchate the next day.

Such impressions were difficult to reconcile with the usual image of President Assad on American TV, where he is referred to as a murderer and “butcher.”

President Assad

After my greeting to President Assad, he invited us to ask any questions we wished, and he promised to be as open and frank as possible.

For our part, the delegation kept Metropolitan Philip’s directive in mind. Although he had not dictated or limited the scope of our inquiry, he had made clear what he did want: Information about the current internal order in Syria, particularly with respect to that country’s Christians.

Without exception, our group adhered to that focus. Consequently, we made no inquiries about Syrian foreign policy or its role in geopolitics. We never mentioned Syria’s relationship to Iran. We spoke not one word about Hezbollah, or Lebanon, or Israel. These subjects would have been distractions, so we stuck to the subject indicated by Metropolitan Philip.

As we entered the building, it was very instructive to observe the lack of security surrounding the executive leader of a nation. No one in our group was frisked or patted down, nor were we obliged to pass through a metal detector. We were simply escorted into the Presidential Palace and greeted at the door of the conference room by President Assad himself.

Dr. Assad, speaking excellent English, showed himself to be very cordial and personable. There was not the faintest suggestion of a maniacal dictator like Castro, Noriega, Hussein, or Ghadafi. This was a man of obvious culture, refinement, modesty, and gentility. Our meeting, which lasted nearly 90 minutes, was informal, candid, and unhurried.

The President said the economy—chiefly widespread poverty—was at the heart of the problem in Syria. He went on to declare, however, that the originally peaceful demonstrators were later infiltrated by right wing extremists, including the Muslim Brotherhood and a small very dangerous group from Iraq. He confessed that neither he nor his government was prepared for the violence that erupted so suddenly.

In response to a specific question on the subject, President Assad admitted that the military force over-reacted to this violence, on occasion, so that some demonstrators were killed and others tortured. These developments, he insisted, were contrary to his own policies. Other reported tortures, according to the President, were actually acts of revenge undertaken by emotional military personnel, who had lost colleagues during the demonstrations.

The President estimated that the demonstrators represented about 150 to 200 thousand people, out of a population of 23 million.

Syria’s greater problem, he believed, came from the portrayal of Syria conveyed in the Western media. The latter were allowed free range in the country in the first month of the uprisings, but when their depiction of the situation became unfair, distorted, and unbalanced, the government determined to send them packing.

The President believed the Syrian people were ready for reform, and he declared his intention to give it to them. He already started with educational and election reforms and made a start towards weeding out political corruption. Much more is planned, he said, but it takes time.

One of our questioners, persuaded that the Syrian government employed a large number of secret informants, make inquiry of President Assad on this point. He responded, “If I really had a large number of secret informants eavesdropping on the population, I don’t know how the strength of the uprising could take me by surprise. If we had a larger intelligence service, we would not need such a large army.”

In answer to a direct question from myself, President Assad insisted that no aircraft of any kind has been used against Syria’s demonstrators—a flat contradiction to TV reporting in the United States—and that no shots have been fired on the crowds from the tanks used as cover by Syrian soldiers under attack. (This was confirmed by Michel Kilo, a representative of Opposition, about whom I will write shortly.)

Our group was particularly interested in the President’s view of Syria’s Christian minority, which he believes is necessary in order to keep the country “secular.” (By this adjective, he explained, he meant a political setting in which no one religion can dictate to, or have advantage over, another.) Christianity has a moderating influence on Islam in Syria, he declared, and people are free to practice whatever religion they choose. “There can be no democracy in Syria,” said President Assad, “without Christians. A completely Muslim country would have not the counterbalance of influence necessary for democracy.”

Other Testimonies

In addition to our conversation with President Assad, our delegation also met with other important Syrians:

First among these were the two bishops who spent more than an hour with us at the cathedral office of the Antiochian Patriarchate. Both of them were very vocal about the current situation in Syria. Testifying that they had visited the sites where the reports of large-scale violence had taken place, they expressed a vehement protest against the inaccurate portrayal of their country in the Western news media. They claimed to have regular contact with their people in those communities, who insist that the local uprisings are blown completely out of proportion on American and European television.

These bishops also could not say enough positive things about the President, Bashar al Assad. We found this message to be a consistent and common theme from virtually everyone we talked with on the trip.

This was true even with respect to the “opposition figures” with whom we met. Chief and most outspoken among these was Michel Kilo, a representative of the Intellectual Party, who has consistently been a peaceful member of the opposition. A former Marxist, Kilo described himself as very pro-democracy but not necessarily anti-regime. In fact, he said, if President Assad is successful in introducing reforms, such as a fair and democratic election, he would vote for him!

Kilo acknowledged that there is much more than meets the eye with respect to the demonstrators, and he avowed that they do not all have the same agenda. He also believed the peaceful demonstrators’ agenda was being hi-jacked by extremists who, even among themselves, pursued other agendas, or none at all! Kilo called for an end to the violence on both sides and a faster pace toward needed reforms in the country, especially those dealing with corruption in the government.

On our last day in Damascus, we had an unexpected meeting with seven sheiks from northeast Syria (if memory serves), who learned of our presence in the country and journeyed to meet with us. These men, who represented 7 million Syrians, were dressed in the traditional garb common in Bedouin areas. They insisted on three points: (1) There is one God; (2) There is one Syria; and (3) There is one President Assad. These men, let me say, were in no mood to compromise!

The Grand Mufti of Syria and Fr. Reardon

Our last meeting, which lasted until about three o’clock in the morning of our final day in Syria, was with the leading Islamic cleric in the country known as the Grand Mufti, the spiritual father of Syria’s 70% Sunni majority. We found him to be very charismatic, warm, and friendly. Indeed, he was so irenic that I caught myself fancying I was talking with a Hindu! He deplored violence of any kind and preached to us about the dignity of humanity whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, or otherwise.

The Grand Mufti was also very pro-Assad and criticized what he called the huge fabrication the Western media was advancing by using unverified You-Tube films in its reports. He had been at those locations, he declared, exactly when some of the alleged uprisings and violence were occurring, and he saw nothing to support the exaggerations of the Western press. The Grand Mufti speculated that there was a 90% approval rating for President Assad in Syria, compared to the current 39% approval for President Obama in the United States.

Conclusions and Speculations

Let me summarize my impressions of the political situation in Syria:

First, I can only form opinions on what we saw and heard which did not include the alleged “hot spots.” I specifically requested to be taken to one of these places, explaining that, as a normal Chicagoan, I am completely devoid of fear. Concerned about safety, however, they politely declined my request.

Second, given the fact Damascus is the capital and the most populous region of Syria, one imagines we would see at least a hint of a revolution if there really were one. We did not.

Third, Christians in Syria are safe and happy. They worship in freedom without oppression. Both before and after this trip, several friends suggested that Christian support for the government in Syria is an example of the “Stockholm Syndrome.” That is to say, they speculated that the Christians in Syria are identifying with their oppressors to the point of supporting them. Let me affirm categorically that this is not the case in Syria. Christians in that country are not an oppressed minority, as they are, for example, in Egypt. Muslims in Syria have no political advantage over Christians.

Fourth, the TV reporting on Syria in this country is anything but “fair and balanced.” With a view to correcting this problem, our delegation suggested to President Assad that he begin by inviting one well-trusted television reporter from the United States to sit and talk with him, much as we did. Our recommendation was specific; we named such a reporter, who happens to be Orthodox. The President said he would give it serious consideration.

Fifth, it is my impression (and I speak for myself alone) that the stability of Middle Eastern governments, including the Syrian, depends a great deal on the support of the military. For this reason, it is not unknown for the leaders of such countries to have only a limited authority over their military establishments. If this is the case in Syria, it would explain, at least in part, why President Assad has not been able to stop all violence from the government’s side, even though such violence is diametrically at odds with his own policies.

Sixth, unless I am dreadfully mistaken, the current Syrian government is in no immediate danger from an internal revolution. There is far more rioting in the United States, and in almost every country of Western Europe, than there is in Syria. Even as I write this, there are more demonstrators camping out on Wall Street (where they voice utter vacuities, at all hours, to the press corps) than there are anywhere in Syria.

More Recent Developments

Since our return from Syria, two related developments have come to my attention:

First, shortly after we left Syria, a journalist from the BBC, Lyce Doucet, filed a report called “Inside Damascus, a city on edge” (9/26/11). This title (surely chosen by someone else) disguises Doucet’s actual report, which is compatible with everything I have written above. The distress she found in Damascus was chiefly related to the city’s loss of tourism, the result of the bad press the county has endured through most of this year. As I commend Doucet’s carefully crafted account, I also would like to believe it represents a much-needed return to factual reporting about Syria in the Western press.

Second, there continue to be targeted assassinations of Syria’s cultural and religious leaders, such as Hassan Eid, a surgeon at Homs’ general hospital; Aws Abdel Karim Khalil, a nuclear engineering specialist and charge d’affaires at al-Baath University; Mohammad Ali Aqil, deputy dean of its architecture faculty; Nael Dakhil, director of the military petrochemical school; and Saria Hassoun, the young son of the Grand Mufti himself.

Of these recent victims of violence, Khalil and Eid belonged to the Alawite sect (to which President Assad also belongs), Aqil was a Shiite Muslim, Dakhil a Christian, and Hassoun a Sunni.

What did these men have in common? Two things: First, they were all supporters of President Assad. Second, their murders have gone almost unmentioned in the Western press. For the Western media to report such murders, after all, would undermine the biased impression it wants to convey about the nature of the disturbances in Syria.

A Final Word

As the chosen spokesman for our delegation while we were in Syria, it fell to me to give two television interviews while we were there, the first one for SANA (Syrian Arab News Agency) and the second for a private commercial channel.

My first interviewer, who was an Antiochian Orthodox Christian, began with the hope that I would consider Syria my “second home.” “No,” I replied, “Syria is my first home.” I went on to explain my regard for Syria, because it is the geographical and historical link between the cultures of the Fertile Crescent and the Mediterranean Basin. As such Syria is the capstone, the link that holds Western Civilization together. It was Syria—specifically Ras Shamra—that taught us the alphabet. Consequently, if anyone wants to disagree about his level of debt to Syria, I will insist that he communicates the disagreement in either cuneiform or hieroglyphics; he certainly has no right to use the alphabet. Syria is, in short, at the absolute root of who we are.

Let me end by expressing, once more, my profound gratitude to Metropolitan Philip, to our Syrian hosts, to all those who made this journey possible, and to everyone who prayed for us.

Comments

  1. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    bob says:

    I wonder if the photo of Fr.Patrick with Assad will come to look like the ones of Mussolini with Catholic clergy. No, it does. For the same reasons. You are a tool. Syria is your “first home”. Is that an actual Orthodox Christian opinion? It’s awfully sad to be a tool of the Syrian government over there. It is completely bizarre that you are a tool of them over here too. Not to mention one of Philip. But he’s a Syrian tool as well. That’s a tool twice at first hand and once at second hand. Fr. Patrick Atool. Nice going.

  2. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Jeff says:

    Agreed. This is really embarrassing.

  3. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    Those governments, as distasteful as they might seem to you, held back the poisoned fruit of the American supported “Arab Spring.” America went after Mubarak and paved the way for militant Jihadism. Same in Libya. Syria? Maybe not. Sow the wind and you reap the whirlwind. The ones to suffer most will be the Christians.

    Why Christian Copts Fear a Revolution

    Forgotten in all the excitement over the revolution in Egypt has been the precarious situation of Coptic Christians there. Yet just weeks ago, Copts in Egypt experienced an unprecedented reign of terror. An Islamic jihad-martyrdom suicide bomber murdered twenty-two people and wounded eighty more at the Coptic Christian Church of the Saints in Alexandria, Egypt on New Year’s Eve. Just days later, as Christmas (which Copts celebrate on January 7) 2011 approached, an Islamic website carried this ominous exhortation: “Blow up the churches while they are celebrating Christmas or any other time when the churches are packed.” And if the Muslim Brotherhood takes power in Egypt, the treatment of the Copts is likely only to get worse.

    Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton recently injected a note of realism into the mainstream media euphoria over the heroic “pro-democracy” demonstrators in Egypt. “The overthrow of the Mubarak regime,” Bolton warned, “will not by any sense of the imagination lead to the advent of Jeffersonian democracy. The greater likelihood is a radical, tightly knit organization like the Muslim Brotherhood will take advantage of the chaos and seize power.” And that will be bad news for Egyptian Christians: “It is really legitimate for the Copts to be worried that instability follow Mubarak’s fall and his replacement with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

    Apparently aware of this, the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III, has forbidden Copts from participating in the demonstrations. It has been widely reported in the West that many Copts are defying this ban; on the other hand, however, a source on the ground in Egypt tells me that the news reports are wrong, and that Copts are not participating. Whatever may be the truth of the matter, it is certain that a Muslim Brotherhood state in Egypt would make their situation even worse than it is already.

    Jihad Watch

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Jeff says:

      Or, more succinctly, “He may be an S.O.B. – but he’s OUR S.O.B.”

      • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
        Michael Bauman says:

        He is an SOB but he does protect the Chrisitan population from widespread decimation by more fervent Islamists. Like it or not.

        Like it or not, Christian roots are deep in Syria and they still live. While I may think Fr. Pat’s description is some what hyperventalated, the basics of what he says are true. The Wilsonian impulse to impose democracy and Calvinist morals on the rest of the world is insane.

        Here is the choice right now–live under Assad (or someone like him) or be faced with the constant threat of red martyrdom. Hmmmm?

        Democracy does not lead to rational rule of law. It leads to passionate chaos. Rule of Law has to be established before a constitutional republic and representative governement can be successful. The only reason the American experiment has lasted as long as it has is because of centuries of experience with English Common Law. As that foundation is more and more erroded, we become less rational and less free.

        If Assad is ousted, the only law will be Sharia and we know how that ends for Chrisitans.

      • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
        Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

        How is Assad “OUR SOB”? The Obama administration wants him out just like like Mubarak and Khaddafi. And if Libya is the example, we will join NATO in bombing his country. The neo-con back benchers are cheering him on. For what? – another Jihadist government in the region? More Christians killed?

        • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
          Jeff says:

          “Our” meaning the Antiochian Archdiocese, Fr. Patrick, and, apparently, you too, Fr. Jacobse.

          • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
            Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

            Am I to take this as a credible charge, something that nullifies the point that American policy is creating the establishment of militant jihadism in the region? Do the criticisms of American liberal/neo-con adventurism fall by the wayside because in making them Assad somehow becomes “my SOB”?

            It’s paltry reasoning, but if you insist on using it tell me how American involvement in the “Arab Spring” (a moniker created for the western media if there ever was one) justifies creating militant Jihadist overlords?

            • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
              Jeff says:

              “A credible charge“? Whoa, no need to lawyer up yet, Fr. Jacobse! I was simply reacting to your statement that

              Those governments, as distasteful as they might seem to you, held back the poisoned fruit of the American supported “Arab Spring.”

              though I would suggest it’s not just me to whom Assad’s Syria is distasteful. Still. perhaps I did mispeak (miswrite) in calling him your ‘SOB’, since there’s nothing in what Fr. Patrick wrote (and which you endorse, I assume) that indicates that either of you admit that there is any realistic objection to Assad’s rule. He spends time with orphans! He has a 90% approval rating! The lack of balance, in combination with the naivite and cuteness (“as a normal Chicagoan, I am completely devoid of fear”) in the original article is really offputting, and surprising, coming from Fr. Patrick. It reads like news articles written by 30s leftists taken on Potemkin tours of the USSR.

            • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
              Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

              It sounds like 30′s leftists only if you assume Western media reports are true — just as the leftists did back in the days of Stalin.

            • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
              Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

              One other point: Repudiating liberal/neo-con policy does not translate into a wholesale endorsement of Assad (identity politics is just a passing malady). It does, however, recognize the harm that liberal illusions create.

              • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
                Jeff says:

                One other point: Repudiating liberal/neo-con policy does not translate into a wholesale endorsement of Assad…

                Well, thanks for that, at least. Maybe Fr. Patrick can tack that on to his Assad hagiography.

  4. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Steven says:

    This is a welcomed counterbalance to the hysteria and hyperbole we see about Syria in the Western media. A majority of Americans are (and will likely always be) hopelessly naive in their worldview, dividing the world up into “good guys” and “evil doers.” On top of that, our ideas about what constitutes good and evil are ill-formed and deluded by our adherence to the cult of democracy. It is simply inconceivable to us that a “strongman” or autocrat could be preferable to democracy, even when democracy, in this instance, would lead to an Islamist government. Just ask the Christian populations of Egypt and Iraq whether they prefer their American-backed “liberation” or the social peace kept by the autocrats who have been tossed out.

    We need to abandon this idiotic and dangerous Wilsonian enterprise of trying to impose our way of life (cultural, political, and economic) on the rest of the world and instead tend to the crumbling mess that is our own nation-in-decline!

  5. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    bob says:

    “….we are a delegation of American Christians, sent by Metropolitan Philip, our archbishop in the United States and Canada, as a renewed expression of his loyal friendship with you and his concern for the people of Syria.” — Not as grownup responsible Christian American citizens. We are part of the Leatherman multitool that hangs on someone’s belt.

    Is it hard to be heard when you have your forehead on the ground like that?

    Wow, I have never described myself personally as “a renewed expression” of a bishop’s friendship with a murderous dictator and his concern for people (why the “concern”? Aren’t they safe or something?) half a world away from his flock.

    Does Fr. Patrick do alot of this renewed expression ministry? I must have missed that part of the ordination. Does the Grace Divine make up any of the expression that is lacking?

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Steven says:

      “….we are a delegation of American Christians, sent by Metropolitan Philip, our archbishop in the United States and Canada, as a renewed expression of his loyal friendship with you and his concern for the people of Syria.” — Not as grownup responsible Christian American citizens. We are part of the Leatherman multitool that hangs on someone’s belt.

      Is it hard to be heard when you have your forehead on the ground like that?

      Wow, I have never described myself personally as “a renewed expression” of a bishop’s friendship with a murderous dictator and his concern for people (why the “concern”? Aren’t they safe or something?) half a world away from his flock.

      Does Fr. Patrick do alot of this renewed expression ministry? I must have missed that part of the ordination. Does the Grace Divine make up any of the expression that is lacking?

      Sorry, do you understand what it means to go as an emissary or representative? This delegation did not elect, on its own, to go as a group of concerned individuals; rather, they were sent by the Metropolitan with a specified purpose. Do you even understand the role of the bishop in Orthodox life? You also realize, I hope, that when a priest stands before the Holy Altar to celebrate the Liturgy that he does so as the representative of the bishop. There is no priest apart from his relationship to the bishop, just as there is no delegation to Syria apart from the Metropolitan.

      I’m also curious to know which part of being concerned for the Christian community in Syria you don’t seem to understand. Is Bashar al-Assad a perfect leader? No. Neither was Mubarak, and neither was Saddam Hussein. But they are (were) the lynchpin holding together a secular order that protects the Christian minorities in these countries from being completely swallowed by a murderous jihadist movement. Why do you think the Coptic Pope Shenouda forbade Coptic Christians from participating in the protests earlier this year? Why do you think the Christians in Iraq were frightened by the prospects of an “American liberation,” and have since fled their ancestral homeland in droves?!

      The problem is not with an Orthodox bishop in the United States being concerned with for his brothers and sisters in a troubled region of the world. The real problem are naive American rubes who, in their ignorance of history, culture, religion, and politics, want to impose their way of life on the rest of the world. So, why don’t you spend a little less time making caustic remarks about those who show a genuinely Christian concern for the well-being of others, and instead take a little time to try to find a little bit of that concern within yourself.

      • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
        bob says:

        Being an “emissary” is not now and never has been the job of a bishop or priest in 2000 years. the Met has a specific purpose which is nothing whatever to do with what a bishop does. I do understand the role of a bishop. Does he? Celebrating the liturgy is precisely what this was not. Being the representative of the bishop in worship has zero to do with this trip. This embarrassment underlines ever more clearly how important it is to have no connections with offshore churches. American Orthodox need to cut the apron strings now more than ever. If you want to hear another pathetic version of this, listen to Fr Honeycutt on Ancient Faith Radio. He did his assignment like a good boy too. He reports that he didn’t *any* gunfire on days when the news reported that there was! Well, how very comforting that must be to the people shot. This is pastoral concern? For what? The people dead over there or the job security for Philip….And the two priests? It shows that Philip’s clergy still know what a command performance is whether here or across the globe.

        • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
          Michael Bauman says:

          Wow, such overt cynicism and disrespect is amazing. I have my own difficulties with Met. Philip but, Bob, you are way off base here. Dean is correct: You owe the clergy and Met. Philip an apology.

  6. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Andrew says:

    I would be curious to see the television interviews Fr. Patrick gave while in Syria. Perhaps some enterprising AOI reader can provide them for posting here with appropriate translations. This would help further the discussion on this matter.

  7. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Dean Calvert says:

    Dear Bob, Jeff and others,

    First of all, as a native of Detroit, I have my own issues with this report. Observing the Chicago thugs who have been sent to Washington, and who are currently in the process of mugging us all, I would suggest Chicagoans should not be casting stones right now.

    That aside, some of your more uncharitable comments have really bothered me, probably first and foremost from a personal standpoint. I know Fr. Pat and John Maddex and consider them both dear friends. You will find no more faithful servants of the Lord anywhere. They are both treasures of the Church in America – and to question their intentions, or to call them “tools” is unfair and unchristian. Quite simply, some of you owe them an apology.

    And let’s not be naïve Americans…the church has been used for diplomatic purposes throughout it’s history (e.g. Sts Cyril and Methodios were on a diplomatic mission to Moravia, and St. Cyril had earlier gone to Khazaria at the request of the emperor). This sort of thing has been going on in the Middle East for the past 2000 years..and we are a participant in it..whether we like it or not.

    If you think about it – the picture painted by Fr. Pat in the report is not so different than the one painted by William Dalrypmple in his book “From the Holy Mountain” written in the early 1990′s. Syria, for all it’s problems, has been an oasis for Christians during the past 50 years, particularly when compared to Egypt and our erstwhile ally, Turkey.

    But probably most importantly – looking at this trip – I have to be honest, Metropolitan Philip, for all of the problems of the past few years, has done it again. The “old man” has still got it – this was a master stroke. Is it going to change Assad? No. Is it going to transform Assad into Jefferson? Probably not.

    I would implore some of the more critical of you to consider this – how much different is this than St. Paul sending funds to the church in Jerusalem? Except in this case – I’ll wager the trip was worth a LOT more than money. Assad is a trapped animal, and therefore dangerous. This trip, coming at the time that it has, may have done the Christians in Syria some actual good…reminding Assad that the Orthodox Christians have support overseas, and that it might be useful to remember that. Think about it – if it helps ONE monk in ONE monastery – if it prevents harm to one church for one day…isn’t that worth it? I’d go even further…wouldn’t YOU be willing to look silly, like a “tool”, if there was a CHANCE that might happen?

    So while we can argue about whose “SOB” Assad is…I would implore you all to be just a little circumspect about what you write here. This is the most widely read site in the Orthodox world. And if you don’t think foreign sources monitor these sites…think again.

    And I would suggest giving our friends, the delegation, the benefit of the doubt. They knew what they were doing…and they may have done some poor monk, nun, or priest…somewhere in the hinterland of Syria…some good that we will never know about.

    Let’s all give them the benefit of the doubt…and not presume to know the will of the Holy Spirit. And as Fr. Pat says at vespers each week, “May God bless the people of Syria.”

    Respectfully submitted,
    Dean Calvert

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      Dean, thank you. This is the clearest analysis I’ve read yet.

      • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
        Dn Brian Patrick Mitchell says:

        Hear, hear. I quite agree.

        • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
          bob says:

          Has anyone recalled that even Turkey (notable for its kindly treatment of Armenians) has objected to how Syria is treating its citizens? Yes, as Dean as pointed out, the old man still has it. What he got I don’t want. No one accused Dalrymple of glossing over the sad state of Christians in the mideast. There isn’t much in common with his interesting book and the embarassing articles by Reardon & Honeycutt. They are company men on assignment because they’re American converts who do as they’re told. Dalrymple is worth reading.

          • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
            Dean Calvert says:

            Bob,

            I hate to disagree, but if you will recall in Dalrymple’s book, the ONLY place the the author felt safe during their entire trip (Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Egypt) was in Syria. I recall him describing crossing the border into Syria (from Turkey) as a very narrow escape, having been followed by Turkish agents throughout their trip there.

            Fr. Pat’s article immediately reminded me of Dallrymple’s account – which is why I mentioned it.

            Best regards,
            dean

            • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
              bob says:

              Exactly, Dean. This is why it looks so bad in Syria. In Dalrymple’s time the Turks were bad and getting across to Syria was a relief. Now the Turks have not changed, the Syrians have gotten far worse. People are now fleeing in the opposite direction. How much more brutal has Syria become that Muslims flee to a Turkish refuge? I think you and I and the BBC can figure it out, I also think Philip and his traveling show know too, but they had “facts” to “find” to make it look otherwise. Will they be hitting the road to Libya to find some facts to make Khaddafi look better than some people think he is? After all, people say that with him gone things might get “worse”.

              • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
                Karen says:

                Muslims fleeing from Syria to Turkey I can understand (particularly if they are the extremist troublemaker variety). If Syrian Christians start fleeing there to get away from Assad’s gov’t, then perhaps your point would be a valid one.

                • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
                  Isa Almisry says:

                  First full disclosure: Fr. Pat is my Pastor.

                  But long before that, I had spent some time in Syria (several months), have been all over Turkey, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt (where I have spent years). When I was in Syria, the old man Asad was still ruling, so my impressions may be dated, but, from what I am informed from contacts etc., I doubt it.

                  I could not believe the freedoms the Christians had in Syria. A public bus that I rode in Damascus had Biblical verses all through its length, and the front over the wideshield and its sides was plastered with icons. I, and a Copt who had lived his entire life in Egypt and had just come from his first trip outside (Canada/US) were in utter shock:he had not seen such a thing in Canada or the US, and such a thing in Egypt is utterly impossible.

                  Churches were built without the harrassment faced in other countries (e.g. Turkey), books published and promoted for sale in Arabic (it was the first time I had seen Hopko translated), priests in the street unmolested (again in a stark contrast in Turkey-where clerical garb is even forbidden-and Egypt).

                  Of course there are Syrian dissidents fleeing to Turkey: Turkey is a Islamic secular (read:culturally enforced Muslim) state run by Islamists. The choice for Christians is not between “live and let live” and “either you are for us or you are against us” (the Ba’th regime of the Asads), but between the latter and “either you are us, or we will exterminate you.” The Islamists embrace the latter view, and will brook no existence of Muslims who do not subscribe, let alone Christians of any sort.

                  It is not a surprise that all the patriarchs of Antioch (occupied by the Turkish Republic) all reside in Syria (except the Maronite, who is in Lebanon, of course).

                  Asad is not like Mubarak and Qadhdhafi, whose regimes became a house of cards, that just needed a strong wind. He is more like Saddam, a strong man with staying power (it took a full international occupation to get rid of him, and even then his power base fight on). I do not see anyone who removed Saddam taking responsibility for the ongoing martyrdom of the Christians in Iraq. Will those who find fault with shaking hands with Asad because he has blood on them, take responsibility for the blood shed by the regime who replaces him, Christian and non-Christian alike? Because that regime will, without a doubt, start in a baptism of blood, not in seizing power, but more so once power has been seized.

                  Just ask yourself: do you want a Saudi republic in Syria?

  8. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Maxim says:

    I’m hate to disagree, but as I read this article, it did not sit well with me. Is it just me or is there more here than meets the eye. He went to great efforts to dress down our safety and security in order to put a very positive spin on safety and security in Syria. I do not disagree that diplomacy and concern for others are important and should be a part of our life as Christians, but it was obvious that an effort was made to CONVINCE us of something. It was almost overkill. All said, I support the trip. Everyone knows that if Assad falls, then devout islamists will become the power vacuum. We all know what the means for the local Christians and Christian landmarks.

  9. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    Time to re-read Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s classic essay “Dictatorships and Double Standards.” The players have changed, but the theory still holds true: dictators are preferred over totalitarians. Assad can be brutal, but don’t threaten the government and he leaves you alone. Threaten him, and he strikes back or is defeated. Once defeated however, totalitarian leaders arise — Marxist ideologues like Idi Amin in Kirpatrick’s day or in this case, radical Jihadists whose first order of business will be to eliminate the Christians.

    Those critical of Fr. Reardon’s trip make it with no awareness of history or probable outcomes. What will it take? Increasing persecution of the Copts in Egypt, a massacre of Christians in Syria if Assad falls?

  10. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Ya Mara Ghalba says:

    My thanks to Father Reardon for his excellent pro-regime piece. I have one quibble. Father Reardon says: “President Assad admitted that the military force over-reacted to this violence [from armed dissidents], on occasion, so that some demonstrators were killed and others tortured. These developments, he insisted, were contrary to his own policies.” Father Reardon doesn’t have information about the scale of those violations of policies. Father Reardon suggests, tepidly, that the government’s civilian leaders “have only a limited authority over their military establishments”, which insinuates the scale of the violations of policy could’ve been large. I suggest on the contrary (and not so tepidly) that President Assad has got strong authority over the security establishment, and the violations of the policy were on a small scale. The violations of policy did not happen under orders from high or middle ranking commanders. The security establishment had no motive to use disproportionate force, and was generally well behaved. During March 2011 in the Deraa area, the security forces were too heavy-handed in restoring law and order. It backfired on them because it made more ordinary locals more angry with the government and with the government’s security forces in Deraa. The government publicly admitted so in April (or maybe in early May), and dismissed a person who had supervisory responsibility in Deraa in March. The security establishment cannot totally control the behaviour every individual policeman or solidier who’s in danger from armed dissidents on the streets, of course. But one thing they can do that helps is to limit the number of security personnel who are carrying deadly weapons. The security establishment did that: Most of the security personnel who were responsible for keeping the demonstrations from becoming disorderly were only carrying truncheons (despite the danger that some of the dissidents were armed and deadly at a minority of the demonstrations).

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Source: Antiochian Archdiocese | Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon | HT: AOI [...]

  2. [...] the whole report at AOI. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); [...]

Care to comment?

*