By Michael Gryboski — Originally published in Christian Post
A retired Army lieutenant colonel with years of experience in the Pentagon believes that American involvement in Syria could have results similar to the Iraq War on religious freedom.
Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis, who presently serves as senior fellow for National Security at Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., told The Christian Post about the possible similarity. “Former dictator Saddam Hussein protected Christians but once Saddam was replaced the American-installed Shiite government sat back while Christians were run out of the country,” said Maginnis.
“Today Iraqi Christians are living in Jordan and Turkey, meanwhile, the few Christians left in Iraq live in fear of Islamist attacks,” he said.
Maginnis also told CP that he expected “a similar outcome in Syria” given the direction of the current civil war. “That country under Assad has been diverse but since the civil war sectarian tension has increased and many Christians fled to Jordan and Turkey,” said Maginnis, who is a senior analyst with the U.S. Army. “Should Islamists take over Syria, with or without American help, Christians will face increased persecution and thus will flee in greater numbers,” he predicted.
Last year, President Barack Obama told the media that the United States’ “red line” for action against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria would be the usage of chemical weapons. Recently, claims have surfaced that Assad’s forces in the Syrian civil war have indeed used chemical weapons to fatally gas hundreds of civilians. As the investigation into the allegation continues, armed forces from multiple Western nations, including the United States and Great Britain, are being moved closer to the troubled region.
Leonard Leo, who served three terms as a commissioner with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), told The Christian Post that in his opinion “the Christians are in a bad spot no matter what happens.”
“If you look at North Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East, in every country where there has been upheaval, the Christians have basically lost out,” said Leo. “They’ve either been persecuted or they’ve been treated as second class citizens at best. Or they just up and leave. That’s the problem. I don’t see why Syria will be different.”
Leo also said that he felt the problem stemmed from Western powers, including the United States, being incapable of finding viable alternatives to the despotic regimes being toppled.
“It’s the problem we see over and over again in every one of these countries. It’s the problem we see in Egypt. It’s the problem we’re going to see in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Leo. “It’s going to be the problem we see over and over again. As a country we just have not been able to influence the direction of that part of the world.”
As the Syrian conflict continues, many reports of sporadic attacks against Christian communities have also surfaced. These reports, often blaming rebels for the acts, have led many in the United States to question supporting anti-Assad forces.
Matthew Olson of the Washington Times, for example, recently argued that aiding the rebels in Syria would be wrong given their track record on anti-Christian violence.
“We do not need to interfere in Syria, most certainly not in defense of the predominantly jihadist rebel groups over a religiously tolerant government. Syrian rebels have killed Christians, even going so far as to target priests and churches,” wrote Olson.
But Dr. M Zuhdi Jasser, a Syrian-American who is vice chair USCIRF and president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, told CP that the Assad regime encouraged the religious violence.
“Religious liberty is at a historic low in Syria as the Assad regime has employed a scorched earth policy by intentionally stoking militants with sectarian divisions in order to rip apart Syria from within,” said Jasser. “While the revolution began as a diverse political movement of all faiths against the Assad regime, it has now degenerated into a sectarian conflict dominated by the narrative of a Sunni dominated opposition against an Alawite regime which claims to be the protector of other religious minorities.”
Jasser also said that “if the U.S. takes a military role it needs to be decisive” in regards to military strikes, support for opposition, and the “information war” regarding popular opinion.
“Defeat Assad quickly and the proxy war with Iran ends quickly. Let it go longer and God knows where Iran takes its emboldened positioning,” said Jasser.