[notice]International religious liberty analyst and advocate ELIZABETH KENDAL unravels some of the complexities of the war in Syria and highlights prayer needs in the area. She wrote this analysis for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission of which she is a member.[/notice]
Syria, Iran and the Shi’ite Crescent
The war in Syria is complex and multi-faceted. For the region’s religious minorities and all other pro-Assad Syrians it is all about surviving in a state that is secular and free. For the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist Sunnis, it is all about the restoration of Sunni power (as it was pre-World War 1). For Turkey’s President Erdogan (‘the Sultan’), it is about expanding Turkey’s sphere of influence (as in Ottoman times). For Iran and Hezballah, it is about maintaining a strategic alliance: the Shi’ite crescent, which is essentially an arch of Iranian influence. For the USA, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is all about weakening grand-nemesis Iran by taking a massive piece out of the Shi’ite crescent. For the Arabs, it is also about restoring Syria to the Arab axis. For Russia,
it is about a strategic alliance, Orthodox Christians and not empowering al-Qaeda and other jihadis. For al-Qaeda, it is about controlling territory and establishing bases. Furthermore, the war in Syria is also about which axis – the US-Arab-Turkey axis or the Russia-Persia axis – will control the flow of natural gas from the Persian Gulf to Europe via Syria. [US-Arab axis control would require regime change in Syria.]
Indeed, the key element virtually in all of this is Arab, Sunni Syria’s strategic alliance with Persian, Shi’ite Iran.
The dilemma is this: while Assad is good for Christians, other religious minorities and non-fundamentalist Muslims, Iran – indeed the whole Shi’ite crescent – is openly hostile and belligerent towards Israel and the West.
In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni Arab monarchies are just as anti-Semitic and anti-West as is the Iranian regime – they are just moreduplicitous and more pragmatic. The ‘election’ of Rouhani indicates that Iran is now opting for strategic duplicity too.
Iran is a highly strategic nation, historically, geographically, linguistically and culturally. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 has brought
nothing but suffering and shame to Iranians, especially for those who do not believe hard-line repressive Islam is compatible with their culture.
Despair is evident in statistics, with the birth-rate below replacement, having plunged from 8.1 at the time of the revolution to 1.6 today.
According to the UN’s official statistics, around 2.2 percent of all adult Iranians are addicted to illicit drugs. This is the highest incidence of drug addiction in the world, and the real figure is doubtless much higher.
Iran’s suicide rate is also constantly climbing – this, in a nation once lauded for its poets, cinematographers, artists and philosophers; a nation once allied to Israel and friendly with the West. Another vital statistic that is on the rise is the number of Iranians who are leaving Islam and embracing Christianity, both inside Iran and throughout the Iranian diaspora. The Lord is definitely doing something new – a new exodus, a transformation (Isaiah 43:16-21).
Meanwhile, converts in Iran are imprisoned on charges of threatening national security. Despised as traitors, they are treated harshly. One such prisoner desperately needing prayer is Maryam Naghash Zargaran (35).
On March 9, 2013, after years of intimidation and harassment, Maryam was sentenced to four years imprisonment in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
Several years ago, Maryam had heart surgery and the stress of recent years has exacerbated her condition. Now in prison, she has suffered a heart attack. Maryam was transferred to hospital on 29 September and is said to be in a critical condition.
Back in Syria, the rebel and opposition forces are fracturing due to infighting. Whilst many Syrian rebels are defecting from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to the al-Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front, many others are defecting from the FSA to the government side, horrified at the prospect of Syria being over-run by international jihadis. Stratfor Intelligence reports that on Monday, October 7, the Syrian Arab Army managed to break through the rebel siege of Aleppo to secure the at-risk, rebel-encircled, Safira defence factories, Syria’s largest chemical weapons facility. The main road between Aleppo and Hama is now open and under government control.
Please pray specifically that:
- the Lord of Hosts will intervene to liberate Syria from those seeking to eliminate Christianity, impose Sharia Law and establish bases for terrorist operations and imperialistic Islamic jihad.
- God will supply all the needs of Syria’s imperilled Christians and they will be sustained, comforted and encouraged; that the siege of Aleppo, which has brought so much suffering to so many Christians, will be over.
- the Lord of Hosts will intervene to liberate Iran from the cleric-led regime that persecutes the Church and suppresses the hope-restoring, life-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- the Holy Spirit will sustain, comfort and encourage all Iran’s imperilled believers, especially Christian prisoners; may God bringpeace, rest and healing to Maryam Naghash Zargaran. ‘But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head.’ (Psalm 3:3 ESV)