Photo: Syrian refugees rest after crossing into Jordan with their families in February. (CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Even as the two year Civil War continues to bring death and division in Syria, there are signs that representatives of some sides in the conflict are open to negotiation and perhaps some agreement leading to peace. This is a good development, one that both popes, Benedict and Francis, have been urging. The Syrian Catholic Patriarch, Joseph Younan, a longtime personal friend and wise head of his Church, offered some comments that should be heeded.

He noted that Syria is “the victim of a geopolitical strategy being carried out by western nations,” including our own.  He correctly reminded us that “two years ago he and others had warned the west that this kind of violence would lead to chaos. From the beginning the western nations stood against the regime, calling it a dictatorship and saying the dictatorship must fall. Twentyfive months later the conflict is getting worse and the ones paying the price are innocent people.”

The Patriarch is not in favor or against the regime. But ousting the regime and imposing fundamentalist groups will lead to the excesses of the Arab Spring as seen in Libya or Egypt. He points as well to today’s Iraq as a potential future for Syria.

In the midst of all the violence from both the regime and from rebel groups of various stripes including Al Quada and Sunni extremists, Christians in Syria find themselves the most vulnerable. Internecine hatreds among various Muslim groups leave the Christian minority at the mercy of any and all sides in this conflict. One glaring example speaks for all: two bishops. one Greek Orthodox and one Syrian Orthodox trying to protect some of their flock in the northern area of Syria controlled by the rebels were hijacked by Chechen mercenaries last month and then handed over to Syrian rebels who continue to keep them in custody and away from their homes and their people.

The Patriarch is critical of western nations who have encouraged one side in this conflict acting “in the name of the so-called awakening of democracy. So called western democracy cannot be exported to countries that still look at religion as a base for ruling their regimes or political life.”

In my own judgment, I have been convinced for some time in favor of the position the Patriarch has taken. If the west, including the United States, and Russia had all left this to Syria and Syrians, it would have to be settled by forces native to that area of the Middle East. If our government and others had not taken public sides announcing that the rebels were right and the regime had to be deposed when they did not even know who the rebels are, perhaps the violence might have been contained regardless of who would have prevailed. With the Patriarch, I would never defend the actions of the Syrian regime. But neither can anyone who is sober and realistic deny that the rebels constitute at least as great a threat to a peaceful Syria where all, including Syrian Christians, can live in peace.

I make my own the Patriarch’s words. “We keep praying for peace and the liberation of all kidnapped.”

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