Alex Rowell

British Christians: Assad’s accidental friends

 A number of British Christian conservative journalists are misrepresenting the realities on the ground in Syria

While Bashar al-Assad’s Western apologists have traditionally hailed from circles described (or at any rate self-described) as leftist, in recent weeks a new clique of apparatchiks has surfaced from a rather different quarter – the cobwebbed upper crust of British Christian conservatism. A series of reports for such august right-of-center publications as The Telegraph and The Spectator have combined shoddy journalism with vulgar appeals to the tribal emotions of their reactionary Christian readership to dangerously distort the narrative of recent events on the ground in Syria.

Take, for instance, Mary Wakefield’s dispatch from Lebanon for the Spectator in October. Wakefield drives to the border town of al-Qaa to interview Christian refugees from nearby Syrian towns, who recount lurid stories of mass atrocities committed by the Sunni rebels, including one execution with a syringe of diesel by a man muttering, “Die slowly, you Christian dog” (a quote appropriated by Wakefield for her title).

What Wakefield barely mentions, and doesn’t elaborate on, is that these interviews were conducted in the presence of one Dr Bassam El-Hachem, an academic and “big hitter in Lebanon’s FPM party”. As anyone who follows Lebanese politics knows, the FPM is the largest component of the incumbent pro-Damascus March 8 cabinet; a party whose leader has repeatedly described Syria as the most democratic country in the Middle East. And as anyone who has interviewed Syrian refugees knows, they would not dream of expressing pro-opposition sentiment in the presence of a senior party member of one of Assad’s major allies. (So consuming is their fear of the regime that I once saw a group refuse to give their names to UNHCR.)

Later, Wakefield pays a visit to the Melkite Archbishop John Darwish in Zahle (or, as she writes it, “Zhaleh”), who expounds on the rebel “jihadists” and their role in the Israeli conspiracy to partition Syria. More on him later.

Then came Terry Waite’s catastrophic effort in the Telegraph last month, in which he embarked on what he called a “mission of peace” to Hizbullah, his captors for five years during the civil war. He almost exactly emulates Wakefield’s itinerary: first the long drive to al-Qaa “to see for myself the plight of the many Christian refugees”, and then the chat with Archbishop Darwish in Zahle (which Waite proves capable of spelling).

Intriguingly, we learn that Darwish is a “strong backer” of the 2006 Memorandum of Understanding between the FPM and Hizbullah, described gushingly by Waite as “one of the most remarkable developments in Lebanon in recent years […] Christian[s] and Muslims working together for a united Lebanon”. The potential implications of this on Darwish’s opinions of the Syrian conflict are left unexplored by Waite, but it’s not difficult to see how he reaches the conclusion that the Arab Spring “has now been hijacked by extreme jihadists”.

This sentiment continued yesterday in a Guardian piece by Rupert Shortt, religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement whose latest book is titled ‘Christianophobia’. Taking a very dim view of the Arab Spring in general (apparently it has “given way to a Christian winter”), he asserts that Syrian rebels “want all traces of Christian life to be erased”, citing the murder of a priest in Qatana that, we are led to believe, was carried out by Sunni Islamists.


In fact, nothing is known about Father Fadi Haddad’s killers. The regime blamed “terrorists”; the opposition blamed the regime. Like so many of Syria’s “disappeared”, we may never find out the truth. Yet Shortt takes the regime line at face value and portrays the atrocity as typical rebel conduct.

Implicit in all of this is a grotesque form of sectarianism, which sees Christian Syrian refugees as more worthy of sympathy than their vastly more numerous Sunni counterparts (you don’t have to drive all the way to al-Qaa to meet a Syrian refugee). In turn, it insidiously breathes life into the false narrative of Assad as “protector” of the minorities (just as he’s the “protector” of the Palestinians, when he isn’t air-striking their camps) and the last bastion against an Islamist tsunami. This is both an intellectual disservice to readers and a moral insult to those risking death for a freer Syria.


Follow the author on Twitter @disgraceofgod

via telegraph.co.uk

Implicit in all of this is a grotesque form of sectarianism, which sees Christian Syrian refugees as more worthy of sympathy than their vastly more numerous Sunni counterparts

  • Steve Carter

    good piece, true leftists aren't even British

    January 8, 2013