Syria’s Christians are finding it’s easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive their erstwhile friend, Uncle Sam.
Virginia state senator Richard Black traveled to Syria last week on a three-day trip last week to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and highlight a series of American policy missteps that are helping to annihilate Christianity in Syria.
Sen. Black isn’t the only one concerned over the threatened elimination of Christians in the Middle East via an ongoing US policy of overthrowing foreign governments and replacing them with al-Qaeda-laced jihadists who oppose democracy and human rights. Other US officials such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), share Black’s alarm.
Such stumbles are giving rise to perceptions that the US is secretly supporting ISIS and al-Qaeda. In April, the Military Times reported that one in three Iraqis think the US is supporting ISIS, while the Washington Post reported that 90% of Iraqis regard the US as an enemy.
What happened to western values?
As the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman noted, “our policy has consisted of funneling weapons to Syrian and foreign opponents of the Assad government, some of whom rival our worst enemies in their fanaticism and savagery.
Adding fuel to the fire are the still classified 28 pages of the 9/11 report regarding Saudi Arabia’s alleged role in the attack on the Twin Towers. Mideast Christians have also come to regard the US and its allies as serving a Saudi agenda to export extremist Arab Gulf Wahhabism to the Mediterranean, while extinguishing religious minorities.
In a September 2015 Catholic Herald article, Ed West observed “there is something especially sinister about the way our governments have followed a Wahhabi-led scheme to overthrow a secular dictatorship, a revolution that would almost certainly endanger Christians in the land of St. Paul”— in reference to the biblical Apostle Paul who spread Christianity from the cradle of Syria out to the western world in the first century.
Indeed, it was the history of Syria and its centrality to Christianity that prompted Assad on March 2, 2009 to premier the film “Damascus,” about the life of the Apostle Paul — three years before the Arab Spring. Amazed by the role of Christianity in Syria’s lineage, Assad publicly showed the film in the Damascus Opera House with over 1,100 Muslim clerics, and senior Syrian government officials, journalists, business leaders in attendance.
The film was written, produced and directed entirely by Syrian Protestant Christians. Several years later, in the midst of the current murderous upheaval, these same Christians would turn to Assad to protect them from western-backed jihadists.
The US and its allies unleashed Wahhabis into Syria by supporting an offensive by the al-Nusra-laced Free Syrian Army (FSA) in 2013. During a battle between government forces and the FSA in the Christian town of Maaloula, a Christian addressed the BBC cameraman with these piercing words: “Tell the Europeans and the Americans that we sent you St. Paul 2,000 years ago to take you from the darkness, and you sent us terrorists to kill us.”
Perceptions that Washington is backing Islamic extremists is reinforced by US government treatment of Syrian Christians when they ask for help. In 2014, Syrian Christian leaders met with US officials to warn that the “rebels” they are backing are infested with al-Qaeda and other extremists. Sen. John McCain used the occasion to yell at them and storm out of the room. The incident prompted Sen. Lindsey Graham to quickly apologize on his behalf.
Further evidence that US officials backed FSA members who later joined ISIS and Al Qaeda reinforces this view.
Moreover, the US media also appears to be complicit in supporting the extremists. They largely remained silent when in 2013, the FSA aligned itself with al-Nusra to conduct the massacre of 45 Christian men, women and children in the town of Sadad. It was a town where they still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ.
Two years later, when Islamic extremist group ISIS threatened to exterminate Christians in Sadad, there was a reaction. This time a coalition of Syrians — Christians, Muslims, and Alawites — all rushed to fight together as one to defend Sadad and their pluralistic society against foreign-backed jihadists in their country.
Obliterating Mideast Christians
Desperate, “cradle” Christians from the Mideast partnered with retired Congressman Frank Wolf last June to feature a film at the National Press Club to highlight the issue of genocide, Christians, and the mute acceptance of evil.
Named “Sing a Little Louder,” this 12-minute film is based on the true story of an old man who remembers the horrors of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, and the passivity of his parents, pastor, and fellow Christians in the face of ultimate evil.
In the film a train carrying Jews to concentration camps breaks down in front of a church. The worshipers inside could hear the captive Jews banging on the inside of their car, screaming for help. But not one heeded the distressed calls of their fellow human beings, and instead the pastor raised his voice to preach his sermon, and then instructed the choir and congregation to sing a little louder to drown out the wailing prisoners.
Now, as the ceasefire breaks down and US-backed jihadi rebels indiscriminately shell West Aleppo, Syrian civilians, and especially Christians, have realized they are alone and that America is not on their side.
On Palm Sunday, as rebel shells rained down and exploded around them, Syria’s beleaguered Christians — even terrified little girls with tears streaming down their face — continued to worship and pray in the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul — singing their swan song as they slowly face extinction in the cradle of Christianity.
In the US and elsewhere in the world, it seems everyone will just sing a little louder.
Except … China.
What isn’t reported in mainstream media is that China, which is currently experiencing the largest Christian movement in the world, is marching westwards to help.
Help comes from the East
Though the Chinese Communist Party is the largest explicitly atheist organization in the world with 85 million official numbers, this is being overshadowed by an estimated 130 million Christians in China. Growing by an average of 10% a year since 1980, Yang Fenggang of Purdue University estimates there will be 250 million Christians by 2030, making China’s Christian population the largest in the world. Several million of them are members of the Chinese Communist Party.
And as Christianity surges in China, especially among the unregistered underground house churches, a movement has welled up in its midst — the “Back to Jerusalem” movement. It originated in the 1900s among Chinese missionaries who had a vision to spread the Gospel from the east coast of China through landlocked Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim lands, until it reached the place where Christianity was first born — back to Jerusalem.
David Aikman, a former Time magazine Beijing bureau chief, first reported on this phenomenon in his 2003 book, Jesus in Beijing.
Aikman documented how Christianity was transforming China and changing the global balance of power. He noted how Christianity has won over key members of the Chinese Communist Party with the prospect of China becoming the West’s next ally against radical Islam.
As the West has become increasingly secular and western missionaries have dwindled, Chinese missionaries are riding the waves of China’s rise and reaching the far corners of the globe. They have also entered areas not easily accessible to westerners such as Sudan, Iran, North Korea and Syria.
Back to Jerusalem teams have already established a presence in these countries for several years. They have provided humanitarian relief, health and medical services. They also have built infrastructure, served as interpreters and ministered to persecuted people. Many are the products of Arabic language programs or have been trained by Arabic-speaking Christians to carry out their work in the Islamic world.
When asked whether they were fearful of facing persecution themselves and perhaps martyred for their efforts in this region, they collectively respond “no.” The Chinese Christians say they had been trained to deal with persecution within Communist China for several decades, and are well prepared to carry out their missions — especially in autocratic and Muslim countries.
So while cradle Christians in Iraq and Syria feel that the West has abandoned them, an unlikely source of help is materializing from the East, as China marches on the Silk Road back to Jerusalem.
 http://www.christianvoice.org.uk/index.php/mccain-temper-tantrum/; ‘GOP Senator Apologizes for McCain Tantrum at Syrian Christian Leaders Meeting’, Judicial Watch, February 5, 2014, http://www.judicialwatch.org/blog/2014/02/gop-sen-apologizes-for-mccain-tantrum-at-syrian-christian-leader-meeting/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter ; Ruth Sherlock, “Syrian Christians: ‘Help us to stay-stop arming terrorists’, Telegraph, November 22, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/11247798/Syrian-Christians-Help-us-to-stay-stop-arming-terrorists.html
 Chris Queen, “Muslims and Christians Work Together to Battle ISIS”, PJ Media, November 12, 2015; “Christians, Muslims, Assad Troops fight as one to defend Biblical town from ISIS”, Brietbart, November 12, 2015.
Dr. Christina Lin is a Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University where she specializes in China-Middle East/Mediterranean relations, and a research consultant for Jane’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Intelligence Centre at IHS Jane’s.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.
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