I have just returned from Syria. Over the space of a couple of days our group drove from Damascus to Lattakia to Homs and back to Damascus – all without harassment or signs of imminent violence. The contrast with my last trip – almost exactly a year earlier – could not have been greater!
Last year Damascus seemed under siege! The red glow of mortar fire filled the horizon every night and when members of our delegation tried to leave town in the direction of Homs their car was fired upon! A year ago the mood everywhere was tense and fearful, but now the Syrian people seemed to have a new strength and confidence. The battle was nearly over, and Syria was going to win!
This is certainly how the Syrians we met perceived the war. They don’t see it as a civil war at all. They see a foreign invasion, led by the US and its client states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel and Turkey. As Syria enters its third year of bloody conflict and as the number of actual Syrians in the anti-Assad alliance becomes an increasingly small percentage, this interpretation looks increasingly compelling.
Of course our delegation included a good number of us ‘Westerners’ which made things uncomfortable at times! “Why do you want to destroy us?” people asked. Why indeed?
Thankfully most of those who asked such questions were also wise enough to realise that we were in Syria precisely because we did not accept the official narrative of the Western media – that the rebels are Robin Hood and his merry men trying to topple the evil prince. We recognised that the war in Syria had far more complex causes, rooted in the economic threat posed by Iran to the other main players in the region.
Note that I speak of Iran’s ‘economic threat’ and not ‘existential threat’. Despite all rhetoric to the contrary, this war has always been about nothing more than money. It’s a battle between business magnates who seek to control oil and gas flow across the region. The Syrian people are simply the canon-fodder who pay the price of corporate greed.
Of course the average Syrian doesn’t understand all this and neither is the average Syrian interested in issues of global hegemony. She just wants to get on with her life and bring up her family in an environment that is stable and secure. The Syrian people are sick of the violence. Even those with a passion for political reform recognise that nothing constructive can happen until the violence ceases. And this is why the people cling to Bashar Al-Assad even if they don’t particularly love the man. He offers a return to normalcy and peace whereas his takfiri opponents offer only a return to the Caliphate!
Syrians want peace, and the religion of the takfiri has never had any place in Syrian culture, and this is why the whole rebellion could collapse any day like a house of cards! I appreciate that analysts everywhere are saying that there is no end in sight for the conflict and that it could drag on for years to come but this is because they focus on logistics and on the policies of the foreign interventionists. What they fail to take into account is the strength of the resolve of the Syrian people!
The Syrians are a proud people. They don’t want to be controlled by foreign empires and they don’t want their culture of pluralism and religious tolerance destroyed. Whatever problems Syrians might have with the Assad government, it is their independence and way of life that is at stake in this conflict and so it is only a matter of time before Syrians of all political persuasions join hands to push out the foreign invaders!
This process is already well underway. We met a Sheikh Tahhan in Lattakia who is a much sought-after man by members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Homs. He is the go-to guy for those who want to take advantage of the government’s armistice – guaranteeing protection from prosecution to those who will hand over their arms! There were FSA fighters trickling into the peace camp like this when I was in Damascus last year. Now that trickle has become a steady flow!
Sheikh Tahhan with Mother Agnes Mariam and a former FSA fighter
The Sheikh had three former-fighters with him when he met us, each of whom seemed very happy to be out of the fight. Tahhan’s report though was more encouraging still – that the entire FSA garrison in Homs might be on the verge of laying down their arms! If this happens it will doubtless start a chain-reaction. Syrian rebels everywhere will abandon their foreign-led battalions and come back to their families, and once this happens the end will come quickly.
Of course on paper the forces of Jabhat Al Nusra and ISIS and the other foreign jihadists could still put up a fight for years to come, but once the Syrian people unite the writing will be on the wall and these takfiri will lose their financial backers. Once the money dries up the violence will stop.
For it is the bottom line that is the bottom line in the Syrian conflict. In the end it is all about money and so it can only last so long as foreign investors are willing to pour their cash into it. Once Syrians unite to throw out the takfiri the whole venture will start to look like a very poor investment and so the rebellion will collapse like a house of cards!
My hope and prayer is that this will happen within months, maybe even within weeks! Certainly I don’t expect to see another year end with jihadists decorating trees with the severed heads of Christians in mock celebration of Christmas. The strength and resolve of the Syrian people will not allow this sort of barbarity to subsume their culture. A ceasefire is on the horizon, after which will begin the more lengthy process of national reconciliation.
Father Dave Smith B.A. (Hons), B.Th., Dip. A.
Parish Priest, Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill
Managing Director, Fighting Fathers Ministries
President, Friends of Sabeel, Australia
Member of the 2014 International Pilgrimage of Peace to Syria
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Contact Person: Fathe Dave Smith