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When Dictators Fall, Who Rises?

One month before the invasion of Iraq, Riah Abu el-Assal, a Palestinian and the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem at the time, warned Tony Blair, “You will be responsible for emptying Iraq, the homeland of Abraham, of Christians.”

The bishop proved a prophet. “After almost 2,000 years,” writes the Financial Times, “Iraqi Christians now openly contemplate extinction. Some of their prelates even counsel flight.”

The secular despot Saddam Hussein protected the Christians. But the U.S. liberation brought on their greatest calamity since the time of Christ. Scores of thousands of those Iraqi Christians fleeing terrorism and persecution after 2003 made their way to Syria, where they received sanctuary from President Bashar Assad.

Now, as the FT and Washington Post report, the Christians of Syria, whose forebears have lived there since the time of Christ, are facing a pogrom should the Damascus regime fall.

Christians are 10 percent of Syria’s population, successful and closely allied to the minority Alawite regime of the Assad family. Said one Beirut observer, “Their fear is that if the regime falls to the Sunni majority, they will be put up against the same wall as the Alawites.”

For decades, notes the Post, the Assad regime “has protected Christian interests by enforcing its strictly secular program and by curbing the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad, slaughtered perhaps 20,000 followers of the brotherhood after they began a campaign of bombings and terror and attempted an uprising in Hama in 1982. Hafez al-Assad rolled up his artillery and leveled the city.

Observing the toll of dead protesters — more than 100 this past weekend, more than 200 overall, the work of police, snipers and agents of the regime — it is hard to summon up any sympathy for Bashar Assad. And if his regime were to fall, that would eliminate a patron of Hamas and Hezbollah and a close ally of Iran in the Arab world.

But before he embraces the Syrian revolution, President Barack Obama ought to consider, as President George W. Bush did not, what happens to Arab Christians when a long-repressed Muslim majority comes to power.

In Iraq, liberated Shiites used their newfound freedom to cleanse Baghdad of Sunnis while al-Qaida arrived and went straight after the Christians. In Syria, it would be a Sunni majority rising if Bashar and the Alawites were to fall.

What would that mean for Syria’s Christians, for peace, for us?

Since 1973, even when clashes have occurred and wars have been fought in Lebanon between Israelis and Syria or its proxies, the Assad government has maintained the truce on the Golan Heights.

Would a Sunni-dominated Syria do the same?

With the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt have come Islamist attacks on Coptic Christians. How will the Copts fare if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the September election and writes Shariah into Egyptian law?

In “The Price of Revolution” a half-century ago, D.W. Brogan inventoried the costs of the revolutions that so often intoxicate secular Western man.

The French Revolution led to regicide, the September Massacres, the Terror, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Catholics in the Vendee region of France, and almost two decades of Napoleonic wars.

The abdication of Czar Nicholas II led to the dictatorship of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, who would effect the murder of 1,000 times more victims than did the Spanish Inquisition in 300 years. And among the Bolshevik murder victims were the czar, his wife and his five children.

Fifteen years after the hated Kaiser, ruler of the Second Reich, abdicated, a proud veteran of his army, Adolf Hitler, established a Third Reich.

No altar-and-throne regime ever compiled a record of horror to match those of the French and Russian revolutions — or those of Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and Pol Pot.

When the Shah of Iran fell, within a year we had the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Americans have welcomed the “Arab Spring.” Yet we should be forewarned that among those liberated when dictators fall is the sort of men that Edmund Burke described:

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. … Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

Americans, who incarcerate 2.3 million of their own citizens, 90 percent of them males, are surely aware of the truth Burke spoke.

And across the Middle East, there are millions of “intemperate minds” that would use the freedom and power democracy provides to majorities to suppress or eradicate their long-hated rival minorities.

If one-man, one-vote democracy across the Maghreb and Middle East is almost certain to strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood and to liberate Islamists to persecute Christians, why are we for it?

When did this idol of modernity called democracy, in which none of our fathers believed, become a golden calf we all must fall down and worship?

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#1 Comment By TomB On April 25, 2011 @ 5:33 pm

Well, fresh off of just savaging The Shrub in another comment I should shut up, but I can’t help observing that here might be yet another laurel that the Sage of Crawford can proudly wear: The Enabler of the extinction of countless, ancient Middle East Christian communities.

Wonder if he uses fire when he’s down there clearing brush: The effect of his political decisions more and more resembles a scorching of the earth as well.

Good column by Buchanan: At least someone cares for the ME Christians.

#2 Comment By Liberaltarian On April 25, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

Yes it is extremely sad and unfortunate for the small minority of Christians still remaining in the ME. But ultimately, why should Americans care? Quite seriously, could someone please explain to me why Americans, Christian and non-Christian, care about a tiny religious minority on the opposite side of the planet, and more importantly, if we do care, what are we going to do about it?

#3 Comment By Canadian On April 26, 2011 @ 12:53 am

The main difference between Iraq and the rest of the Arab world, is the lack of the American troops.
Christians in Iraq suffered because of Al Qaida, who found a welcoming ground because of foreign troops.
The analogy does not hold water

#4 Comment By Phyllis Buckman On April 26, 2011 @ 5:58 am

I care when any of my brothers and sisters in Christ suffer. I care when anyone suffers. I am a Christian.

#5 Comment By ED. K. On April 26, 2011 @ 6:00 am

Great article, As a Christian from the ME I 100% agree with Pat. The British are the biggest enemies to Christians of the middle east. They are the ones behind creating the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the late 19th early 20th century and spreading that ideology in the Arab world. London still moves all those shadowy militant Muslim groups in Iraq, Syria and Northern Lebanon. I pray that Syria stops them and expose them for what they are.

#6 Comment By Old Whig On April 26, 2011 @ 6:01 am

What do we do about it? How about just not make things worse.


#7 Comment By Prasad On April 26, 2011 @ 6:42 am

The U.S. and other countries have to do something to stop this destruction and killing in Syria otherwise the Syrian forces will so many people who fight against them so the Syrian government leaders should be punished.

#8 Comment By buck On April 26, 2011 @ 10:03 am

The U.S. needs to bring our troops home and build a defense system according to the Constitution. If other countries attack us HERE they will never live to tell about it. That is how it should be. And while we are at it how about protecting our own borders as the Constitution points out not the borders of Iraq.

Speak softly and carry a big stick would be good advise for these knuckleheads in D.C. to abide by. NOT stick your freaking nose everywhere it does not belone and making yet more enemies in on the global scene.

#9 Comment By Leon On April 26, 2011 @ 10:28 am

Yes. Close all the bases, bring all the troops home, and spend the capital resources saved to more quickly develop scramjet technology and other sophisticated weaponry for drones. And only use these if and when real interests of the U.S. are at play, including discretionary applications to affect outcomes in totalitarian contexts.

But what our founders saw of ‘democracy’ and deeds done in its name in the French Revolution is not necessarily what is occurring in movements we are witnessing today.

The U.S. cannot escape having global interests, since we live in a global age. I can not believe that Jefferson and Madison would not have maintained fundamental principles but sought wise ways to extend their application.

#10 Comment By Insightful Ilias On April 26, 2011 @ 11:03 am

The problem is that we mistake mere elections for what we term and know as democracy.
Elections are merely ways for the people to decide who they want to be their dictators and to toss out former dictators for different dictators.
Without the value of self restraint, personal responsilbity, and a general concept of both a sense of community, a strong means to keep the economic, political, religious, and social elite reigned in, and that the community and the individual being are worthy of equal respect then that is all you get. Elections that are called part of the democratic process rather than a substitute for it.

#11 Comment By Leon On April 26, 2011 @ 11:27 am

Once liberty is given its head, it tends towards encouraging autonomy, responsibility, and accountability. These traits are ultimately antithetical to all autocrats. As the old adage puts it: liberty tends to police itself.

Women and men who value liberty sooner or latter realize that good habits or virtues conserve the conditions for liberty and create such for others.

Virtue and restraint ultimately flow from liberty. If you believe that most people need an elite to tutor them in virtue before they can exercise liberty, then you may as well support autocrats and statists.

But wherever people aspire to liberty, even if they overly identify it with the political instrument of elections, they will eventually disavow its caricatures and elitist tyrants who rape the common good for their own interests.

Finite resources will always require the U.S. to use great discretion and prudence when investing support, whether political or in any form, to promote liberty.

But such promotion is ultimately in our interest because it accords with our deepest held principles.

#12 Comment By Jane Marple On April 26, 2011 @ 11:27 am

Liberatlarian wrote: “Quite seriously, could someone please explain to me why Americans, Christian and non-Christian, care about a tiny religious minority on the opposite side of the planet, and more importantly, if we do care, what are we going to do about it?”

You’re talking about Israel, right?

#13 Comment By Jane Marple On April 26, 2011 @ 11:29 am

Prasad wrote: “The U.S. and other countries have to do something to stop this destruction and killing in Syria otherwise the Syrian forces will so many people who fight against them so the Syrian government leaders should be punished.”

And after Syria, we’ll begin bombing Yemen, followed by Bahrain and then Saudi Arabia. On to Mecca and Medina!

#14 Comment By Dmitry Aleksandrovich On April 26, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

Long live Bashar al Asad and may God grant him victory over the US backed and Saudi sponsored Wahhabists. As Pat pointed out this man took in Iraqi Christians when they were being ethnically cleansed from Iraq when the US was turning them away. Might I add that it was the US invasion and occupation of Iraq that made the local Christians a favorite target of the Islamists. May God bless Asad and may he curse the American government, their foreign policy and their Wahhabist pals in Saudi Arabia and the schills for AIPAC in the US government. No War Against Syria for Israel! Christ is Risen! Al Maset’h Ahm!

#15 Comment By KurtH On April 27, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

OK so I’m confused. I don’t want to see any group cleansed. They lived amongst their neighbors for a thousand years, I’d like to see them continue to do so. Christians have a tough enough time in the Middle East without causing more issues for them. Having said that, is that how the political structure & preferred leadership of the local countries is being judged? How the local Christians are treated? If that is the case, that is completely at odds with how the conservative community treats the Christians of Israel (and the West Bank). You know, the Original Christians, the First Christians…the Palestinians.

Also, it would seem to me that supporting a popular movement that should lead to democratic rule over an autocratic structure is much more a conservative ideal than supporting the dictator. How is it that some here are preferring dictators to the local people?

I know the Iraqi’s wiped out the Christian communities. Thankfully the Egyptians have not gone that route. On NPR this morning they were talking about how the Syrian Christian community isn’t sure which way to go because of what happened in Iraq. It leaves me with quite a dilemma, supporting freedom vs supporting a dictator. There has to be another solution, I just don’t know what that would be.

#16 Comment By Ed Marimba On April 27, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

Leon makes an important point about the qualities necessary for liberty. However I see it in the reverse order: the capacity for autonomy, responsibility, accountability, prudence and an enduring moral order must exist in order for liberty to succeed. That is why acquiring and keeping liberty is so difficult, if not impossible. If one believes in liberty without order, that one is a libertarian.

The nattering numbskulls in the leftist (mainstream) press have been all atwitter in recent months over the presumed “democracies” which will supplant the various overthrown governments in Arabia. However none of these nations will have a chance at democracy, and if they did it would serve as only a transition to another totalitarian form– which democracy always does.

To suppose that these nations have the understanding or the ability to form a representative republic with a constitution whose purpose is to limit the tyranny of the state is beyond fancy.

I’ve forgotten who said (perhaps Burke or Kirk) that the U.S. Constitution is not for export. That very wise statement certainly applies to the Arab states.

#17 Comment By Leon On April 28, 2011 @ 10:59 am

Agreed, Ed. You can’t export the U.S. Constitution. It’s unique to this polity, and this polity is, in truth, the only one that really in principle is a (potential) uniting of all the nations of the earth into one political order. It is unique and its principles make it so.

There’s an old saying that no man who is able to exercise liberty who wishes to be enslaved.

Sure, movements to throw off autocratic regimes are often enough hijacked by factions who want to put themselves in the place of the previously privileged autocrats. And there are always sufficient people among movements to overthrow oppressive governments who are deluded about what liberty really implies.

My point is just that wherever there is any true aspiration to exercise liberty you will find people who already have the disposition(s) for virtue to promote, conserve, and expand it.

And where responsible liberty is promoted politically, according to principles adapted to the culture in which it is implanted, it will tend to flourish, no matter how often even occasional bad mistakes or failures occur for the relatively short term. In the long term, the promotion, conservation, and expansion of liberty only encourages responsibility and virtue, which in turn, reinforce a proper use of liberty.