In my last post, I briefly introduced the different communions that make up Mideast Christianity and described their historical treatment under classical Islamic law. For many centuries, Islam tolerated Christians as dhimmis, minorities subject to a notional agreement that allowed them to live in Muslim society as long as they accepted a subordinate status and did not challenge Muslim authority. Yet, as I mentioned, the dhimmi restrictions no longer apply as a formal matter in most of the Mideast, not since the 19th century, when the Ottoman Empire enacted a set of reforms known as the Tanzimat, instigated by European powers, which gave Christians legal equality. In most of the Mideast today, as a formal matter, Christians and Muslims have equal rights. So what explains the violent persecution Mideast Christians now suffer—nothing short of a genocide in some places?
The last page of this brief but powerful book displays a portrait of its author, Patrick Cockburn. His world-weary demeanor speaks volumes about the gravity of the subject—the unexpectedly sudden, meteoric rise in Syria and Iraq of sundry Islamist terror groups, of which the most brutal went until recently by the acronym of ISIS. The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria even more recently contracted its name to Islamic State so as to indicate that it has now become a global caliphate to which all Muslims should give their fealty. Cockburn, the Baghdad-based Middle East correspondent of the British newspaper…
The President of France, M. François Hollande, has spoken repeatedly of ‘punishing’ Syria. It is not easy to know precisely what he means by this, since he has also stated that the object of such punishment would not be to overthrow a regime whose one object appears to be to remain in power at all costs, among other reasons in order to avoid just punishment (for its extreme brutality is certainly of no recent date). This regime seems also to have no qualms about inflicting death upon the citizenry under its jurisdiction, so a little collateral damage consequent upon symbolic bombing will hardly cause it to change heart. It is difficult, indeed, to see what purpose M. Hollande’s punishment could possibly serve, other than the relief of the virtuous feelings of M. Hollande himself.
President Obama lost the US-Syria war of 2013 before firing a shot. He did it by leaving no doubt that he had not thought through what he meant to accomplish by attacking Syria, nor what effect the attack would have, nor what the consequences of the attack would be, nor how he planned to deal with those consequences. His departure from the common sense of war and peace was so stark, so unmistakable, that it forced the American people to confront that common sense as they had not done for a hundred years.
Who wins and loses in Syria’s civil war is not in our interest and is beyond our control. Because that has been obvious since that war started two years ago, the American people’s consensus has been that the US government should steer clear of it. Now the Obama Administration seems to have decided to help the rebels, conveying its decision to the public indirectly and framing it in generalities: ending the slaughter and asserting America’s role in the region. But since its intervention cannot decide the struggle, it can only diminish America’s influence.