Rebuilding Aleppo means rebuilding links between Christians and Muslims

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The Archbishop of Armenians in Syria’s second-largest city concluded a week-long European tour with a visit to Paris on Wednesday, in which he argued that moving on from a fierce conflict meant fostering ties between communities and faiths.

Monsignor Chahane Sarkissian witnessed first-hand the Battle of Aleppo from its beginning in July 2012 to the intense fighting under siege of Syrian and Russian forces that led to its end on 22 December 2016.

Only about a third of the 45,000 Armenian Christians lived in the city before the conflict began remain today, and Sarkissian described how those who stayed are rebuilding their lives and encouraging others to return.

“We are trying our best to open the schools and then the small and medium businesses to give the Armenian community the possibility to continue there, instead of leaving as refugees to other places, including other parts of the world,” he said.

“We are the people of this country, not just as Christian communities at an ecumenical level, but also with the Muslims. The majority of the population of Syria is Muslim, but we live with them, and we hope to continue our life inside the city and the country.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RFI

What Trump Gets Wrong About Muslim Communities in America

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Following the news of the recent terror attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota, Donald Trump swiftly denounced President Obama’s plan to accept more Syrian refugees into the United States. The Republican nominee’s opportunistic accusation echoed the theme he’d been sounding through the campaign and has repeated each time a terror attack shakes Americans’ sense of security. Trump’s linking of terror to Muslim immigration is simple, blunt and—with a certain crowd—politically effective. It also manages to ignore a critically important fact about the attacks: Neither perpetrator had anything to do with Syria. They weren’t even from Middle Eastern communities.

The two recent attacks were by a Somali-American and an Afghan-American. The fact remains that a Syrian-American has yet to commit a domestic Islamist terror attack anytime in the country’s history, according to an exhaustive cross-checking of the Global Terrorism Database. To Donald Trump, there may be no political difference; his larger theme is fear of Islamic radicals. But in ignoring the facts about just who commits the attacks, he’s also missing one of the most important insights about the problem, and the one that may give us the most powerful tool to think about homegrown terrorists: Even among Muslim communities, radicalization is very unevenly distributed.

FULL ARTICLE FROM POLITICO.COM

SYRIAN THEOLOGIAN: MINORITY IN SYRIA IS DEMOCRATS, LIBERALS OF ALL RELIGIONS

In the Arab world today, secularism, democracy and liberalism are the real minorities, writes Dr.Najib Awad, associate professor of Christian theology and the director of the International PhD Program at the Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut.

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In this article, originally published in Arabic in Lebanon’s Al-Mustaqbel daily, Awad makes the case for a new definition of minitory, “one that transcends religion, sect and ethnicity.” In Syria, he says, democrats, liberals and secularists are being “minoritized,” not due to religious affiliations or convictions, but because they are trying to develop a value system that differs from the prevalent norms.

Rooting his argument in French philosophy, Awad argues that “anyone who refused to shape their life and values according to the norms created and enforced by the Syrian regime was transformed into a ‘minority.’” 

Translation courtesy of Syria Direct’s Gavi Barnhard.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, both Syrians and international observers have been discussing the future of its minorities. Specifically, there is a new discourse among non-Sunni Muslims in Syria, primarily among Christians and Alawites, in which these groups do not identify with the Syrian people, but rather as minorities.

Syrian Christians have begun to reduce themselves to mere minorities in need of protection from the inevitable persecution that is to result if the regime falls. Even social media in these Syrian Christian communities indicate the prevalence of this minority discourse. Western and Arab countries that support the revolution see the Christians and the Alawites in Syria as “minorities” and reduce this complicated issue into a simple matter of “protection.”

From my observation, it doesn’t seem that anyone can actually explain what they mean by “minorities” in the Syrian context. It seems to me that everyone is working with the assumption that there is a single, agreed-upon meaning, however, I’m not sure that they realize that the meaning varies depending on its political, sociological and philosophical connotations.

In sociology and anthropology, “minority” can be defined by ethnicity, race, gender, sex, or age. However, the term carries very different meanings in a philosophical context. In modern philosophy, French philosopher Gills Deleuze and French psychiatrist Felix Guattari suggest that the term ‘minority’ suggests a state of flux, a process of becoming or happening: something which people transform into, or become, due to specific social, intellectual and ethical factors that “minoritize” them.

FULL ARTICLE FROM SYRIA DIRECT 

Christian photographer left Syria and Islam, writes book about his road from Damascus

13464616-largeBIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Karim Shamsi-Basha spent his childhood in Damascus, Syria, and when he tells that to Christians, they ask if he knew the road to Damascus where the Apostle Paul converted to Christianity.

Shamsi-Basha grew up a Muslim, so for a long time he didn’t know what they were talking about. “I would say, ‘Yes, we have roads in Damascus.'” Finally someone told him he should read about Paul in the Book of Acts.

“The first time I read the ninth chapter of Acts, I said, ‘Whoa! That’s where I grew up,'” Shamsi-Basha said. “Syria is throughout the Old Testament too. Damascus was Damascus before the Bible was the Bible.”

Karim Shamsi-Basha tells his story in “Paul and Me: A Journey from the Damascus Road, from Islam to Christ.”

Now Shamsi-Basha has written a book about leaving Syria, and about leaving Islam. It’s called “Paul and Me: A Journey to and from the Damascus Road, From Islam to Christ.”

He has found his own road away from Damascus, but in many ways his heart is still in Syria. His home country has been wracked by civil war for the past two years. President Barack Obama has threatened a military attack in retaliation for Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons. That has been on hold as Russia negotiates with Syria to get the government to surrender its chemical weapons.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL.COM

Christians, Muslims Coexist Amid Chaos in Syria

General view of 1,500-year-old Saidnaya monastery, near Damascus, during light-up of 35-metre tall Christmas treeBy: Tareq al-Abed Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).

Al-Qalamoun’s towns might be a model for peace and coexistence. It is here where people confront strife and where everyone stands together against the dangers that beset their homes and the region in general — from al-Tal, to Rankous, Saidnaya, Maaloula, Jirod, al-Qatifa, Yabrud, Nabak and Deir Attieh. These cities are quiet, but solid as a rock. They gave the world the Aramaic language, and to this day there are monasteries and historic churches in Saidnaya, Maaloula and Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi in Nabak. Those towns, along with neighboring towns in Lebanon, gave South America prominent leaders, such as former Argentine president Carlos Menem, originally from Yabrud.

Reaching Yabrud is not easy, as it is not off the highway that connects Damascus and Homs. This highway has been the site of clashes between the regime army and the opposition. Yabrud, a quiet town with a population of about 40,000, has succeeded in distancing itself from the lawlessness that has affected most of the country. There are no government soldiers in Yabrud. They are stationed on the road leading to town, which suffers from a lack of electricity, communications and fuel. Even so, Yabrud seems well organized. Its judicial body is able to resolve disputes, and its courts and the police are also functional. The armed opposition is abiding by the directives of the town council, so the town has succeeded in controlling the so-called revolution’s merchants — those who have taken advantage of the situation for their own interests. The town’s inhabitants refuse to replace one tyrant with another. It is worth noting that there is no trace whatsoever of tensions between Muslims and Christians in the town, despite the chaos that has jolted the country.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE MONITOR