Gerald Warner: Christian martyrs forgotten in Syria’s OK Corral

Syrian soldiers pictured in the al-Midan area of Damascus. Picture: AFP
Syrian soldiers pictured in the al-Midan area of Damascus. Picture: AFP
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THE Syrian narrative is clear-cut. On one side of the conflict is the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, waging war against its own people, torturing, raping, killing women and children without compunction and imminently facing overthrow.

On the other side is the Free Syrian Army, representative of the population, inadequately armed but fighting gallantly, against daunting odds, to destroy tyranny and establish democracy and human rights.

Such is the picture painted by the BBC, the Coalition government and all the usual suspects drawn from the progressive consensus. The media have applied the simplistic imagery of an old Hollywood Western to the politics of the Middle East: the goodies in the white hats are the ­Syrian rebels; the baddies in black hats are the Syrian Army and Shabiha militia. If the goodies win, the outcome will be a sort of Lib Dem/Green government in Damascus.

The nastiness of the Assad regime has been rehearsed sufficiently to require no further elaboration. What has gone largely unrehearsed is the equivalent nastiness of the rebels and the infinitely worse prospects for Syria under their chaotic and murderous control, entailing an infinity of bloody and sectarian civil war, with the extermination of certain minorities an openly avowed objective. The Free Syrian Army is an illusion. There are at least 20 major militias contending for power in the north of the country alone. Their atrocities rival those of the regime. They include such japes as releasing prisoners to drive off in booby-trapped cars which then explode at army checkpoints.

The sophisticated policy the rebels have adopted is to commit atrocities and then doctor the facts to make them look like the work of Assad’s forces. In this way they not only contrive to commit murder with impunity but also gain from increased international revulsion against the regime. A classic example was the notorious Houla massacre in May, described by UN envoy Kofi Annan as the “tipping point” in the Syrian crisis, when 100 people, mainly women and children, were killed, allegedly by government forces. In reaction, Britain expelled the Syrian ambassador, as did France, Germany, the United States and other Western nations. Only last month did the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung publish evidence that the victims were Alawite and Shia Muslims murdered by Sunni militiamen.

The photograph published by the BBC purporting to show the mass grave of supposed victims of Assad’s forces at Houla turned out to be a picture taken in Iraq a decade ago by photographer Marco Di Lauro of Getty Images. Not until last March did Human Rights Watch admit that Syrian rebels are guilty of kidnappings, torture and executions. Execution of prisoners is known as “sending them to Cyprus”. Alex Thomson, of Channel 4 News, has exposed the attempt by rebels to lure him into a situation where he was likely to be killed by the Syrian army, in the hope that the death of a Western journalist would embarrass the Assad regime and induce Russia and China to withdraw support. Yet the United States and Nato are openly supportive of these forces of anarchy. Many of them are militant Islamists: the al-Qaeda flag is frequently flown by rebel militias.

Western support for the “Arab Spring” is cretinous. Tunisia, the first domino, is now introducing Sharia law. Egypt is on the cusp of falling into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. In Libya, the British media and foreign secretary hailed the ­recent election result as a victory for ­secularists because they won 40 of 80 ­parliamentary seats allocated to political parties; but only when parliament meets will the 120 “independent” candidates, many of them Islamists, show their hand. With a record like that, support for further destabilisation in Syria is perverse.

Especially targeted for genocide are ­Syria’s Christians, who include the last small enclave speaking Aramaic, the ­language of Christ. Rebel jihadists have sacked Christian churches; photographic evidence shows a militiaman dressed in looted priestly vestments, resembling a scene from Spain in 1936. The Brigade of Islam, a Wahhabi group, killed Christians in Damascus during the rebels’ occupation of the capital. In the town of Qusayr, the last remaining Christian inhabitants out of 10,000 formerly resident have fled. In April, 50,000 Christians were expelled from Homs.

Who cares? Christians are not a fashionable minority. In 2,000 years of Christianity there have been 70 million Christian martyrs, 45 million of them in the 20th century. Today the martyrdom rate worldwide is 105,000 a year, or one killing every five minutes. It is a measure of the lethal threat posed by Syrian rebels that an ­Assad victory in the “mother of all battles” in Aleppo would be the less destructive outcome.