Once again there is talk of the United States being involved in military action in another Middle Eastern country. Having worked with Middle East issues for decades and now doing the same at Catholic Near East Welfare Association, I know people will ask my opinion about what is going on and the possibility of military action.
I have asked myself, “How many times have you found yourself in this situation?” I thought of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the so-called First Gulf War to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, the bombing of Libya. It got me wondering about how often the United States has been involved in military action in a foreign country. I was born in 1944. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. A very unscientific run through the “archives” of my brain have led me to realize that — with the exception of Jimmy Carter — every U.S. president in my 69 years of life has been involved in military action in a foreign country. If, as I fear, engaging in this kind of military action can be addictive, this is a very disturbing thing.
I have visited Syria. I have dear friends there. I know Syrians who have personally lived through the horrors of the bombing of Aleppo. A relative of people I know took her two grade-school children and left their home in a Damascus suburb the day before the poison gas attack.
Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace in Syria for a long time. A Muslim colleague pointed out to me proudly that one of the minarets of the ancient Umayyad Mosque was called “Our Lord Jesus.” In the past two years, however, the situation of Christians has gotten increasingly more precarious. They have been driven out of villages where they have lived for centuries. Two archbishops have been kidnapped and their whereabouts unknown. Christians have been killed, churches destroyed and it seems as if life will never again return to normal.
Yet, Christian voices from Syria are almost unanimous in stating that outside military intervention — be it in the form of bombing or the sale of weapons — will not only not help, but will make their situation worse. The Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch in Damascus and the Chaldean patriarch in Baghdad have spoken out against a U.S. attack on Syria. Pope Francis has repeatedly called for a non-violent political solution to the carnage in Syria. Everyone condemns the use of poison gas. It is evil, a crime against humanity that cries out to God. However, over 100,000 Syrians have died already through conventional warfare. Is this means of killing any less evil?
Pope Francis has declared a period of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and the Middle East this Saturday, 7 September. Christians, Muslims and all people of good will need to give witness to the belief that violence begets violence and that the only peace that can hold is one based on non-violence and mutual respect.