I just made it back from Syria, and in addition to being tired, I have also come down with something that has me feeling pretty under the weather, so it may be a few days more before I can get much of substance posted on the trip.
I attended an International Conference on Terrorism and Religious extremism, sponsored by the Syrian Ministry of Justice and held at the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus. The conference attracted people from a host of countries around the world, including Russia, Iran, and a number of European states, while I was one of about eight people in attendance from the US, the other Americans being affiliated in large part with the website Veterans Today.
My time in the Middle East was divided roughly equally between Syria and Lebanon. Though both are predominantly Muslim countries, Christmas decorations are up now in each, adorning a number of shops and stores, while Christmas advertisements on billboards are visible every few miles or so along many of the main roads. Most of the signs are in both English and Arabic, and it’s quite interesting driving through Hezbollah-controlled areas of Beirut and seeing billboards of colorfully-decorated trees with the words “Merry Christmas” written on them.
Interesting but not that surprising, really. No attempt has ever been made by Hezbollah to stifle the Christian faith, and many Christians in the region support the Lebanese Resistance group. While in Beirut I stayed in the Haret Hriek area of Dahieh, the southern suburb controlled by Hezbollah, and probably not six blocks away from the flat where I was holed up was the Haret Hriek Maria’s Church. The streets are patrolled by Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army. There are security checkpoints one must pass through, to be sure. But there is also total religious freedom.
The mainstream media would have us believe that all Muslims hate Christians and that Christians suffer persecution in the Middle East. They do this in order to sell us on the idea that a “clash of civilizations” is underway, and to try and get Christians to think of Israel as our only natural ally in the region. The reality, however, is much different. There is no persecution of Christians in Lebanon, nor in government-controlled areas of Syria.
Life quite clearly has become hell for Christians in regions controlled by ISIS, but in the view of many of the people I spoke with at this conference, ISIS has very little to do with religion. It is more about pretending to be religious, all the while functioning as a foreign-backed mercenary army intent on bringing down the legitimate government of Syria. Readers need to be very clear on this. The religious trappings of ISIS are a veneer, nothing more than a smile on a toothpaste ad, intended to deceive the already-deluded. The reality is that ISIS achieves strategic objectives for those who control it, and that it was created specifically with this purpose in mind. ISIS could justifiably be thought of as a private military contractor–because, in fact, that’s what it is.
At any rate, it is good to be back home–and I am very thankful I have arrived at this special time of year. May the love of Jesus and the spirit of this season be yours.