A few days ago, I wrote about the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt and the failure of many in the West to recognize it for what it is. The Arab Spring has made the Copts’ situation even more unsafe than it used to be. The Muslim Brotherhood is even less concerned with protecting Copts from violence than the Mubarak regime was.
A similar pattern may be unfolding in Syria. On Monday, two bishops from Aleppo–Bishop Paul Yazigi of the Antiochian Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church–were kidnapped at gunpoint near the Turkish border. (The two churches, one “Eastern” and the other “Oriental” Orthodox, are not full communion, but their relationship in Syria is very close). Some reports say the kidnappers were Chechen fighters working with the Syrian opposition, though the opposition denies involvement. At this writing, the bishops’ location and condition are unknown; early reports of their release, credited to an Antiochian bishop named “Tony” who turned out to be non-existent, were false. The kidnappers murdered the deacon who was serving as the bishops’ driver.
It’s certainly true that Muslims in Syria are suffering as well. Only yesterday, the minaret of the famous Umayyad mosque in Aleppo, dating from the 12th Century, was destroyed. But Christians are particularly vulnerable and are often caught in the crossfire. Although they have tried to remain neutral, they are associated with the Assad regime; they are suspected by the opposition, especially by Islamist elements. Plus, Christians have connections outside Syria that make it possible for them to emigrate. In a way, this fact makes Christians’ situation more precarious. Islamists reason that, if pushed enough, Christians will simply leave the country. So why not push them?
The kidnapping of two senior church figures is obviously meant to send a message to Christians: your position here is not secure. If revolution develops in Syria the way it has in Egypt, the country’s Christians have much to fear.