Damascus (AsiaNews) -"It is too early to speak about religious hatred against Christians in Syria. In a year of conflict, Muslim extremists have not yet attacked a church," sources in Syria told AsiaNews in order to correct reports about anti-Christian attacks that have recently appeared in Western media.
"The attack against Fr George Louis, parish priest at St Michael Greek Catholic Church in Qara and the expulsion of Christian families from the village of Al Borj Al Qastal are very serious, but they are the result of a climate of war, violence and lawlessness," the sources explained. "Relations between Christians and Muslims are one of the few positive aspects in such an atmosphere of brutal violence."
On 11 May, armed men attacked Fr George Louis at his home in Qara in order to extort money from him. They knocked him unconscious to stop him from sounding the alarm. Only hours later was he able to call a member of his parish for help.
On the same day, Free Syrian Army militias took over the homes of ten Christian families in al-Borj al-Qastal forcing them to leave. It is not clear whether the families were expelled outright or left of their own accord.
Something similar occurred in Homs in late March. Western media reported the expulsion of more than 50,000 Christians from the city held by Muslim rebels, but local Jesuits denied the claim, saying instead that the families voluntarily left to escape the violence.
"Various Italian and international newspapers describe recent events as anti-Christian persecution," the sources said. "However, they do not take into account that outside of the capital and a few other cities, Syria has turned into a no man's land, with unscrupulous criminals attacking anyone who is without defence. Most of the people, whether Christian or Muslim have been at the mercy of these gangs for all this time. Syrian troops and police do not intervene to avoid violent reactions that more radical groups could exploit."
In one year of conflict, Syrian Christians have rarely been attacked in a persecutory way by Islamists like in Iraq and Egypt, this despite the presence of domestic and foreign Muslim extremists.
The real sectarian fight is between Alawis and Sunnis, sources said, as recent events in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, show.
"At checkpoints, both rebels and regular soldiers treat minority Christians with respect. The Assad regime has made of religious tolerance a pillar of its power; persecuting Christians would discredit it. This is true for the rebels as well because they want Western backing."
In a year of civil war, no church has yet been targeted by Muslim extremists or by government forces.
Islamises have only uttered verbal threats against minorities because of their support for the regime. However, many Christians have expressed support for the rebel point of view. Many of them took part in anti-Assad demonstrations last year.
Until now, shelling and clashes between regular army troops and rebels have damaged places of worship, not targeted attacks.
In such a climate of chaos and violence, anyone could attack a monastery, convent, church or men or women religious without fear of reprisal.
"The situation is worse in Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, and even in Jordan, where anti-Christian feelings just lurk below the surface, well rooted in society, oftentimes stirred by government institutions." (S.C.)