Response to ABC’s Religious and Ethics Report

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Above: Images from Syrian TV on 19 August 2012, the first full day of the Eid festival.  The music and reading from the Koran in the links below were recorded as many of the images were taken. (Unfortunately, the sound of the camera shutter can be heard at times.) The Mufti of Syria is standing on the president’s left. There is mention in the comment below to the assassination of his son in 2011.

Links below: Music for Eid in Damascus, 19 August 2012 (recorded from Syrian satellite television)

Eid 2012 in Damascus Sufi music, part 1

Eid 2012 in Damascus part 2

Eid 2012 in Damascus Sufi music part 3

Recorded from Syrian TV on 30 August 2012

Syrian TV, Religious singer 30 August 2012


An interview with Lydia Khalil, an Egyptian American, was broadcast on ABC’s Radio National’s Religious and Ethics Report on Wednesday 15 August 2012.

This was the introduction to the interview on the Religious and Ethics Report webpage:

In June, not long after his election as president of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s victorious candidate, Mohamed Morsi, said he would appoint a woman or a Coptic Christian as his vice-president. His spokesman told The Guardian it would show he would not govern as an Islamic hardliner. This week, he handed the job to a Sunni Muslim judge. Late last week, The New York Times revealed that some 80,000 Christians had been driven from their homes in the Homs province of Syria by the so-called Free Syrian Army, which is trying to topple the Assad regime.

So what do these developments portend for religious minorities? Lydia Khalil is an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian. She’s also an expert on the Middle East who’s worked for the Council on Foreign Relations and is now a fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. She addressed the Sydney Institute on Monday (13 August) and she spoke later to the program about the future of Egypt and Syria.

The interview and transcript are available at the following link.

Lydia Khalil’s CV on the Religious and Ethics Report page:

Visiting Fellow, Australian Strategic Policy Institute; former fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; political advisor, Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad; counterterrorism advisor, New York Police Department, White House Office of Homeland Security

Editor of Socrates and Syria: It is curious that Ms Khalil was interviewed by the Religious and Ethics Report.  Which hat was she wearing when she was interviewed? That of an advisor to the White House or that of a Coptic Egyptian, one of millions?

In the interview, Ms Khalil is asked to present her views on the ‘Arab Spring’ in Syria. One has to wonder if she responds with the current views of the White House, which she may be helping to shape, or as a committed Christian concerned about the terror faced by Christians and millions of other people in secular Syria, someone who is committed to peace.

One Christian who has reported on the terror in Syria from first-hand experience is Mother Agnes Mariam. She was interviewed by Ireland’s public radio RTE on 10 August:


Below is a comment submitted to the ABC Religious and Ethics Report by the editor of this blog:


As Lydia says, Syria is a very diverse society. One of my students in Damascus in 2005 said this was what she treasured most about Syria.

I would like to challenge Lydia’s statement about the Syrian government being a “minority Alawite regime”.   This is often claimed in the west, so it has become a ‘fact’, but it doesn’t stand up to analysis. The president, who is married to a Sunni, has an Alawi Muslim background, but he has often been seen on TV praying with Sunni Muslims.  The members of parliament and the ministers reflect the general population. So the majority are Sunni Muslims. For example, I believe the Foreign Minister, the Defense Minister and the vice-president are all Sunni Muslims. The current and former prime ministers are Sunni.

In regard to Syria, the facts are much more complex than the rhetoric which is not checked perhaps because it is assumed someone somewhere along the chain of repetitions googled Wikipedia and presumably got it right. Or perhaps it is not checked because an anonymous ‘human rights activist’ said it, so it must be true.

When so many of us view Gandhi and Aung San Sun Kyi as heroic figures, it is ironic that it is Syrians who support the armed opposition that are usually presented as the truth bearers.

The extremism of those prepared to take up arms against the government was obvious from the beginning of the crisis in Syria. One of the first chants heard in Daraa in March ’11 was “Send Christians to Beirut. Send Alawis to their graves”.  Also, fatwas calling for a jihad against the ‘heretical regime’ have been issued by extremist Wahhabi and Salafi clerics since March 2011. Followers of extremists have been told it is ‘ok to kill 1/3 of the Syrian population if it leads to the toppling of the regime’.  If Australia were ever to become the target of fatwas, for example in response to our treatment of asylum seekers, would we close ranks and condemn the fatwas? And consider anyone that took up arms in response to them a terrorist?

Syrians do want reform in their country, no doubt; however, the armed opposition and foreign jihadists have not been welcomed by the vast majority of Syrian people, which is not a surprise if you assume that Syrians are like us and love peace, security and stability as much as we would above terror and a looming war.

The crisis in Syria is a war against the secular state from outside with the support of Syrians who have been open to the radicalization of extremist clerics.  Civil servants, such as professors, doctors, airline pilots, and people involved in the political reforms from all religious backgrounds have been targeted. The son of the (Sunni) Mufti of Syria and his history professor were assassinated in October last year.

Some attention could be given by your program to the different schools of Islam.  For example, how representative of Sunni Islam are Wahhabism and Salafism, which apparently are followed by a significant percentage of militia members?  What impact could those movements have on the lives on women as well as on religious freedom in Syria if the militias ‘won’ the war?

The representation of the crisis in Syria must take into account the facts, the complexity, the nuances, the dangers and the wish of the vast majority of people for peace now.

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