Out of the Depths
“Out of the depths I have cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice…” (“De Profundis clamavi ad te, Domine, Domine exaudi vocem meam”) —Psalm 129
“In war, the first casualty is truth.” —Aeschylus (the great Greek tragic poet, 524-456 B.C.; also attributed to US Senator Hiram Johnson, a Republican politician from California who served in the United States Senate for nearly 30 years, beginning in the midst of World War I and concluding with his death in 1945)
A week has now passed since the day of prayer and fasting for peace called for by Pope Francis on Saturday, September 7.
Russia is, in these hours, sending more warships into the eastern Mediterranean. Atrocities inside Syria continue, often committed by rebel units who can only be described as terrorists.
The US naval presence in the Mediterranean is also being bolstered.
So the question now really is not “Can war in Syria be avoided?”
War in Syria cannot be avoided. It began long ago.
The question now is, “Can war in Syria be controlled and contained and then ended in some sort of just peace?”
The present “Syrian War” began two years ago.
Since 2011, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran (and other countries) have been supplying the two contending sides.
On the one hand is the secular Assad government (admittedly a dictatorship), supported by Russia, as well as by Iran.
On the other hand are the Islamic rebels, who seek to overthrow Assad’s regime, many of whom are cruel terrorists (they have beheaded living people with carving knives, evidence for this below), supported by the US, France, Britain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
These rebel forces, some connected with the militant Muslim group Al Qaeda which is said to have been behind the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in 2001, are said to have been trained by the American CIA (an allegation which ought to be investigated by the US Congress and, if found to be true, should lead to the indictment and trial for treason by those who designed and approved this plan.)
The interests in this region are complex, criss-crossing in confusing ways, and profoundly important. Saudi Arabia and Qatar (and the US) seek to run a pipeline through Syria to supply Europe. Russia, which supplies huge amounts of gas to Europe, seeks to block that pipeline. The US seeks to defend the “petrodollar” (the use of the US dollar to purchase oil and gas in the global marketplace), a key support of US economic strength. A parched Israel desires to have access to more water, which could come from the Golan Heights inside the present borders of Syria (so the dissolution of Syria might allow Israel to have greater access to badly needed water supplies). The world’s “military-industrial complex” desires to produce and profitably sell more military munitions and equipment. Radical Muslims desire to re-establish a Muslim “caliphate” centered on Baghdad or Damascus. And some are said to desire to set the Muslim and Christian religions against one another, to bring about a Third World War that would have an enormous toll of human suffering, leaving both faiths greatly weakened.
The question now is whether, through some grace of God or wisdom of men, this conflict can be contained, and then ended, without spiraling out of control into a regional or even global conflict (World War III).
The danger of that happening is real.
As Albert Einstein famously said, though it isn’t possible to predict precisely what weapons will be used to fight World War III, it is possible to predict with certainty what weapons will be used to fight World War IV: clubs and stones.
Humanity stands, again, on a precipice. And it is not simply the slaughter of this present generation that looms, but the slaughter and impoverishment of all future generations, through the poisoning of the air and water of the earth and the destruction of the technological infrastructure which now supports this globalized world system.
This unfolding conflict seems vaguely reminiscent of the days and weeks prior to the outbreak of World War I.
Pope Francis has been doing everything humanly possible to cry out for peace in the region, and in the world.
So, as events unfold, we wait and pray.
We pray because war is hell. And hell on earth would be the result if some way is not found to bring peace to that region, and then, using every resource of human wisdom possible, to construct a world order not based on principles which are unjust, or anti-Christian — which seems to be the order now being constructed — but, together with the Orthodox and other Christians, an order based on justice, and Christian moral principles.
Our situation is perilous because wisdom is rare, and men are sinful, and even the best of men can be corrupted by money and fear.
We have had nearly two centuries of astonishing human development in technology, which has nearly annihilated space and time, so that we can travel and communicate worldwide almost instantaneously. All this has been based on the discovery and exploitation of cheap, high quality oil. So “turmoil in the oil patch” (the Middle East) is a symptom of a global order in crisis.
In this context, I must make mention of something terrible. Last night I saw a violent, horrifying video which has affected me profoundly, and has prompted me to write this email.
The video shows the beheading of three Syrian Christian priests by Muslim rebels. The hands of the arrested priests are tied behind their backs. It is not clear whether they have been drugged in any way, but they are clearly alive. One by one, a powerful man with a carving knife beheads them, while they are alive, severing the head with numerous cuts. The heads are then set on the backs of the face-down corpses, while dozens of rebels standing close by shout and chant in Arabic “Allah is great!”
It is a horrible, and horrifying, scene, and I am not going to give any link to it. (You can perhaps find it somehow if you wish to search for it. But I do not recommend watching it.)
Yes, Syria’s president Assad is no democrat; he is a powerful totalitarian leader.
But these Islamic rebels are savages!
Under Assad, the Christians of Syria were generally left alone. They did not suffer these types of horrific, barbaric massacres.
The mainstream Western media have tended to downplay this fact.
This is why “truth is the first casualty of war.”
Below is an account of this type of terror, denounced by a Catholic nun. Some have claimed that the nun is unreliable. I do not know the full truth. But I include this report because it was published in Israel, in the newspaper Haaretz, not in a Catholic or a Syrian or Muslim journal, but in an Israeli journal.
Here is the account, from September 1, 2013. (Note: this article is by Gideon Levy, not by me.)
The Slinging Nun
On visit to Israel, Syrian-based nun backs beleaguered President Assad
By Gideon Levy
Why a Carmelite nun believes the chemical attack in Damascus was faked.
September 1, 2013
Sister Agnes-Mariam de la Croix feared that the United States would attack Syria on Saturday night. She expected the attack to be massive and would bring disaster to Syria and the entire region. According to Sister Agnes-Mariam, there are today 150,000 well-trained jihadist fighters from 80 countries in Syria, with arms they have received from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and even from the United States. She says some of them are in a drugged state, induced by Captagon pills.
(Photo: Sister Agnes-Mariam de la Croix in Jerusalem this week: Chemical attacks were faked. Photo by Alex Levac)
The nun lives in Syria and is the abbess, or mother superior, of the Monastery of St. James the Mutilated. She argues that these jihadi fighters control 60 percent of the populated areas of Syria. She claims that Islamic-Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, which the United States has designated a terrorist group, is responsible for the acts of mass murder, rape and looting that have been committed in Syria. She also claims the Chechen fighters are exceptionally cruel and that, among the foreign fighters, there are a fairly large number of released prisoners and citizens of western countries. In her opinion, most of Syria’s citizens support the regime of President Bashar Assad because they fear a takeover of the country by Islamic extremists.
She calls on the world not to attack Syria, and to stop the flow of foreign fighters into its territory and the supply of arms they are receiving. When she journeys through Syria today, she feels as if she is in Afghanistan or Somalia.
An American attack on Syria will hurt its army and open the door to a complete seizure of the country by the global jihad movement, she firmly believes. “If this regime is toppled,” she says, “it will be worse than Iraq. It will have consequences for Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, and it’s not a situation that will promote security.”
She also believes the pictures of the victims of last month’s alleged chemical attack in east Damascus are fabrications.
I met Sister Agnes-Mariam this week in a convent in Jerusalem’s hills, not far from Abu Ghosh. She is visiting Israel for a few days and next week will return to Syria, where she has been living for the past 19 years. Her life story is as surprising as her statements about the situation there.
She was born Fadia al-Laham, 61 years ago in Jounieh, Lebanon (her parents had fled Nazareth in 1948). When she was 15 her father died, and, as she herself admits, over the next few years she became a hippy and flower child who used drugs and drifted between Nepal and India. On her palm, concealed by her nun’s habit, she still has a few tattoos from India – a memento of that time in her life. She says she loves to listen to The Doors, The Rolling Stones and Santana. Her Indian experiences led her to embrace a cloistered life and, for 22 years, she lived in utter solitude in a Carmelite monastery in Lebanon’s highland region.
Sister Agnes-Mariam moved to Syria 19 years ago and, together with two other nuns, rebuilt the ruins of a monastery on the main road between Damascus and Homs, not far from the village of Qara. She became mother superior of the Monastery of St. James the Mutilated. In addition to the nuns of the convent, there are 20 Sunni refuges who have sought asylum from the horrors of the war.
She was forced to leave the monastery in June 2012, after the threats on her life increased because she was suspected of being an agent of the Assad regime. Her monastery is situated between the area controlled by the Free Syrian Army and the area controlled by the “foreign legions.”
Currently she lives in Damascus and is an international peace activist trying to warn the world of the dangers of a jihadist takeover of her adopted country.
She is fighting what she considers a pack of lies, trying to counter the propaganda and disinformation in the Arab and international media, and documenting the atrocities of the war for the organization she has established. She arrived this week to visit relatives in Nazareth and to participate in an interfaith conference in Israel.
Lover of Israel
I first met her at an international peace conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where she delivered a stunning speech and presented shocking video clips on what, in her view, is being committed by the jihadists. When I was introduced to her, she told me she loved Israel and that the Jews should serve as a light unto the nations. I was surprised to learn that she had come to Israel for a brief visit.
As a Lebanese, she argues, she cannot be suspected of being an agent of the Assad regime because Lebanon is, as she sees it, actually under Syrian occupation. She presents these arguments to deny the allegations that have been made against her, including the accusation that she is personally responsible — in January 2012 — for the death of French journalist Gilles Jacquier, 43, a TV reporter who was on assignment for the French channel France 2. She completely denies any responsibility for his death, arguing that she only helped him enter Syria.
She believes the Assad regime is the only thing that can save Syria from a takeover by Al-Qaida, and that most Syrians support the present regime. This, she explains, is why Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled so quickly and why Assad is still holding his own.
In late 2011, she says, she began to understand two things: First, that there was no truth in the reports about a Syrian opposition that was committed to democratic principles; and, second, that the rebellion was being launched primarily by foreigners. At first, she recalls, they were referred to as unidentified forces; however, she points out, their real identity emerged a few months later.
When the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television channel reported in the early stages of the fighting that a massacre had taken place in one of Damascus’ neighborhoods encircled by the Syrian army, she set out to see for herself what had happened, and was amazed to discover that the report was completely false. According to Sister Agnes-Mariam, when she expressed her condolences to the local priest of the neighborhood, he could not understand what she was talking about.
In December 2011 she traveled to Qusayr, after it was reported that civilians there had been massacred by the Syrian army. In the local hospital she was shown 100 bodies of civilians who had been murdered the night before; however, according to the testimony she gathered, she claims, the massacre was really carried out by gangs of foreigners.
Sister Agnes-Mariam believes the casualties are primarily caused by the fighting between the rebel forces themselves. And, in some cases, the Syrian army collaborates with the Free Syrian Army against the foreigners. In her opinion, the foreigners want the Islamic Sharia law to apply to all spheres of life in Syria, are establishing popular courts, and are executing people. For instance, she claims, the judge who was appointed in the northern town of Saraqib is actually someone who repairs tires.
In the past few months she has visited Homs, Aleppo, Qusayr, and other places where fighting has taken place. In addition, she has visited hospitals and private homes in her efforts to collect evidence for the Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria organization; she is the founder of the organization’s international branch.
During the alleged chemical attack on August 21, she was in Damascus. The week before the attack, she relates, a shocking massacre was carried out in Latakia, where at least 500 civilians were killed by organizations belonging to Al-Qaida, yet the world media barely reported this event.
As she sees it, Syria has returned to the most barbaric era in its history, and the media is staying silent. She believes Jabhat al-Nusra is committing massacres of both military personnel and civilians and is a threat to the entire civilized world, especially Lebanon and Israel — if Assad’s regime is toppled, a jihadist dictatorship will emerge in Syria. Thus, she claims, the United States is actually helping to strengthen Al-Qaida.
Sister Agnes-Mariam believes the pictures of last month’s alleged chemical attack were fabricated. Most of the civilians in that area had already fled, she claims, so how could there suddenly be dozens of children there? This part of Damascus now has 20,000 fighters from Jordan, she argues. If chemical weapons were used, she wonders, why do the photos show physicians and dozens of people standing in the immediate vicinity of the scene of the attack without gas masks or any other form of protection? After all, she says, the chemical weapons would be dangerous for them as well.
In the first alleged chemical attack, in Aleppo — where chemical weapons brought in from Turkey were employed — the physicians did not even dare to get close to the bodies of the victims. In the video clips that have been disseminated around the world and which allegedly document the most recent chemical attack, one can see dozens of people standing around the bodies. She points out that she was in Damascus that night, and that 50 bodies of soldiers who had suffocated, having been killed by gas in the army’s tunnels, were evacuated to a hospital. She claims an Islamic battalion was responsible for that attack, and that this was the only chemical attack to have taken place so far in the Syrian civil war.
The only thing that can stop the jihadists, she argues, is the Syrian army. In her opinion, if the present regime falls the situation in Syria will be worse than what it is today in Iraq. She implores U.S. President Barack Obama not to participate in what she sees as another war crime, as another atrocity committed against the civilian population. She cannot understand why the world is determined to go to war now because, she believes, the result will be that Syria will be controlled by chaotic, extremist groups.
The United States is not concerned with what is best for the Syrian people, she argues, but is operating in accordance with its own interests. Furthermore, she cannot understand why America wants to ignite yet another regional war, which will only lead to the emergence of one more cruel Islamic regime. “Why do you [the West] fuel a regional war to support radical Islam?” she asks. “Why?
“The United States says it has proof, but that’s not enough. They are a part of the conflict, so they can’t be a judge. It’s very dangerous when one nation tries to be the judge and the police of the world. This is not the first time they made a mistake.” She adds, “We don’t need another false war.”
“What can the West do?” she was asked. She replied that it should stop fueling the rebels with arms. “It’s a scandal what the West is doing.”
Here is another account, which is from the generally reliable Asia News.
Friday, June 28, 2013
SYRIA: OBAMA-BACKED JIHADISTS ATTACK CHRISTIAN VILLAGE, KILL PRIEST TRYING TO DEFEND NUNS
The bloodshed is endless. Obama has backed the jihadists in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and now Syria. In each case it has become a human rights catastrophe, and still Obama pursues the takeover of secular countries by jihadists.
Custos of the Holy Land: Fr Franҫois Mourad killed by Islamist insurgents in al-Ghassaniyah
Fr Pizzaballa talks about the killing of the priest, new martyr in Syria. Franҫois Mourad was killed during an attack by Islamic fighters against the Monastery of St Anthony, in Idlib province. Until his death, the priest had worked with the Franciscans to alleviate the suffering of Christians and Muslims. Now the village stands completely destroyed.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – “Fr. Franҫois Mourad’s killing of is a sad occurrence and a blow to all the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land,” said Fr Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land, as he spoke with AsiaNews about the Syrian clergyman who died on Sunday in al-Ghassaniyah, a predominantly Christian village in Jisr al-Shughur District, Idlib province. His funeral was celebrated yesterday in the small village of Kanaieh, a few kilometres from where he was killed.
Until yesterday, there were two versions of the murder, the first spoke about a stray bullet, the second of an actual attack carried out by Islamist insurgents against the Monastery of St Anthony in al-Ghassaniyah.
“The second is the most reliable version,” Fr Pizzaballa said. “From the photos and the testimony of our religious, the rebels attacked the village in past few weeks, forcing most residents to flee.”
The Monastery of St Anthony was the only safe haven, where Fr Franҫois lived along with some Franciscan friars, four nuns and ten lay Christians. But on Sunday, rebels part of a fringe extremist Islamic group, stormed that place too.”
According to the Custos of the Holy Land, Islamists broke into the convent, looted it and destroyed everything. When Fr Franҫois tried to defend the nuns and other people, the gunmen shot him dead.
“Right now, the village is completely deserted,” Fr Pizzaballa said. “Rebels have moved there with their families and occupied the houses still standing.”
“Let us pray that this absurd and shameful war ends soon and that the people of Syria can get back to a normal life soon,” he said.
Hailing from a village in the province of Latakia in northwestern Syria, Fr Franҫois Mourad, 49, was trained by the Franciscan Fathers in the Holy Land.
Feeling called to a more contemplative life at the end of the 90s, he left the Franciscans to complete his studies with the Trappists of Latrun (Palestine).
Once back in Syria, he was ordained priest by the Syriac Catholic bishop of Al-Hasakah on the Syrian side of the Al-Jazira region.
In recent years, he launched a new monastic foundation, inspired by Saint Simon and founded a small monastery of contemplative life in Hwar, Aleppo province, devoting himself to the training of some young postulants, all Syrians.
He was in Hwar until this year when fighting between Islamic rebels and regime forced him to take refuge in al-Ghassaniyah, on the Orontes River, guest of the local Franciscan monastery.
Until his death, he worked together with the friars to bring relief to the Christian and Muslim residents of the area. (S.C.)
Requiescat in pace
I would like to offer a brief tribute to this dead priest, who died at the hands of terrorists.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” —John 15:13-15
May you, Fr Franҫois Mourad, find peace and rest in the eternal God, for you followed the spirit and the letter of His great commandment.
Editor’s Note: I wanted to thank the “Founding Members” of our new “Urbi et Orbi Foundation,” who have contributed more than $100,000 since Christmas to help us launch this initiative, aimed at working to improve relations between Catholics and Orthodox. We do seek further support.
Because of the situation in Syria, our work with the Orthodox, and with the Russian Orthodox in particular, becomes even more important.
If anyone would like more information about this important initiative, please write to me by clicking here. –Robert Moynihan