The ancient Syrian Christian village of Maaloula has changed hands at least three times in the past week of fighting between government forces and al-Qaeda franchise Nusra Front—and Syria’s Christians are becoming propaganda fodder in an international war of perceptions. Nusra Front issued a video clip showing a commander urging his men not to harm Maaloula’s historic churches and monasteries. The Assad regime countered with images of the rebels shooting in the air and at buildings in in the village, and of a church damaged by mortar fire, Haaretz reports. The village has already suffered civilian casualties from the fighting, and local youth have organized a self-defense militia. AFP, citing local residents, reports that rebels forced at least one person to convert to Islam at gunpoint and executed another when they held the village Sept. 10. “They arrived in our town at dawn…and shouted ‘We are from the al-Nusra Front and have come to make lives miserable for the Crusaders,” AFP quoted a resident who identified herself only as Marie.
The battle for Maaloula comes just as the CIA has apparently started delivering weapons to Syrian rebels, after months of delay. (WP, Sept. 11) The very real plight of the Syrian Christians is clearly being exploited for propaganda against such aid, or direct US intervention. We have noted before the problematic claims of Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, a Carmelite nun from Syria who has been prone to stretching the facts (to be very charitable) in her accusations—such as that the Houla massacre was a ruse by the rebels. Her latest claim, made to Russia Today Sept. 6, is (of course) that the footage of the Aug. 21 Ghouta chemical attack is a “fraud.” A less ambitious claim in that interview is that in a rebel attack on an Alawite village named al-Khratta, residents were tortured and massacred—and that a young girl was dismembered alive with a chain saw. She claims that “there is even a video” of this, although we are happily spared a link to any such footage. This claim is echoed from RT by a stateside right-wing website called The American Dream (in an article in turn picked up by the conspioranoid-right InfoWars) under the shameless headline “Precious Little Girl Dismembered While She Is Still Alive By Obama’s Psychotic Syrian Rebels.”
OK, apart from noting the maudlin adjective which actually cheapens the girl’s suffering by reducing it to pornography (assuming the story is true), we can also ask if in fact the perpetrators were “Obama’s rebels.” We’ve noted that in the rebel battles for the Alawite villages of Latakia governorate, the nominally secular Free Syrian Army has pledged (at least) to protect civilians, while the Nusra Front and its jihadist allies have also jumped into the fray, expressing no such scruples. Given that it is the jihadists who hate the Alawites as “aspostates,” not merely regime collaborators, such an atrocity is far more likely to be their work. Indeed, American Dream identifies the perpatrators (with predictable subtlety) as “al-Qaeda Christian killers.” And, contrary to the lies being avidly spread by both the Islamophobe right and the “anti-war” left, the Nusra Front is assuredly not being armed by the US. The CIA arms pipeline is to the FSA, which is linked to the Syrian National Coalition, with its official ties to the US. The Nusra Front, in contrast, is on the State Department’s “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” list, and officially barred from receiving aid. In fact, collaborating with them is a federal crime.
Has the FSA also got human rights abuses to answer for? Certainly. Is there a case to be made against arming them? Undoubtedly. But at least argue honestly. And resist the temptation to use the dead as propaganda ammo.
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