By Stuart Mann
Western nations have to help the people of Syria start talking about peace or face an endless stream of extremism flowing out of the Middle East.
That was one of the messages from an impassioned talk by Fr. Nadim Nassar, an Anglican priest from Syria who was speaking about the plight of Christians in the Middle East at St. James Cathedral on Oct. 30.
Fr. Nassar, who is based in London and is head of The Awareness Foundation, was in Syria the previous week and said the destruction and violence in his homeland is indescribable.
“My country is bleeding to death,” he said. “The violence and cruelty and monstrosity of it is beyond imagination. The despair and lack of hope, for both Muslims and Christians, is heart-stopping.”
Fr. Nassar was interviewed by Mark Kelley of CBC’s The Fifth Estate in front of a crowd of about 130 in Snell Hall. The event, held over the lunch hour, gave people a chance to hear about the war in Syria and to donate to The Awareness Foundation, an international Christian charity that provides programs of peace and reconciliation for young people in the Middle East.
Fr. Nassar said there is no future for Christians or any other religious minorities in Syria as long as nations continue to arm the warring factions and try to use force to stop groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
He said the violence is dividing the Middle East into sectarian nations, which will eventually squeeze out Christians and other religious minorities. This would be a disaster, he said, not only for the minorities but for the entire region.
“If it continues like this, all the minorities will vanish,” he said. “We don’t want to empty the Middle East of Christians and other minorities. Minorities are the glue that holds the Middle East together.” He reminded the audience that St. Paul had his conversion on the road to Damascus, the capital of Syria.
He had strong words for governments that are trying to stop groups such as ISIS with force. “ISIS cannot be defeated by force,” he said. “It can only be stopped by drying up the veins that feed it.”
In a question-and-answer session with the audience afterwards, he said ISIS has become such a powerful force in the region because governments in the Middle East are financing it. “Why is nobody asking who is supporting ISIS? All we hear is air strikes. Using air strikes to defeat ISIS is a joke. It won’t work. We need to stop the business of death now. No more ‘boots on the ground.’ No more force.”
He said the only thing that will stop the bloodshed and the rise of extremism, both in the Middle East and the rest of the world, is a concerted effort on the part of the regional and world powers to establish peace in the area. “Why isn’t anybody talking about a peace process among Syrians?” he asked. “Until that happens, we will continue to see war and the export of extremism and fanaticism. I say shame on the politicians. You should not arm people. It is evil. As long at this happens, there will be no peace.”
He pleaded with Christians in Canada to take action to bring about peace in the Middle East. “Help us. Ask your politicians the difficult questions they don’t want to answer.” He also asked the audience to financially support The Awareness Foundation. “We’re trying to rebuild trust in the region. If you want to be a light in the world, support us. We need help to run programs for young people and children that will bring hope back into their lives.”