In November 2015 I traveled to Syria with an International Peace delegation. This was my third visit to Syria in the last three years. As on previous occasions, I was moved by the spirit of resilience and courage of the people of Syria. In spite of the fact that for the last five years their country has been plunged into war by outside forces, the vast majority of the Syrian people continue to go about their daily lives. Many have dedicated themselves to working for peace and reconciliation and the unity of their beloved Syria. They struggle to overcome their fear, the fear that Syria will be driven by outside interference and destructive forces within, to suffer the same terrible fate of Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Yemen, and so many other countries.
Many Syrians are traumatized and in shock. They ask, “How did this happen to our country?” Proxy wars are something they thought only happened in other countries. But now, Syria, too, has been turned into a war-ground in the geo-political landscape controlled by the western global elite and their allies in the Middle East.
In Syria our delegation saw that Christian and Muslim relationships can be more than mutual tolerance. They can be deeply loving. We also met numerous people on the streets of town and cities—Sunni, Shia, Christian, Alawite—all of whom feel that their voices are ignored and under-represented in the West. The youth we met expressed the desire to see a new state which will guarantee equality of citizenship and religious freedom to all religious and ethnic groups, and protection of minorities. They said this was the work of the Syrian people, not outside forces, and could be done peacefully.
Few Syrians we met were under the illusion that their elected leader President Assad was perfect, yet many admired him and felt he was much preferred to the alternative of the government falling into the hands of the Jihadist fighters – fundamentalist extremists whose ideology would cause the minorities (and moderate Sunnis) to flee Syria or get killed. This had already been experienced with the exodus of thousands of Syria.
During the candlelight meeting, we heard how Christians and Muslims in the town had been instrumental in getting the fighters to lay down their arms and accept the Syrian government’s offer of amnesty. They appealed to us to ask the international community to end the war on Syria and support peace.
Our delegation was particularly sad that day as we heard the news that the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury had publicly announced his support for the U.K. vote to bomb Syria.
We also visited the Christian Town of Maaloula, where the language of Jesus—Aramaic—is spoken. It is one of the oldest Christian towns in the Middle East. We visited the Church of St. George, where the priest explained how, after their church was burned to the ground by Western- backed rebels, and many Christians were killed, the people of Maaloula carried a table to the ruins of the church, offered prayers, then started to rebuild their church and homes. If the situation is not stabilized in Syria and the Middle East, there will be few Christians left.
The overall Middle East has witnessed the tragic and virtual disappearance of Judaism, and this tragedy is now happening at an alarming rate to Christians. I call upon all American and European citizens to demand that their governments stop bombing Syria, end their violence, listen to the voice of peace from the suffering Syrian people and actively pursue nonviolent ways to end conflict and suffering in Syria.
Nonviolence can still work in Syria. There can be a nonviolent solution to war and violence in Syria. There is hope and Syria is a light to the world because there are many good people there working for dialogue, negotiations, reconciliation and peace.
This is where the hopes lie and we can all support that hope and those pursuing nonviolent solutions by rejecting violence and war in Syria. [Abridged]
Mairead Maguire won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace in Northern Ireland. Her book, The Vision of Peace, has a foreword by Desmond Tutu and a preface by the Dalai Lama