The armed occupation of Syria by Islamic State militants is not the worst thing to happen to the country. Even worse are their preachers who establish themselves in mosques and temples to preach hatred and enroll little ones.
This is according to the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo, Monsignor George Abou Khazen, who gave a press conference in Rimini Wednesday, accompanied by his predecessor, Bishop Giuseppe Nazzaro,
Responding to a question from ZENIT on the impression many have that Muslims in the region are all extremists, he pointed out: “The Muslim population in Syria is very moderate, and continues to be so. They are convinced and preach this in the mosques.”
And Monsignor Khazen added that now the foreign militias “not only brought troops, but also the Ulemas and Saudis who began to preach an absolutely different Islam, and they even enroll children.” Moreover, he explained that they instituted Islamic courts in which a Syrian can be judged by a ceceno [extremist]. In other words, if a father sees that his daughter is being kidnapped by a Muslim, in court he will meet another militiaman just like the aggressor.
To have an idea of who they are, Monsignor Nazzaro pointed to the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia who issued a fatwa last year, which was published in newspapers, in which he stated: “Whoever believes that the earth revolves around the sun is an infidel, because my predecessor of the ‘70s said so, and whoever omits this does not deserve to live.” Based on this, you can imagine what the army of the ISIS is like, he said.
Asked by ZENIT about the present situation in Aleppo, after three years of war, Monsignor Khazen said it is a difficult situation, with problems of water, light and lack of security, where there are mortar strikes and every day new deaths. The city is divided: there are neighborhoods controlled by the rebels and others by the Government. The rebels besieged and controlled the city. Today the Syrian army has opened a zone and is able to supply it. The airport is closed because “they also target civil flights.” He added that to date there is no knowledge of the fate of kidnapped bishops and priests and that the convents of nuns residing in Aleppo are still there.
In regard to the financing of these militias, he told ZENIT that “everyone knows about this. It comes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Turkey, however, gives less support, only of a logistical nature. If they really wanted the situation to end, they wouldn’t send or train people, they wouldn’t arm them,” he said, adding that “another country” is also involved.
“Just a year ago, when the rebels were only Syrians, things were different; there was respect, there was not this violence and extremism. Now it is the militiamen, primarily foreigners. Now there are many people who before hoped that this spring would flower, but they have realized that it hasn’t,” continued the Apostolic Vicar.
In regard to the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land, he said the population was aware of it. Information comes when there is light and the news can be seen. “Moreover, we have also transmitted it,” he said, adding that people said “we wish the Pope would come here too.”
In regard to the emigration of Christians, he said that in 1968, when the previous government to Assad’s father nationalized the schools, the first exodus took place of Christians to Lebanon, because they wanted to be able to give their children a Christian education. It was “a time of terror,” he said.
“In the beginning Assad’s father was harsh, although he was the last to carry out a coup d’Etat to take power. He wasn’t a Sunni but an Alawite. In the last years of his life, Assad’s father began to relax things, and with his son the opening was greater, almost total in some sectors, such as tourism, commerce, with sufficient security.”
Monsignor Khazen added “there are no statistics of Christians who have stayed in Syria,” although before the war, Christians numbered some 250,000 in a city of 4.5 million. “Today, approximately 60% of Christians have left,” he said.
The Apostolic Vicar concluded by expressing the hope that “present day Syria may continue to exist as a secular, pluralist and moderate country.”