The article also fails to mention that, while Syria has the appearance of a democracy, the Sunni-dominated country is essentially an authoritarian regime and it would be quite difficult for a Christian, or anyone for that matter, to speak freely on religion without risking the wrath of the majority. This type of conditioning has been going on for hundreds of years. ~Daniel Pulliam, GetReligion
Mr. Pulliam objects to Reuters’ coverage in this story. First of all, while it is important to keep the context of Baathist Party rule in mind, as an explicitly secular state that has been historically hostile to Islamic fundamentalism it affords the Christians of Syria rather more latitude in their ability to practice their religion and to speak candidly about it. The Christians in Syria are decidedly not living under Islamic law, do not pay the jiziya or suffer from the sorts of restrictions that they would if, say, they lived in certain parts of “liberated” Iraq.
Then there is the “context” of Syrian Christians being Arabs, who are reasonably more likely to sympathise with fellow Arabs, especially when there are Christians among them, when these people appear to them to be (and indeed are) under attack. Since Christians in Lebanon, including no less than Gen. Aoun, are taking an increasingly pro-Hizbullah stance, why is it that incredible to believe that Christians in Syria are taking the same view? Why the need to attribute it to Islamic intimidation? There may be such intimidation on a private level, but Mr. Pulliam’s criticism assumes that this, together with anachronistic ideas about Islamic law, must be the main explanation for the sympathy being shown Nasrallah. Arguably, the article could have provided more context to give a more complete picture of the situation, but there is nothing terribly lacking in the coverage itself, which is obviously a collection of anecdotal accounts. There is no reason to lend this report undue importance if a reporter has managed to find a handful of Christians in Syria who say extraordinarily complimentary things about Nasrallah, but why should it surprise us that Christians are saying complimentary things about a man whom 80% of Lebanese Christians now support?
The theme of the story was how the war on Lebanon was forging solidarity across sectarian and religious lines, citing Christian sympathy for Nasrallah and Hizbullah as an example of this trend. Furthermore, the historical context of the rise of Arab nationalism, which was an ideology virtually invented by Syrian and Lebanese Christians as a means of transcending sectarianism, might tell us something about why Christians in the Near East feel particularly strong affinities to pan-Arab claims and the causes of other Arabs, even when they are not Christian. Even though Arab nationalism has failed across the region, there is a tradition among the local Christians to think in these terms.
Then there is the problem with the phrase “Sunni-dominated country.” First of all, it does not explain very much if the thing to be explained is Christian sympathy for a Shi’ite militia. It is a majority Sunni country, but it is precisely not Sunni-dominated, because the entire elite of the country comes from a branch of Shi’ism. If the country were Sunni dominated, and we assume that this is very relevant to determining how Syrian Christians view the fighting in Lebanon, are they more or less likely to sympathise with Hizbullah? The relevant point, surely, is that the government is dominated by a branch of Shi’ites, the Alawites, which makes more sense of Damascus’ connections to Hizbullah and Tehran.
The fact that the government is a sponsor of the group in question would probably have far more influence on what Syrian Christians think than any anachronistic recourse to an explanation according to jiziya and the official second-class status that Christians endure in non-secular Islamic countries. That being said, we rule out Christian sympathy for Hizbullah and the cause of all Lebanon at peril of making outlandishly incorrect statements like those contained in Mr. Pulliam’s post. I should think an outfit like GetReligion would take more care to make sure that they themselves “get” what they are talking about before they find fault with other journalists for their errors or otherwise poor coverage of a religion-related topic.