Do Syrian American Christians welcome all the newer Muslim arrivals? It depends ...

Finding people who back President Trump’s travel ban is like searching for folks who are left-handed. The people are out there, but they don't advertise their presence. Well, almost. The Washington Post found some Syrian families who believe the travel ban is a good idea.

I am not surprised. Back in the 1990s, when I was assisting a newly arrived Kurdish family in northern Virginia, I learned they were against a lot of Iraqi Arabs being allowed to come as well. Kurds and Sunni Arabs haven’t always gotten along in Iraq and, my Kurdish friends assured me, they knew that many Sunnis were up to no good.

They also felt that Americans were pretty naive about Iraqi culture. So, here is what the Post found:

ALLENTOWN, Pa.-- Hookah smoke drifted through the restaurant as Elias Shetayh and Aziz Wehbey spoke intently about their support for President Trump, whose temporary halt on immigration from war-torn Syria — their homeland — had touched off a political firestorm. Nearby, a waitress carried out several platters of Mediterranean food to a large Arab American family.
“Trump is right, in a way, to do what he’s doing,” Shetayh said, discussing the executive order banning certain immigrants from entry into the United States. “This country is going into a disaster.”
Allentown and surrounding Lehigh County have one of the country’s largest and most established communities of Syrian Americans, many of them emigres who moved from the “Christian Valley” in Syria decades ago. They have helped a steady stream of family members join them in the United States, and — to the surprise of many — offered strong support to Trump during the presidential election.

The reporter than drew some good quotes out of these Syrians.

“We would not like to bring refugees for a simple reason: We do not know their background,” Wehbey said. “We’re concerned about, if God forbid a terrorist attack happened here . . . that we’re all labeled as bad people. I hate to say it.”

The national conversation about the U.S. position on accepting refugees of the Syrian civil war has hit a fever pitch in the days since Trump signed an order halting the program, amid fears that along with refugees, terrorists will seek to surreptitiously enter the country. In Allentown, there is an additional religious subtext: The established Syrians in the 6th Ward are Christian; the newcomers, refugees fleeing the war, tend to be Muslim.
“We’re not by any means prejudiced against Islam. As long as you’re a good human being, you have the right to believe whatever you want to believe. But the majority of the population over here are Christian Syrian,” said Wehbey, who is regarded as a community leader. “Now they’re bringing new elements from Syria, refugees shook by a religious war. They may have hate in their heart because of whatever happened to them.”
“And we don’t want to see a religious conflict over here,” he added.

These Syrians are mindful that a lot of Americans look on them with suspicion because of their country of origin, but are clueless about the religious tapestry that exists back home. They are also ignorant about the horrors some of these Christian Syrians have endured. The article continues:

When (an anonymous interviewee) still lived in Daraa, Syria, he was abducted by authorities one night from his bedroom and held for 37 days, he said. He described repeated beatings while he was detained. In his experience, Syrian Muslims and Christians have always gotten along well, but that all changed after the war started, and he blamed the Syrian government for stoking those tensions.

My one beef with the piece is that it didn’t identify what sort of Christians these Syrians were.

This is complex material and the details matter. Were they Melkite Greek Catholics or from the  Orthodox Church of Antioch? Or Syriac Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Chaldean Catholic, the Asssyrian Church of the East or Protestants?

Some of these groups have seen their monasteries destroyed and their leaders kidnapped. That has a way of providing good reasons to emigrate.  And then, after several inches of quotes from refugees sharing their fear of radical Muslims who might slip through the cracks, the article changes 180 degrees and ends with a sermon.

Mouna and Fouad Younes also said that the Christian and Muslim divide was not an issue in Syria before the war. Mouna said that it wasn’t until after the war that she began to sense religious tensions.
Fouad added that he agrees with people who say suspicion of all Muslim refugees is wrong: “It is Islamophobic.”

But these same people just talked about how they were suspicious of Muslims.

Odd. PBS swooped in a few days later than the Post and did a similar story but likewise didn't explain the differences between Christians. 

I did want to point to a similar piece the Post did on site; that is through interviewing refugees in Damascus, Beirut and the Kurdish city of Irbil. It shows the mixture of emotions people feel when Trump says he wants a preference for Christian immigrants. Some are ready to jump on the next plane but others feel this move only depopulates what few Christian refuges there are in northern Iraq.

“We ask our friends to help us stay, not to take us from our homeland,” said Yonadam Kanna, an Iraqi Christian member of parliament from northern Iraq.
Christian history in Iraq stretches back thousands of years, he said. “It’s very important that Christians stay — if not, there will be a huge demographic change in the region.”
A better American plan, he said, would aid in the rebuilding of Christian towns and villages that were sacked by the Islamic State group. “Houses and churches are destroyed and burned. We call on Americans to help us repair and clear,” he said. “Nineveh has been liberated for over 100 days, but nothing has been done to rebuild and help Christians go home — it’s just talk and talk.”

In all these are two portrayals of complex realities where no one solution is 100 percent right. I appreciate the work it took to search these people out and give them a voice. 

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