News stories are breaking fast: the Assad regime is nearing its end. Assad himself reportedly has fled Damascus for his stronghold in Latakia by the coast. Today the Syrian rebels seized the Iraqi border posts and executed the regular troops there. They are taking over posts along the Turkish border, and that will embolden Turkey to provide them direct aid. Suddenly, the Iraqis that fled the violence in their country and found sanctuary in Syria are desperately eager to get home.
The United States government behind the scenes is helping the rebels, if only because that is the only way to have influence over them after the removal of Assad. As elsewhere, the new regime could wind up introducing new forms of oppression by militant Islamists. The New York Times reports that the U.S. is especially concerned about the minority Alawite Muslims that now dominate the government and have participated in the attempts to quell the rebellion by the Sunni majority. (Of course, we also are worried about the possibility that Assad will use chemical weapons on his own people, or let such weapons fall into the hands of al Qaeda units within the new Free Syrian Army.)
But, what about the Christian minority in Syria? They number about two and a half million, with large and ancient Orthodox and Roman Catholic populations and some protestants. With few exceptions, they have not had a part in the killing, though some have supported Assad in the past out of fear of the militant Islamist alternative. It would be understandable if the U.S. government did not want to emphasize a concern over their fate, lest that provoke the very attacks Christians fear. Still this concern definitely merits attention. In Iraq it got little attention, official or unofficial, and the Christian population there has been devastated since 2003. We didn't help them enough in Iraq; we should in Syria.
According to Catholic World News today, "'On the streets of Damascus you see people fleeing, there are refugees who, desperate, cross the city in search of a refuge,' said (Maronite Catholic) Archbishop Samir Nassar. 'The lack of charity structures, the embargo, and the limited resources available do not help to face this emergency and contribute to fueling anxiety."
One can argue that it might hurt rather than help Christians in the Middle East for the U.S. to promote their safety openly. But we certainly can campaign for the safety of all religious and ethnic minorities, emphatically including the Christians. It won't do for the U.S. to take a hands-off position.