DUBLIN (CNS) — A Carmelite nun said the armed insurrection in Syria is “producing a totalitarianism that is worse” than that of Bashar Assad’s regime.
Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross, superior of the community at the monastery of St. James the Mutilated in Qara, Syria, also appealed to the international community to stop supporting violent militias linked to al-Qaida and other extremist groups guilty of atrocities against innocent Syrian civilians.
“We know now that those people are not fighting for freedom, they are fighting for their values, and those values are not even those of moderate Islam, they are fundamentalist,” the Lebanese-born nun said.
“What has really scandalized us and leaves us in distress is that the Western world seems to be encouraging this rise of sectarian violence just to topple the (Assad) regime,” she said.
Mother Agnes Mariam, spokeswoman for the Catholic Media Center of the Melkite Catholic Archdiocese of Homs, said the insurgents were targeting religious minorities and executing moderate Sunnis such as journalists, researchers, doctors and engineers to pressure their families and communities into supporting an Islamist state. She claimed they were “destroying the delicate religious and ethnic balance” in Syria.
“You don’t know when it will be your turn to be considered a collaborator,” she explained of the arbitrary abductions, beheadings and killings being carried out as part of a campaign of terror by the insurgents against those they claim are working for the Assad regime. “It is a life of fear and insecurity.”
She described the international community’s public utterances in support of peace as “paradoxical” in view of the financial support recently pledged by Britain and the United States to the insurgents, whom she warned are “paralyzing civilian life.” The Sunni Muslim rebels are also backed by Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
“This money will be used for weapons which will increase the violence,” Mother Agnes Mariam told Catholic News Service in Dublin in mid-August after a meeting with the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, and with representatives of the Irish bishops’ justice and peace council.
On Aug. 15, a panel of U.N. experts based in Geneva concluded that government forces and pro-government militias as well as armed insurgents had committed war crimes in the Syrian conflict between Feb. 15 and July 20. However, only the panel’s chairman was allowed to enter Syria to conduct interviews; other panelists were denied access.
In late July, the U.N. said an estimated 2.5 million Syrians have been injured, displaced or face problems securing food or basic necessities since the uprising — now deemed a civil war by the Red Cross — began in March 2011. Activists estimate 20,000-28,000 people have died in the conflict.
Mother Agnes Mariam said a prelate in Aleppo told her that although the city “did not really enter in the revolution demonstrations, as the majority of the city’s population wanted to stay neutral,” the city had been “invaded by thousands of rebels, most of whom are not Syrian,” and that they were “forcing people to either collaborate with them or killing them.”
“My appeal is for the civilian population,” Mother Agnes Mariam said. “This is not the way to bring freedom or democracy to a country which has been under a yoke of totalitarianism for 50 years.”
She said that, in Homs, she had witnessed “terrible things.”
“I have seen hundreds of corpses of civilians who were shot, cut in pieces — just because they were civilians going to their work,” she told Catholic News Service.
Likening Homs to Stalingrad, Russia, or Dresden, Germany, after World War II, she said ancient Catholic, Orthodox and Presbyterian churches had been desecrated and the conflict had caused 130,000 Christians to flee the area.
“The only solution is for a complete cease-fire and dialogue from within Syria and for all factions to enter into a movement of reconciliation and of dialogue,” she suggested. “We want first of all to stop violence.”
She also urged support for an alternative solution to the violence.
“Mussalaha, which in Arabic means reconciliation, is a community-based nonviolent initiative which has emerged from within civil society. Religious, family and ethnic leaders have been meeting to promote peace and reconciliation within Syrian society. It is an alternative to the violence of the insurrection or international military intervention,” she said.
The church-backed initiative emerged in June in Homs following the attendance of representatives of various religions at a meeting that resulted in a number of joint declarations on building peace and mutual respect in Syria.
Born in Lebanon of a Lebanese mother and a Palestinian father, Mother Agnes Mariam lived through the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990. She joined the Carmelites in 1971, and in 1994 she established a new monastic foundation in the sixth-century monastery of St. James the Mutilated in Qara.