In 2011, during the Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring, protesters in Syria demanded the end of Baath Party rule and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in the country since 1971.
In April 2011, the Syrian Army was sent to quell the protest and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion and has spread across the country.
Wait, what's the "Arab Spring" and the "Ba'ath Party"?
The Arab Spring is the term the Western media has used to describe the various protests, demonstrations, riots, and civil wars that began on 18 December 2010 and spread throughout many countries with predominantly Arab populations.
The Ba'ath Party (short for the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party) is a political party that began in Syria which espouses Ba'athism, a mix of Arab nationalism, socialism, and anti-imperialist ideologies. Ba'athism calls for unification of the Arab world into a single state. The movement is split into two main factions, one in Syria and one in Iraq (Saddam Hussein was a Ba'athist).
What is the toll of the Syrian civil war?
To date, estimates range between 70,000 and 120,000 Syrians killed, 130,000 people missing or detained, 1.2 million refugees, and 2.5-3 million internally displaced.
I know the country is somewhere in the Middle East, but where exactly is it located?
Syria, which is about the size of North Dakota, is located north of the Arabian Peninsula at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. The country is bordered by Turkey on the north, Iraq on the east, Jordan on the south, and Lebanon, Israel, and the Mediterranean on the west. Its biggest cities are Aleppo (population 2,301,570) and Damascus (population 1,711,000).
Isn't Syria one of the lands mentioned in the Bible?
The modern state of Syria is part of the area known throughout history as Greater Syria. In the Bible the city of Damascus is mentioned 67 times. The road to Damascus was the place of Paul's conversion (Acts 9) and Antioch was the city in which the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:26)
What is President Obama's "red line" comment about?
On August 20, 2012 President Obama was asked about reports that Syria was prepared to use chemical weapons against rebels. The President answered,
We have been very clear to the (Bashar al-Assad) regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.
Has the Syrian government crossed that "red line" by using chemical weapons against its own people?
That certainly appears to be the case. According to Secretary of State John Kerry, the firsthand accounts from humanitarian organizations on the ground, like Doctors Without Borders and the Syria Human Rights Commission all strongly indicate that chemical weapons were used on civilians in Damascus. Kerry also stated that the Syrian regime maintains custody of the country's chemical weapons and that have the capacity to deliver then by using rockets. The Syrian regime has refused to allow the U.N. investigators access to the site of the attack that would allegedly exonerate them. Instead, it attacked the area further, shelling it and systematically destroying evidence. As Kerry said, "That is not the action of a regime eager to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons."
How does the Obama administration plan to respond?
According to the New York Times, the administration is considering a range of limited missile attacks, lasting no more than one or two days. The attacks, which are expected to involve scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from American destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, would not be focused on chemical weapons storage sites, which would risk an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe and could open up the sites to raids by militants, officials said.
The strikes would instead be aimed at military units that have carried out chemical attacks, the headquarters overseeing the effort and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks, according to the options being reviewed within the administration.
So the rebels are the "good guys" in the civil war?
Not exactly. Christians are increasingly becoming the target of violent attacks by the rebel forces. Catholic and Orthodox groups in Syria say the anti-government rebels have committed "awful acts" against Christians, including beheadings, rapes and murders of pregnant women. A special 'Vulnerability Assessment of Syria's Christians' conducted by the World Watch unit of Open Doors International from June 2013 warned that Syrian Christians are the victims of "disproportionate violence and abuse." They warned further that Christian women in Syria are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse.
But I thought the persecution of Christians was happening in Egypt?
It's happening there too. See also: Explainer: What's Going on in Egypt?
Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, online editor for First Things, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).Copyright © 2013 Joe Carter
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