President Bashar al-Assad

If major church leaders of Syria blast President Trump's missiles and tweets, is that news?

If major church leaders of Syria blast President Trump's missiles and tweets, is that news?

Please allow me just a moment here to speak as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, as well as a journalist and as, well, an American voter.

In the past several weeks, the crisis in Syria has jumped off the back burner of the mainstream press and into the headlines. There are lots of valid Google search terms linked to this, starting with "Donald Trump," "innocent civilians" and "Russia."

However, there is an angle to this story that means the world to me, yet it's one you rarely see covered in American media.

Believe it or not, religion does play a role in the Syria crisis. The most agonizing reality in all of this -- as I have mentioned before here at GetReligion -- is that several religious minorities in Syria, including the ancient Orthodox patriarchate in Damascus, depend on the current Syrian government for protection from radicalized forms of Islam.

Once again let me confess: My daily prayers include petitions for the protection of Christians, and all of those suffering, in Damascus, Aleppo and that region.

Do these religious believers recognize the evil that surrounds them, on both sides of the conflict? Of course they do. Please consider the message in a 2013 sermon by an Antiochian Orthodox leader here in America, Bishop Basil Essey of Wichita, Kan. He states the obvious:

Anyone who prays for peace in Syria must acknowledge, at the beginning, that "vicious wrongs" have been done on both sides and that "there's really no good armed force over there. No one we can trust. None," concluded Bishop Basil.
"So the choice is between the evil that we know and that we've had for 30-40 years in that part of the world, or another evil we don't know about except what they've shown us in this awful civil war."

This brings me to an important story that ran at Crux, focusing on how leaders of ancient religious communities in Syria reacted to the Trump administration's decision to attack Syria (during the festive week following Orthodox Easter, I might add). Oh yeah, that Pope Francis guy is involved in this, as well.

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Where are the essential facts about religion in news reports about fall of eastern Aleppo?

Where are the essential facts about religion in news reports about fall of eastern Aleppo?

American news consumers, as a rule, do not pay much attention to foreign news coverage. Here at GetReligion, we know that writing a post about mainstream media coverage of religion news on the other side of the planet is not the way to get lots of clicks and retweets.

That doesn't matter, because news is news and it's genuinely tragic that many Americans are in the dark about what is happening outside our borders. We will keep doing what we do.

This leads me to news coverage of the fall of the eastern half of Aleppo in Syria, a landmark event in that hellish civil war that is receiving -- as it should -- extensive coverage in American newspapers.

As you read the coverage in your own newspapers and favorite websites, please look for a crucial word -- "Alawites." President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is a member of the often persecuted Alawite sect of Islam. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

Let's start with the top of the Washington Post report, since this story is very typical of those found elsewhere, such as The New York Times and also Al Jazeera.

BEIRUT -- Syria’s government declared Thursday that it had regained full control of Aleppo after the last rebel fighters and civilians evacuated the key city as part of an agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey.
The Syrian military announced on state media that “security and stability” had been returned to eastern Aleppo, once the largest rebel stronghold. The “terrorists” -- a term used by the Syrian government to describe nearly all of its opponents -- had exited the city, the military said.
President Bashar al-Assad’s consolidation of Aleppo marks the end of the opposition presence in the city for the first time in more than four years and deals a major blow to the rebellion to unseat him.

Think about this as a matter of history, for a moment. Is there anything bloodier and more ruthless than a civil war, with fighting and acts of violence taking place inside a nation, pitting armies within its population against one another?

If that is the case, then it is crucial how one labels and defines these armies.

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Associated Press finds debates about Syrian refugee crisis -- among former refugees

Associated Press finds debates about Syrian refugee crisis -- among former refugees

The following is a public service announcement to mainstream journalists who are frantically trying to cover all of the different political angles of the current Syrian refugee debates: Please remember that the word "Syrian" does not equal "Muslim."

This is, of course, a variation on another equation that causes trouble for some journalists who are not used to covering religion: "Arab" does not equal "Muslim."

Thus, if and when you seek the viewpoints of Arab refugees who are already settled in America, including those who came here during previous waves of bloodshed in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, please strive to interview a few Syrian Christians and members of other religious minorities.

This is especially important when covering tensions in the declining industrial cities of the Midwest and Northeast, where Arabs of all kinds have been settling for generations. You will often find that many of these tensions are, literally, ancient.

This is a rather personal issue for me, since my family was part of an Orthodox parish for four years in South Florida (including 9/11) in which most of the families had Syrian and Lebanese roots. It also helps to remember that many people who come to America from Lebanon were driven into Lebanon by persecution in Syria, much earlier in the 20th Century.

To see these factors at work, check out this recent Associated Press "Big Story" feature that took the time to talk to a variety of voices on both sides of some of these divides.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) -- A few days ago, a pastor asked Syrian-born restaurant owner Marie Jarrah to donate food to a welcoming event for recently arrived Syrian refugees. Jarrah, who said she regularly helps people in need, declined.

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