When Silence Says It All
Pope John Paul II stood with Muslim clerics inside a mosque in Kuneitra, a Syrian town on the Golan Heights. The recent visit was part of the pope’s historic journey to Syria, the first ever taken by a Roman Catholic pontiff. He made the journey to Syria to retrace the steps of the apostle Paul and call for “new understanding and respect” among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. His visit to the mosque in the ruins of Kuneitra was to include a joint Muslim-Catholic prayer, which would demonstrate the announced spirit of the pope’s visit.
It was not to be, however. His Syrian hosts decided to scrap the plan because of Islamic “sensitivities.” At the root of those sensitivities emerged something more concrete than just silencing a prayer. It so happens that the mosque stands on the site where a church was located 12 centuries ago. Some of the Syrians were afraid the pope would attempt to reclaim the property for the church. Thus they quashed the prayer, and that silence speaks volumes.
For Muslims, the issue of Christian or Jewish property rights is a one-way street: once in Muslim hands, always in Muslim hands. To concede any Christian prior claim to the mosque property would be tantamount to doing exactly what they are demanding Israel do with all the land Muslims will refer to only as Palestine, namely, relinquish their rights to it. And for Islam, that isn’t the way it works. The pope found that out during his visit to Kuneitra. The pity is that the rest of the civilized world doesn’t seem to be listening to the silence.
Bashar Assad—Not Ready for Prime Time
When the pope and his party arrived in Syria, they were met at the airport by Syria’s fledgling president, Bashar Assad. Rather than greet his guests with the usual diplomatic amenities, Assad launched into a tirade against Israel and made a clumsy attempt to link the interests of Christians and Muslims against those of the Jewish people.
Israelis, he charged, “tried to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to kill the Prophet Muhammad.” He went on to instruct the pope on how he should direct future prayers: “We feel that in your prayers in which you recall the suffering of Jesus Christ, you will remember that there is a people in Lebanon, the Golan [Heights], and Palestine that is suffering from subjugation and persecution. We expect you to stand by them against the oppressors so that they could regain what was unjustly taken from them.
“We say that we adhere to a just and comprehensive peace that returns the land to its original owners, and the return of refugees and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”1
This was the same Bashar Assad who last March said Israelis are more racist than Nazis and that Arab suffering under Israeli occupation is similar to the biblical suffering of Jesus Christ at the hands of first-century Jews.
Assad’s intemperate public remarks indicate that he is far from being the quality leader needed to represent capably his downtrodden people on the world stage. As his father before him, he is obsessed, not with obtaining a just and lasting peace, but with insuring the total conquest and eventual annihilation of his Jewish neighbors to the south.
A Message From Kuneitra
Above the silence in the mosque rises a message we must not overlook. It emanates from the ruins of that ravished town. In anticipation of the presence of news media from around the world, the Syrians bused in thousands of former Kuneitra residents for the day and strung a large banner in English and Arabic over the rubble of the city. It read, “Our house was in this place. The Israelis demolished the house and the garden with all its flowers and trees. [They are] still thirsty.”
As is overwhelmingly the case, the press fell head over heels for the propaganda and dutifully told the Syrians’ story to people during the nightly news. Excerpts from the Associated Press report on the pope’s visit read as follows:
“Thousands of Syrians gathered in the rubble of a town they say was destroyed by Israel, turning the papal visit this morning into an opportunity to tell the world about their bitterness.
“Syria refuses to rebuild Kuneitra or let most of its residents return, saying it should stand as a monument to Israeli ‘crimes’ until the entire Golan, seized by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, is back in Syrian hands.”2
The Real Story
The true story of Kuneitra is found in the annals of the 1973 October War. On the morning of October 6, 1973, while Israelis were in their synagogues observing their holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, Syria and Egypt launched coordinated assaults bent on the destruction of the Jewish state. The thin line of Israeli troops and UN observers on the Golan Heights were startled to see an armada of some 700 Syrian tanks rumbling toward their positions. Their destination? The bridges at the foot of the Golan, crossing the Jordan River into the heartland of Israel.
Blocking their path was a small contingent of 176 Israeli tanks, manned by replacements for the troops who were at home observing the fast of Yom Kippur. For the first few days of the conflict, Israel teetered on the brink of destruction.
The deciding battle on the Golan was fought in the valley before the town of Kuneitra. It was aptly named “the Vale of Tears.” Visitors to the Golan can stand today looking down at the valley that is still scarred by tank-repelling ditches etched deeply into the soil. In 1973, that soil was littered with the remains of Syrian and Israeli tanks, testifying to the dreadful slaughterhouse that was Kuneitra. During the battle, the town of Kuneitra was turned into rubble.
For Israel, it was a terrible loss. Twenty-five hundred Israelis were killed and thousands more wounded. Roughly one-tenth of one percent of Israel’s population perished.
Thus, in reality, Kuneitra stands as yet another monument of Syrian and Islamic folly. But the international news media continue to play the game of making little Israel the Goliath and the one-billion-strong Muslim world the hapless victim.
The reason the residents of Kuneitra cannot return to their homes has nothing to do with Israel. It has everything to do with Syria, which uses Kuneitra like a machine gun in its propaganda war on Israel. And the all-too-obliging Western media never hesitate to join the battle on the Muslim side.
The Lessons for Us
The saddest part of this story is that mainline churches and, I’m sorry to say, many evangelicals are falling prey to the constant bombardment of misinformation that comes via secular news and pro-Islamic sources. There is no rational basis for an alliance between Islam and Christianity. None whatsoever. Militant Muslims are killing Christians all over the world. Tragically, all too few voices in the Islamic community speak out to condemn these atrocities.
You might remember, as I do, that every time you walk through a security check at a local airport, you do so because Islamic radicals are committing heinous acts of terrorism all over the world. How long will Christians continue to allow themselves to be duped into sympathizing with individuals who are nothing more than terrorists bent on killing innocent people and subjugating Jews and Christians to Islam?
What’s in it for us? First, we must realize we live in a world where killers are on the loose. Unfortunately, this fact has escaped many of us. We live in a culture saturated by affluence. And let’s face it; we like it that way. We don’t want to hear unpleasant news. Consequently, when Muslim fanatics in Indonesia parade the heads of Christian believers on spikes through towns, there is little or no cry of outrage. When black Christian children are emasculated and sold as slaves to Muslims in Africa, few people seem to lose sleep at night. Perhaps we are too busy with our personal relationships or too preoccupied learning how to manage our stock portfolios to care. If so, God help us.
The tide is coming our way. We have been amply warned; but, as in the days of ancient Israel, prophetic voices are seldom heard until it is too late. The status quo is hard to combat.
One thing is certain. Men like Bashar Assad and Yasser Arafat may change their rhetoric; but they will never change their objective. Militant elements in Islam have long since made their intentions clear: First subjugate the Saturday people (the Jews); then, the Sunday people (the Christians). Islam, they are convinced, will triumph.
Christians are asleep at the switch. Furthermore, many Jewish people are slumbering under the delusion of Islamic sincerity and good intentions. But Muslim fanatics are still at war—Islamic Jihad.
Columnist William Safire said it well in a recent column in The New York Times. Aggressors, he said, will only be willing to talk when they are convinced they cannot win. Those who fight only to settle will always lose. Islam is sure it can win. The Western world hopes, through more talk, to settle. Let’s pray that the handwriting is not on the wall.