So fierce and unrelenting is the civil war in Syria that 11 million Syrian nationals have been displaced from their homes in the past four years. Of these, four million have left the country altogether.
Many of the bedraggled emigrants, having landed in makeshift camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, have begun streaming into European countries on a massive scale, creating the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the end of World War II.
The Syrians have good reasons for leaving their homeland. Syria has sunk into a sinkhole of death, destruction and despair and 250,000 civilians and soldiers have been killed. The tragedy tearing Syria asunder affects all Syrians — Muslims, Druze and Christians alike. But the Christian minority is especially vulnerable. On a per capita basis, the Christians are most likely to leave, regardless of the hardships they’ll have to endure on the perilous trip from the Middle East to the European continent.
One of the dangers facing Christians is Islamic State, the barbaric jihadist organization that has wrested vast tracts of land from the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. The indignities to which they’ve been subjected are horrendous. Christians have been forced to convert to Islam and their properties have been summarily seized. In short, they’ve been reduced to second-class citizenship.
No wonder they no longer feel safe or welcome in Syria.
Now comes the news that Islamic State has forced Christians to sign contracts which officially reduce them to dhimmis, or tolerated members of a protected minority. If they agree to pay an annual poll tax and abide by a ban on building churches and monasteries, wearing crucifixes and drinking alcohol in public places, no harm will apparently come to them.
Last year, the Christian residents of Raqqa, the de facto headquarters of Islamic State in Syria, were compelled to sign a similar contract.
Dhimmitude, a pre-modern concept, was a status applied to religious minority groups throughout the Arab/Muslim world for centuries. Jews were among the minorities most affected by this draconian edict. And now, in the 21st century, Syrian Christians are bearing the brunt of this latest manifestation of intolerance.
So it’s not hard to comprehend why Christians, let alone Muslims, are fleeing Syria. Simply put, they have no future in Syria, a failed state cracking apart at the seams and held hostage by Muslim extremists from Islamic State and an assortment of other like-minded organizations.
And since the civil war is likely to drag on indefinitely, with no political settlement in sight, the Christians have drawn the inescapable conclusion that Syria is a lost cause and that they will be much better off in Europe and elsewhere.
As this humanitarian crisis unfolds, Syrian refugees deserve empathy and assistance. But it should be borne in mind that their values and views may well be at odds with the Western countries that will admit them.
Having lived in a police state at war with Israel and hostile to Western interests, some of the Syrians may hold fast to anti-Western tropes and antisemitic stereotypes. And having imbibed the norms of a conservative Islamic society, they may be lukewarm to basic democratic principles and opposed to gay and lesbian rights, same-sex marriage and abortion.
The Syrian refugees, as well as their children, need to be reeducated by the states that accept them as new immigrants. They can become useful citizens in their new homes, but the process of successfully integrating them will require a rigorous screening program to keep Islamic radicals at bay, courses in democracy, time, patience and generous funding.