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Bloodbath and Beyond

March 21, 2013

Imagine a mosque in Damascus. You are in the mosque and the men are sitting on the carpets. You see a man in the mosque; he stands to speak for he means to be heard above the crowd. What he says has a certain rhythm, a rhyme, a cadence. “Allah, Syria, al-Jumhurriah.” God, Country, Freedom. Many men and then many more take up the rhyme until they steel their wills as men do when they prepare to sacrifice their lives for a great cause. They move toward the exits for God, for country,  for freedom.

Thrust into leadership, Syria's Assad's response to protest has produced countless dead and a million refugees.

Thrust into leadership, Syria’s Assad’s response to protest has produced countless dead and a million refugees.

These are our brothers and our sons. They want what men have always wanted, what we would want were we burdened as they are burdened by injustice and the rule of evil men. In their desperate desire to better the lives of their children, they move toward the exits to the sound of their own chanting for God, for country for freedom. You have heard this before, in the call to arms made into music of Les Miserables:

Do you hear the people sing? Singing a song of angry men? It is the music of a people Who will not be slaves again! When the beating of your heart Echoes the beating of the drums There is a life about to start When tomorrow comes!

Today desperate men, sons of Syria, will move toward the exits of the mosque but they will face a fearsome foe, the army of Bashir al-Assad, a modern version of King Herod who kills the innocents and is too self-absorbed to stop and ask, “Look what has become of me, I who was once a boy playing with toys; what has happened to me that I should send soldiers to lay waste to the homes of innocent men, women and children. When the history is written, say that it was not my wish to rule or even return to Syria; I was happy to study in England, studying ophthalmology.

“Politics was supposed to be my brother’s fate, but he died in a car accident on the way to the Damascus airport. Curse my luck! If only he had lived, I would be living abroad, but here I am sending death squads into the neighborhoods of people I have never met to make an example of them and scare the others into submission.”

So the men in the mosque are moving toward the exits for God, for country, for freedom. Beyond the exits, snipers occupy the roofs. So I ask you, would you be willing to lose your life for the sake of your children’s future? That is the choice some of these are making. You would hope to have their courage were you born an Arab at such a time as this. They want freedom, they want rule of law, they want what you have, liberty and justice for all. They want daily bread, they want deliverance from evil, they want forgiveness. They long for a future and a hope, for peace.

It does not yet appear what will be the outcome of this great civil war in Syria. We all pray for an end, for a good ending, for a just and lasting peace. For years the Syrian people were forced by the police to attend rallies in stadiums. His picture would be enlarged and displayed on screens but he himself was not there. One of the “praise songs” that they sang to their leader’s picture at the rally was “You give us the air we breathe.”

That is blasphemy, and they all knew it. All of us would feel nauseous is we had to support such a modern-day king Herod. But somewhere in the crowd was a Patrick Henry, a statesman. Somewhere was a Gandhi, a Martin Luther King. And today, he is the man in the mosque, the man who started the chant, “God, Country, Freedom.”

Now the men in the mosque are moving to the exits and it does not yet appear what will happen when they step outside. It is the sound of angry men, the music of a people who will not be slaves again. They are desperadoes and their sons and daughters will tell their story to the next generation.

Nelson Mandela said, “ . . . For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Those of us who gather here today, in the sweet land of liberty, pray that the good news which came in Jesus Christ to make men and women free will come to pass for the Syrian people. And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can he preach unless he is sent? As the Scriptures say, “How blessed are the feet of him who brings good news.”

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