Religion and conflict in Syria

2 min read

Members of the Faculty of Divinity are expressing doubts about the prospect of a U.S. military strike in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s reported use of chemical weapons on the country’s civilian population.

Ahmed Ragab, William Graham, and Harvey Cox lament the failure of the international community to avert the humanitarian disaster now unfolding in Syria, but say that unilateral intervention is unlikely to improve the situation, now that it is complicated by sectarian violence.

Ragab, the Richard T. Watson Assistant Professor of Science and Religion, spent much of the summer in the Middle East. He says that one of the greatest tragedies of the Syrian conflict is that neither violence nor sectarianism were initially at the heart of the revolution.

“This movement started as entirely peaceful,” he says. “For months and months, people took to the streets in peaceful protest. They were attacked by the regime but they continued peacefully protesting for a long time. The escalation of the violence by the regime led to the fact that these people took up arms to defend themselves. It was at this moment – when the violence became more central to the conflict – that we saw armed factions and extremist groups like Al-Qaeda become more influential in the conflict.”