Much has been written over the last week about Father Frans van der Lugt, the Dutch priest who was murdered last Monday in Homs, Syria. But in all that has been written about Father Frans and all the praise that has, undoubtedly justifiably, been heaped upon him as a man of peace, it is remarkable how little attention has been paid to his view of the Syrian rebellion.
Passing reference has been made in some press reports to a letter Father Frans published on a Dutch (in fact, Dutch/Flemish) website in January 2012 and his assessment, as contained therein, that the rebellion did not constitute a “popular uprising.” But the January 2012 post contains much more than that. Perhaps most notably, in it Father Frans writes that he personally observed armed elements among the protests that sparked the rebellion and that it was these gunmen from within the protests that opened fire on the security forces, thus provoking the response of the latter. Father Frans emphasizes that such gunmen were present in the protests “from the start” [vanaf het begin]. This, of course, runs entirely counter to the standard narrative of the rebellion that has been virtually universally adopted by the Western media.
What follows is my full translation of Father Frans’s January 2012 report from Homs. The Dutch original is available on the website of the Mediawerkgroep Syrië here.
Report from Father van der Lugt on the Situation in Homs
We owe it to the citizens of Syria to be nuanced. Otherwise, their struggle is lost.
There are many people here that sincerely believe that we can go further with this [i.e. the current Syrian] government, that it is capable of implementing reforms (see the president’s latest speech) and that it is perhaps more democratic than possible replacements.
Most of the citizens of Syria do not support the opposition. Even a country like Qatar has stated this following an opinion survey. Therefore, you also cannot say that this is a popular uprising. The majority of people are not part of the rebellion and certainly not part of the armed rebellion. What is occurring is, above all, a struggle between the army and armed Sunni groups that aim to overturn the Alawite regime and take power.
From the start the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.
It is not sure that the government is playing off the two groups (Sunnis and Alawites) against one another. In Homs, it is precisely the opposite. The army is keeping the two groups from getting involved in a bloody conflict. If the army leaves, then we will have a civil war here in Homs.
Bashar al-Assad has never required the support of Christian leaders. Most support him because they are convinced that they would be worse off with another solution.
Father Frans van der Lugt
Homs, 13 January 2012