Donald Trump reminds some Syrian-Americans of a very controversial leader–and they like him all the more for it.”>
Perched on a hard orange seat high above the clay floor of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex& Expo Center, waiting for the Harrisburg Trump rally to start, Pastor Joseph Moussa told me Donald Trump gives him hope, in part, because he reminds him of Assad.
Yes, that AssadBashar al-Assadthe one whose army is accused of killing upwards of a quarter-million Syrians. In some significant styles, Moussa said, Trump and Assad sound similar. And he likes it.
Besides appreciating Trumps plainspokenness and apparent invulnerability to pressure from lobbyists, Moussa and other Syrian-American Christians living in Pennsylvania like Trump for a unique reason: They think he will do the least to undermine Assadand, by extension, the most to protect their fellow Christians back in Syria.
Mr. Trump, he is the only candidate that ever said, I am an evangelical and I am proud of it, and I am gonna protect the Christians, he said.
Like any other ethnic group, Pennsylvanias Syrian-American community isnt a monolith. And describing it in sweeping terms is as foolish as it is uninformative. But conversations with numerous Syrian-American leaders in the Keystone State indicate that Trump may find many devoted advocates among their numbers. Many of these Christians fervently back Bashar al-Assad, as they feel he treats Syrias Christians fairly and is their best protection against spreading Islamist extremism in the region. So they like Trump, as they feel hes their best hope for restriction Western intervention on behalf of the rebels seeking to take down Assad. To an extent, they assure Trump and Assad as two of a kind when it comes to protecting the regions Christians.
Christians in Syria have long called for the U.S. government to resist anti-Assad endeavors. Resulting Syrian Christians came to Washington in January 2014 to lobby in Assads defense, as Time magazine detailed, arguing that he protected their community from radicalized Islamists. They didnt quite push for America to aid Assad, but rather argued against any U.S. is supportive of rebels.
At the time, some powerful American Christian leaders backed them up. Tony Perkins, who heads the socially conservative Family Research Council, argued against U.S. military intervention back in September 2013, saying it would endanger Syrias Christians. The National Journal reported that Rev. Michael Neuroth of the United Church of Christ and Gradye Parsons, then the highest elected police officers of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A ., also shared Perkinss concerns.
The vast majority of the Syrian civil wars victims are Muslims, including countless innocent civilians and children. But Christians there also face great peril. Anti-Assad fighters allied with al Qaeda and the Islamic State have bombed churches and driven Christians from their homes. Assad, in contrast, gave Christians privileged treatment and even attained one his ambassador to France, as PBS has detailed.
Joseph Moussa, who leads Arab Christian Evangelical churches in York and Harrisburg, told me his first cousin was lately found dead by his relatives in Syria. ISIS fighters had kidnapped him, along with co-workers. They let the Sunni Muslims they kidnapped survive, Moussa said, but they killed the Alawites and Christianshis cousin among them. He told me his family back in Damascus interred his cousin on the same day we talked before the Trump rally.
For Moussa, Trumps campaign promise to protect Christians sounds very personal. Other candidates talk about their faith, Moussa said. But only Trump promises to actively protect Christiansjust like Assad.
Many Christians in Syria fear that the weaker Assad becomes, the worse things will be for them. And many Syrian-Americans in Pennsylvania share that fear. Theyve protested U.S. intervention with signs that read PEACE LOVE DIGNITY SYRIA.
Our site once dubbed Allentown Assadville, USA. And Assadville loves Trump.
The majority of them are[ pro] Trump, said Ayoub Jarrouj, a Syrian-American Christian who heads the Allentown-based Syrian Arab American Charity and who backs Hillary Clinton.
To some Syrian evangelicals, even if theyre not actively backing Trump, hes seen as a better choice than the former secretary of state. Anthony Sabbagh, who pastors the St. George Orthodox Church in Allentown, said he himself subsistences Bernie Sanders, as do many in his congregation. They assure Sanders and Trump as being equally acceptable on foreign policy questions, Sabbagh said. And if its Trump vs. Clinton in November, he added, he will definitely vote Trump. Thats because he believes Trump will limit U.S. involvement in Syria.
I think they do not want Syria to progressthey want to bring it down, he said of the Obama administrations position of the nation. They brought Iraq down. They did in Vietnam. Tell me a country that America went to they didnt leave it in shambles.