What is the alternative to Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria? A simple if indirect way to find out is to consider which groups in Syria are especially for or against Assad—and why.
Christian minorities, who, at 10% of the Syrian population, have the most to gain from a secular government and the most to suffer from a Sharia-state, have no choice but to prefer Assad. They are already seeing aspects of the alternative. A recent Barnabas Fund report titled "Christians in Syria Targeted in Series of Kidnappings and Killings; 100 Dead," tells of how "children were being especially targeted by the kidnappers, who, if they do not receive the ransom demanded, kill the victim." In one instance, kidnappers videotaped a Christian boy as they murdered him in an attempt to frame the government; one man "was cut into pieces and thrown in a river" and another "was found hanged with numerous injuries."
Accordingly, it is understandable that, as an earlier report put it, "Christians have mostly stayed away from the protests in Syria, having been well treated and afforded a considerable amount of religious freedom under President Assad's regime." After all, "Should Assad fall, it is feared that Syria could go the way of Iraq post-Saddam Hussein. Saddam, like Assad, restrained the influence of militant Islamists, but after his fall they were free to wreak havoc on the Christian community; hundreds of thousands of Christians were consequently forced to flee the violence. Many of them went to Syria."
In short, should "rebels" get their way and topple the Assad regime, the same brutal pattern experienced by Iraq's Christian minorities—who have been liked to, and killed off like, dogs, to the point of nearing extinction—will come to Syria, where a preacher recently urged Muslims to "tear apart, chop up and feed" Christians who support Assad "to the dogs." From last week alone, some 70 additional Christian homes were invaded and pillaged, and "for the first time in the history of the conflict in Syria, an armed attack has been made on a Catholic monastery," partially in search of money.
And who are these "rebels" who see and treat Christians as sub-humans to be exploited and plundered to fund the "opposition" against Assad? In fact, many of them are Islamists, internal and external, and their "opposition" is really a jihad; moreover, they are acting on anti-Christian fatwas that justify the kidnapping, ransoming, and plundering of "infidel" Christians.
As in Libya, it is a fact that al-Qaeda is operating among the Syrian opposition; Ayman al-Zawahiri himself "urges the Syrian people to continue their revolution until the downfall of the Assad regime, and stresses that toppling this regime is a necessary step on the way to liberating Jerusalem." Even the influential Yusif al-Qaradawi and Hamas, the latter supported by Iran—Assad's ally—both back the "rebels." All these facts should place the "opposition"—who they are, what they want—in better context.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Obama, who was remarkably reticent when Iranians seeking Western-style freedom tried to revolt against the oppressive Islamist regime of Iran, made it a point to single out Assad by name as needing to go at his recent State of the Union Address (not that the Republican presidential candidates seem to know any better; see Andrew McCarthy's recent article where, drawing on America's other misadventures in Islamic nations, he shows how the U.S. has little to gain and possibly much to lose by supporting the anti-Assad opposition).
The lesson here is clear: while it is true that not all of Assad's opposition is Islamist—there are anti-Assad Muslims who do not want a Sharia-state—the Islamists are quite confident that the overthrow of Assad equates their empowerment. And why shouldn't they be confident? Wherever Arab tyrants have been overthrown—Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, etc.—it is Islamists filling the power-vacuums. Just ask Syria's Christian minorities, who prefer the dictator Assad remain in power—who prefer the devil they know to the ancient demon their forefathers knew.
Raymond Ibrahim is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.