Mother Agnes-Miriam speaks to a packed room about her experiences Syria and a way forward (Image credit: End the Lie)
Mother Agnes-Miriam of the Cross, the mother superior of a monastery and convent in Qara, Syria, presented her eyewitness experiences of atrocities while also offering her vision for peace in the war-torn nation.
Human Rights Watch emergencies director Peter Bouckaert has called Agnes a “discredited Assad propagandist” and The New York Timescharacterized her as someone who is “frequently quoted in the Russian media, and by American critics of Islam, defending the Assad government.” A Christian blogger, on the other hand, wrote positively of Agnes.
Agnes answers audience questions (Image credit: End the Lie)
None of that dissuaded a packed room of attentive listeners at the Jesus Sacred Heart Church in North Hollywood on Friday.
Agnes, who said she has received death threats for her work, showed images from a visit to Homs on Dec. 5, 2011.
At that point in the conflict, the mainstream media wouldn’t show violence against civilians carried out by opposition forces, Agnes said.
Yet armed gangs were attacking schools, Agnes said, going on to say that she saw 100 corpses of civilians killed outside of conflict in a single day. Images were shown of pools of blood, where she said beheadings of Alawites took place the previous day.
“Why [would you destroy infrastructure] if you are Syrian?” Agnes said. “Why are you destroying and dismantling the factories of your brothers? Why are you destroying the schools? Why are you looting and destroying the hospitals? Why are you burning the ambulances? Why?”
Agnes interacts with audience members between her lecture and the question and answer period (Image credit: End the Lie)
She noted that the opposition forces in Syria have been targeting cultural landmarks like churches, synagogues and mosques along with museums.
“Why are you looting the museums?” Agnes said. “It’s your heritage. The Syrians who give approval for such deeds are enemies of their own country.”
A constant theme throughout Agnes’ speech was the fact that the way forward to peace and democracy is not destruction and violence.
“If you want change, if you want to bring freedom and democracy, you do not destroy your own country, you preserve it,” she said.
Contrary to the narrative of many who want to paint Agnes as a blind propagandist for Assad, she pointed out that she has actually helped the protestors.
Agnes takes pictures with attendees after the question and answer period (Image credit: End the Lie)
“I was helping the protestors to not be in jail. I am still helping the Syrians who have these opinions not to be persecuted,” Agnes said.
She also said that in November 2011 she wrote a letter to the government criticizing the discriminatory treatment some were receiving in hospitals and protestors being held without charges.
Yet she criticized the approach of the opposition, saying that she doesn’t see democracy, just death and destruction.
In the question and answer section, she said that there were some good government ministers in Syria, adding that the government does have problems but violence won’t fix them.
She charged the United States, France, Germany, England and Gulf states with responsibility in financing and supporting the radical Muslim rebels in Syria.
Satellite television shows clerics calling for violence and beheadings every day, according to Agnes, with no word from what she called the “so-called civilized world.”
She said there have been hundreds of beheadings, something which has become somewhat normal in Syria. These rebels, who she described as fundamentalists and al Qaeda fighters, seek to establish a radical Islamic caliphate, according to Agnes.
Agnes listens to an activist from the Syrian American Council during the break between the lecture and question and answer period (Image credit: End the Lie)
A group of women, who one attendee identified as members of the pro-opposition Syrian American Council (SAC), showed up to the event.
Recently, an SAC activist disrupted a speaking event with Agnes in San Francisco with a sign reading, “Stop Mother Agnes propaganda. She is an Assad agent disguised as a nun.”
At one point, some heated conversations broke out between the women from SAC and attendees. Security stood by at the ready, though no one was ever escorted out. Agnes also spoke to the women for a few minutes before the question and answer session began.
Agnes, who is part of the monastery and convent of St. James the Mutilated, which currently houses around 40 people, presented what she called the “third way.”
Her vision is based on reconciliation and forgiveness, rather than continued retaliation and violence.
The International Support Team for Musalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria has been critical in continuing to move in that direction, according to Agnes.
While the idea of reconciliation and forgiveness may seem far too idealistic, it is very real for some of the members of the team.
One member had his son abducted and delivered to him in a plastic bag in pieces after being brutally tortured, Agnes said, showing pictures of the dismembered body to the audience.
Some 50,000 Syrians have disappeared in abductions, according to Agnes.
Other members of the movement have had family members abducted and/or killed but have chosen to walk to the path of forgiveness instead of calling for more violence.
The team’s goal is to bring about true reconciliation in Syria by bringing all Syrians to the table to discuss the future of their country.
Agnes said her ultimate mission is to “highlight what no one is highlighting outside of [the] propaganda of [the Assad] government.” The crowd seemed to believe she fulfilled that mission, evidenced by the repeated rounds of applause and standing ovation.
Agnes will be speaking in other cities in California, Ohio, Colorado and Nebraska before departing for a speaking tour in the United Kingdom later this month.
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