The Residue of Ignorance: Ma’loula

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This documentary tells the sad story of Ma’loula, an ancient town in the northeast of Damascus, known as the meeting point of religions. It has been the target of ISIL violence in recent years.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: A new version of ignorance in the 21st century. A concept synonymous with destruction, violence and murder. A new version of American Al-qaeda-style Islam with a new Bin-Laden. A new scheme devised by American and Zionist minds to be implemented in the heart of the Islamic world. A scheme bearing the name of Islam and serving the interests of the US and Israel. A fabrication named Daesh.

Maaloula, one of a handful of villages in the mountains 50 kilometers northeast of Damascus. Its inhabitants have preserved and practiced rituals of Jesus Christ centuries after his birth. This is the only place in the world where Aramaic, the language of Christ, is still spoken. Maaloula had preserved part of Christian history in its original form in the heart of the mountains in northern Syria, until one day Daesh terrorists came along.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Musa Francis, Resident of Maloula: “Safir Hotel in Maaloula. On February 26, armed men came in and occupied it. They attacked the inhabitants of the city whose houses were located below the hotel. The invaders prevented the people from going about their business. They assaulted the people as they raided the city and targeted many of them. So, the people fled to the plains. We are going to stay here a little longer to see how people used the canals in the city to get away. People as old as 90 and bound to wheelchairs had to escape. They had to tread along a very difficult route for fear of their lives to run away from an invaded city. They went from where the hotel is standing to Maaloula, thinking this area would be safe. The never thought anyone would attack them over here.”

Narration: Christian or Muslim, clergyman or ordinary citizen, they are all the same in the eye of the terrorists who have come to this majority-Christian settlement to kill and to plunder…When it comes to Takfir, no one is safe.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Gabriel Davood, Bishop of Deir Mar Jerjes: “The mission of any religion is to broker relationships among humans and between mankind and God. When these relationships are thrown into disorder, and when humans take advantage of religion for political ends, that’s not a religion anymore.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Karim Aphram, Patriarch of Deir Mar Jerjes: “Western colonialism wants to rob this country of its wealth. That’s why it’s started fragmenting it. It wants to break it up into separate countries. It started out with tearing it apart along political and geographical demarcations, but then it realized how important religion is in the life of the people of the East. That’s why they decided to use religion as an instrument, and started concocting new ones. In the name of intellectualism and revitalization of religion, they embarked on achieving their own goals.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Little girl: “We used to come to this church on Sundays to pray and celebrate religious feasts. But now our church lays in ruin. Terrorists set it on fire and stole the portraits in it. Nothing in it was spared.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Musa Francis, Resident of Maloula: “This is the stature of the Virgin Mary, a woman revered by all divine religions. The terrorists smashed it but with help from philanthropists, it’s been restored to its original condition. This image you see next to the statue here shows how badly it had been damaged but now it looks like what it used to.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Daesh Terrorist: “By the grace of God Almighty, no one other than Allah will be worshipped in Syria. Only God will rule over this land. Taghut and its followers won’t be worshipped. From now on, we won’t allow anyone else to be worshipped. No one other than God and His religion. The religion of God and the Sunnah of the Prophet of God will prevail in this land.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Sheik Nabil Al Halbavi, Syrian Member of the Ahl- al- Bayt World Assembly: “We Muslims have spent centuries living peacefully side by side with the followers of other faiths in our lands. In some Muslim countries, their existence predates the existence of us Muslims. Moderate and peaceful Christians opened their doors to us and welcomed us with opened arms, as brothers not as enemies. How can we possibly harass and torture them? How do they dare murder these dears? Or destroy their religious symbols. These terrorist groups don’t even stop at sacred shrines. They even destroy the tombs of prominent humanitarians who possessed high religious values.”

Narration: On their way, terrorist thugs defiled the graves of Prophet Muhammad’s disciples. A sacrilegious act they justified as their attempt at destroying all symbols of idolatry. But Maaloula provides an exposé of the true nature of this thieving, marauding mob of thugs.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Gabriel Davood, Bishop of Deir Mar Jerjes: “We, as Christians and Muslims, and even before the emergence of Christianity and Islam, lived together peacefully here in our country Syria. Despite our differences over the number of gods, we had an understanding between us. And that same understanding introduced a civilization to the world. And when Islam came to this land from Hejaz and Nejd, it found proper ground to establish its rule on. And it laid the foundations of its rule in Damascus. That’s a fact everyone knows. Since then, we’ve been living together peacefully based on the fact that we belong to the same country. We created national unity.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Little boy: “My mother and I would come to this church every Sunday to pray. But the terrorists have burnt it now. Everything has been destroyed.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Gabriel Davood, Bishop of Deir Mar Jerjes: “That’s what eventually led to this bloody conflict and spread everywhere. The conflict keeps spilling over from one place to another. They kind of know they will be affected by the ripple effects what they have started and the flames of the fire they’ve started will engulf the whole region and the world and affect all the countries in it … Both the countries in the Middle East, and European countries that support such an ideology in the interest of achieving their political goals. Without a doubt, the European countries too have tough days ahead because a terroristic ideology that stops at no one and nothing.”

Narration: Would anyone with a modicum of humanity find any trace of religion in the actions of these God-less murderous savages?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Witness: “Armed men came to this end of the street and opened fire on this house. And then opened canon fire on the church.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Religious man: “They have created an evil for Syria in order to strip it of its human values.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Woman: “May God protect the Syrian army and the country’s President. Without them, imagine what these evil terrorists would have done do us.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Soldier: “When the terrorists, who’d captured all the high-grounds around the city, attacked us, people had been living a normal life. We had no other option than to relocate the people out of the city via the canal, which goes from one end of Maaloula to the other. So we put all the children and elderly in the canal under the terrorists’ mortar shell and RPG rocket fire. They targeted anyone within their shooting distance.

By the grace of God, we managed to get the women and children out of Maaloula unhurt. Only the young men remained in the city to defend it. There were a number of traitors in the city who joined the ranks of the terrorists. When they learned that the people had fled via the canal, they started hitting it. And they succeeded by using explosives. They did it so no one could get out.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Karim Aphram, Patriarch of Deir Mar Jerjes: “The Takfiri ideology is new to our region at this point in time. It’s a recent fabrication of Western countries. They are using it to secure their own interests. Since his creation and because his nature, every human being thinks he’s in the right and others are in the wrong. But for a human being to get to point where he accuses his fellow men and women of apostasy and orders them to be killed only because they have different ideas than his, it’s obvious that such an approach is unreligious and inhumane. It has no affinity with religion.

A religion should be founded on tolerance, friendship, and forgiveness. God Himself has allowed different religions to be. And so no one has the right to impose their religion on someone else. Obviously, everyone is duty-bound to demonstrate the beauties of their own religion and invite others to embrace that religion by means of love, friendship, tolerance and so on. But no one reserves the right to force others into embracing his or her ideas.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Soheil Alsheikh, Resident of Sadad: “I come from the village of Sadad 110 kilometers away from Damascus. It’s a Christian-only village. In 2013, armed terrorists stormed the village on the day of the Feast of Sacrifice. Those armed men who were with the al-Nusra Front and Jaysh al-Islam attacked the village and started killing people and looting their belongings. As you can see in this photo, the murderous terrorists, would put a gag on their victims’ mouths, cuff their hands in the back so they couldn’t ask for help. Telephone communication was cut off from Friday to Sunday and I didn’t hear from them afterwards. The moment it was announced that the village had been recaptured by the army, that security had been restored and that people were coming back to it from Damascus and Homs, everyone started checking up on their families, relatives, property and other belongings. I found some of mine murdered and some missing.

The national defense forces and the Syrian Arab Army launched a search operation for the missing. Eventually, they found traces of blood in a house near my sister’s house. The search took them to a well in our house. When they looked down the well, they saw there were bodies in it. At that moment, one of the National Defense troopers, who was truly a selfless hero, volunteered to go into the well. So he went down and found a body. But he didn’t know how many others there were. Then they decided to bring the body out of the well. So I stood by the well to see if the bodies belonged to any of my loved ones or not.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Soheil Alsheikh, Resident of Sadad: The first body they pulled out was my mother’s. When I saw the second body, I was stricken with even more grief. It was my 80-year-old father’s. He was an ailing, stooped old man. Still, those savages had killed him. So my missing loved ones were pulled out of the well one by one and I would identify them one by one. Those criminals have no religion. Their motto is death, bloodshed and murder. They have committed the most horrendous crimes. My family feels the same way as all the other families whose loved ones have been martyred for the sake of their country Syria … for, Islam and Christianity to live on in it. In Syria, we are all one nation.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Dr. Taleb Ebrahim, Deputy Director, Damascus Center of Strategic Studies: “I’d like to recount a story for your viewers told by a Turkish cenobite nun. She said once she attended to a wounded person who happened to be an al-Nusra Front commander, injured in the Syrian army bombardments of the city of Idlib. Intelligence forces had told her that he was a Syrian asylum seeker. She took care of that man like a mother would take care of her son. Overwhelmed by her kindness, the injured man told her he was an al-Nusra Front commander. Now this lady, named Khatoun, wrote that story in a letter to me. As she talked to the injured man, she told him she was Christian. The man said, “God save me! How can you be Christian?” She said, “God has commanded us to be kinder and more helpful to those who hate us.” The man was so moved by her words, he converted to Christianity right there. It means an outlaw fell in love with Christianity. That lady told him, “I don’t want you to convert to Christianity but tell me why you want to do it.” The man said, “Do you want to know what the Wahabi leaders in Saudi Arabia have taught us? They taught us we could commit any sin in life, all the sins, all we’d have to do to cleanse ourselves of them, would be to wash our hands with the blood of a Christian or a Shia!” He added, “We cut off the heads of tens of Syrian troops, poured their blood in glass bottles, added preservatives so it wouldn’t coagulate and sent the bottles off to Saudi Arabia…where each bottle would go for five thousand dollars to Saudi emirs and rulers who would wash their hands with it. There’s so much difference between what they taught us and who you really are. I don’t want that Wahhabism.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Musa Francis, Resident of Maloula: “The biggest crime was that Maaloula, this historical treasure trove of the Middle East, that used to draw millions of visitors to itself every year, was targeted and destroyed. Maaloula is the only city in the world where Aramaic is spoken, which is the language that Jesus Christ spoke. It’s a 3,500-year-old language. Maaloula is home to a huge collection of rare statutes and historical sites. You can’t put a price tag on them. That’s the reason why it was targeted by the looters. Although it’s small and has had nothing to do with the formation and dissemination of the prevailing ideologies, we have to ask why it was treated so mercilessly.”

Narration: Sheikh Mamoon Rahmah, the Sunni prayer leader of the Damascus Umayyad Grand Mosque is one of those people not spared the violence of Daesh terrorists. They cut off his right ear, dumped him on the city square, thinking the bullet they’d shot him in the face with had killed him.

TIME CODE: 20:00_26:28

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Sheik Muhammad Mamoon Rahmah, Prayer Leader, Damascus Umayyad Grand Mosque: “Islam doesn’t command us to harass Christians and non-Christians; rather it commands us to extend a hand of friendship, cooperation and kindness to them. They ruined Maloula just like they did other Christian-inhabited areas, in order to present a different image of Islam. That left some Christians thinking Islam is a religion of bullying and violence. But Dr. Mohamed Said Ramadan al-Bouti reminded everyone from his pulpit that Islam is a religion of friendship and forgiveness. He also said, “We had to protect churches the same way we protect our mosques.””

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Musa Francis, Resident of Maloula: “During the course of the attack on Maaloula, the terrorists targeted one of the most respectable families in this city, and martyred three of its most prominent youths. All three of them were brutally murdered in cold blood. They murdered Tony Thalab before the eyes of his 90-year-old father. They also shot his sister and left her on the ground to die. They let her bleed to death. But she was destined to stay alive and overhear the thoughts and ideology of this terrorist group.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Member of the National Defense Force: “We are going to head out to the Deir Mar Takla region, also called Deir al-Rahba. 10 members of the National Defense Force lay in ambush here. And that’s how they managed to drive out the terrorists and bring them to their knees. All that took place in three days. The National Defense troops, too, lost their lives.”

Narration: According to the rules of armed conflict, if the aim of the Takfiri terrorists was to defeat the defenders of the city, they’d have to allow the civilians to run away any way they could. Instead, they destroyed the people’s only escape route. And that goes to show that nothing makes these terrorists happier than to invade, murder and plunder.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Musa Francis, Resident of Maloula: “Maaloula is a city with a history that goes back 10 millennia, with a multitude of caves in the mountains that surround it. The terrorists took shelter in those caves and cached their weapons in them. One of the important sites in Maaloula is the Deir Mar Sarkis which is 1,850 years old. In it, there were many priceless statues, among them a statue of Christ and also a Last Supper painting, a rare piece … the like of it is very difficult to come by anywhere in the world.”

Narration: Maloula is a mirror that reflects part of the true nature of the terrorists. Plundering and stealing the historical treasure in churches across Maaloula only shows that these terrorists are a bunch of thugs who steal, destroy and kill, and that hidden hands have brought them together in Syria from far and wide.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Little girl: “After they set the city on fire, no one could come to this holy place to pray. But without a doubt, we are coming back here to pray. The President liberated this city. If they think we are giving our city up to them, they should think again. We are going to rebuild it so as to look like what it used to … even more beautiful.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Sheik Muhammad Mamoon Rahmah, Prayer Leader, Damascus Umayyad Grand Mosque: “The terrorist acts didn’t spare any Muslim leaders or the bishops and leaders of Christianity. We saw them destroy not only mosques, but also churches.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Gabriel Davood, Bishop of Deir Mar Jerjes: Today when we talk about Maaloula, we know it was on top of the Takfiri terrorists’ hit list. Terrorists who want to harm all the different social strata, especially the Christian community in this city.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Sheik Muhammad Mamoon Rahmah, Prayer Leader, Damascus Umayyad Grand Mosque: “But the Christians, whom I respect and whose positions I have always supported, the positions adopted by the Christian bishops, themselves realized that Islam is free from such deeds and actions and stood by our side as they historically always have.”


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