BROOKLYN, N.Y. (Christian Examiner) -- Poor planning led to the rise of extremists in the Middle East, says Thomas Zain, vicar-general of the Antiochian orthodox Archdiocese of North America.
Now, "the cat's out of the bag," Zain said in a Fox News special report on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
"We've tried to overthrow governments -- we meaning the West, U.S., whoever -- without thinking ahead to what the countries will look like after we remove the governments," Zain explained to Harris Faulkner, a Fox news commentator who guided the interview now posted to the Greek Orthodox website. "We remove them for whatever reason but we don't follow through with what's going to happen afterwards.
"So you have a situation for example in Iraq, despite billions of dollars and tens of thousands of American troops, and God knows how many Iraqi lives lost, and we still have no solid government in place," Zain continued. "In fact, it's worse now than it has been. ... We're trying to impose democracy without realizing it has to come from within."
Religious groups lived together relatively peacefully for generations because the secular governments in place "imposed that peace," the Greek Orthodox leader said. "In Syria, you never asked anybody what their religion was; they were Syrian, because it's a secular state.
"Was it the best form of government? Probably not," Zain said as he flung his arms wide open. "But all religious minorities were considered equal citizens."
With the breakdown in the governments of Syria and Iraq, specifically, outside extremists emerged to take advantage of a vacuum in effective governmental leadership, Zain continued.
"We have to bring peace to Syria, peace to Iraq," the Greek Orthodox leader said. When asked how, Zain added, "It's difficult now because the cat's out of the bag, so to speak. We've allowed where they never existed [before] these fundamentalist groups in Iraq, or in Syria.
"We've allowed them now to come in, and it's hard to uproot them just by dropping a few bombs or, or, or... ." He changed the subject. "Not only have we allowed it, our friends have funded it -- Saudi Arabia, Quatar, Turkey -- have allowed them to go in and out of their borders freely and caused this mess, where nuns have been kidnapped in one of our monasteries ... two archbishops ... priests' eyes gouged out by these people. This is foreign to Syria. This element has come from outside."
In Syria, Muslims are being targeted; In Iraq, it's Christians.
"It's not simply Christian versus Muslim here; it's extremism that is affecting all minorities," Zain said. "The vast majority in Syria are moderate Muslims. In Iraq it's a different situation because [the extremists] are fighting among the Shiite and the Sunni back and forth, and the Christians somehow are a byproduct of this extremism."