Doing the Right Thing in Syria

Doing the Right Thing in Syria

By Hasan Zillur Rahim

During a recent Juma sermon at one of the largest mosque in Northern California, the Syrian-American Khateeb could not suppress his emotions as he narrated the slaughter of thousands of Syrians by Bashar Assad’s forces. He was angry at the reluctance of a few Syrians he knows who are afraid to take a stand against Assad’s regime even though they are American citizens whose family members in Daraa and Damascus have been murdered by Assad’s loyalists.

“How can we be so afraid, even here in the U.S.?” he asked. “We are tested in our courage only during difficult times. The word Tawaqqul comes from Waqil, someone who represents us. Allah is our Waqil. Reliance on Allah implies that we do what is right. He will decree what will happen. But cowardice of this type means that we are afraid of men more than we are afraid of Allah. Allah will take care of us if we rely on Him and Him alone.” He quoted from the Quran: O you who believe! What is the matter with you, that, when you are asked to go forth in the cause of Allah, you cling heavily to the earth? Do you prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter? But little is the comfort of this life, as compared with the Hereafter. Unless you go forth, He will punish you with a grievous penalty, and put others in your place; but Him you would not harm in the least. For Allah has power over all things. (9:38-39)

The Khateeb was making the point that for a Muslim, fighting oppression and injustice by any means possible is an imperative. What is going on in Syria can only be described as the worst form of tyranny and oppression. U.N. observers have just confirmed the horrific massacre that took place in Mazraat al-Qubair, a farming village of about 160 people in central Hama province. Nearly 80 men, women and children were shot, hacked and burned to death by Assad’s bloodthirsty death squad known as ‘Shabiha.’ The observers could smell the stench of burned corpses and see body parts scattered about the village.

The massacre follows one in which 108 people were slain in the Syrian town of Houla on May 25. Reports have surfaced, particularly in Germany, that Syrian rebels were actually responsible for the Houla massacre but most sources close to the ground, including a UN Human Rights Council group, said evidence pointed towards militia loyal to Assad in the region.

Bashar Assad has been exploiting Kofi Annan’s peace plan to continue his genocidal acts. In the 15 months of bloodshed, he has been instigating fear among the country’s 2.1 million Alawites – 12 per cent of the population – that they will be massacred by the Sunni majority – 75 per cent - if he were to fall.

As the moment of truth nears in Syria, the opposition has been at pains to assure the Alawites that they will not be targeted in a post-Assad Syria. “We are all in this together,” has become the opposition’s motto as they implore ordinary Alawites to defect.

For many pundits and policymakers in America, however, the situation in Syria can only be understood in the context of a geopolitical chess game.

Writing in the Washington Post, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger summarized his analysis of the Syrian situation this way: “Military intervention, humanitarian or strategic, has two prerequisites: First, a consensus on governance after the overthrow of the status quo is critical. If the objective is confined to deposing a specific ruler, a new civil war could follow in the resulting vacuum, as armed groups contest the succession, and outside countries choose different sides. Second, the political objective must be explicit and achievable in a domestically sustainable time period. I doubt that the Syrian issue meets these tests.”

In other words, let the killings continue because we are not sure who will inherit power and whether or not they will push America’s interests. A well-known columnist, writing in the Los Angeles Times, raises the same concern: “The situation in Syria is further complicated by the familiar question of who’s the good guy. The bad guy is clearly Bashar Assad. But his opposition is a mixture of unattractive clerics and their followers, liberal reformers and left-wing radicals.”

The question of what is just and what is right do not figure in the equations of these analysts.

One consistent voice in the wilderness has been that of New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof who wrote in a recent column that “when a government devours its own people, as in Syria or Sudan, there are never easy solutions. That helps explain President Obama’s dithering … Yet the president is taking prudence to the point of paralysis … In Syria, we should make clear that unless the security forces depose Assad in the next 30 days, our Middle Eastern allies will arm the Syrian opposition. We should work with these allies, as well as with major powers like Russia and China, to encourage a coup, or a “retirement” for Assad … Stopping a government from killing its own is an uncertain business. But our existing policies in Syria and Sudan alike are failing to stop the bloodshed, and they also are putting us on the wrong side of history.”

Muslims are aware of the serious problems that can follow the fall of Assad. The path to openness, equality and responsible governance after decades of tyranny and dictatorship is not achieved in weeks or months. Just look at Egypt and Libya. The peoples’ revolution is far from complete. It will take time for a new era to dawn. So it will be in Syria.

Besides, Western fear that intolerant religious zealots (always a minority but exaggerated by Western media) will find a way to turn the Arab Spring into a Winter of Despair is unfounded. Using a statistically sound sampling technique called “controlled snowball,” 186 opposition activists were asked about their preferences for a post-Assad Syrian government. 73% said it was important for the new Syrian government to protect the rights of Christians. While many respondents voiced support for religion in the public square, only a small fraction favored clerical influence in government. As to which country they would like to see Syria emulate after Assad, 82% chose Turkey. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the U.S. earned 69% favorable rating as a political model, followed closely by France, Germany and Britain.

Bashar Assad may soon be forced to flee to Moscow as the opposition forces overcome their differences and mount a concerted assault against government forces. There will, of course, be chaos and turmoil. Some Syrians will be tempted to settle old scores. Sectarian conflict may raise its ugly head. UN observers may have to be deployed to ensure a peaceful transition so that one tyranny is not replaced by another.

But there is also reason to believe that Syrians will come out stronger through their trial-by-fire and forge a government of consensus, justice and accountability, with “malice toward none and charity for all.”