I was having lunch with a good friend I haven’t seen for a while and we had been discussing Syria for an hour when she suddenly said you’re Sunni, of course you’re going to think this way.
I started to tell my friend that Sunni fundamentalism ─ what she as a Lebanese Christian calls her biggest fear, her rationale behind supporting a regime inhuman by her own definition ─ is more a threat to me, than it ever will be to her.
Coming from someone who knew me forever, my friend’s remarks hurt a little.
She had put me on the defensive, and when I realized the conversation was going nowhere, I changed the subject … My friend and I started talking about our children and were back to being similar.
I’ve had more of these conversations over the last couple of weeks, many of which were imposed, after the Maronite Patriarch in Paris defended Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
What surprised me most was not the number of “friends” ─ supposedly human rights advocates ─ who shared the Patriarch’s argument that Christians will end up “paying the price” for the fall of Baath rule, but the fact that for many, this was reason enough to support a regime that has been killing its people for over six months. Just last week, the Assad regime took the absurdity of murder to a whole new level, going from killing children to executing donkeys!
What I am saying is that while “worrying” about the scenario of Sunni fundamentalists taking over power in Syria is completely understandable and viable, it still isn’t reason enough to justify any position supporting the regime ─ especially in light of the track record that this regime has in nurturing and using fundamentalists.
What I am also saying is that “worrying” about Islamists taking over, is in no way exclusive to Christians or even to religious minorities … It is certainly shared by all kind of groups and individuals, who though belonging- by birth to sectarian majorities, have chosen lifestyles and opted for systems of beliefs that would undoubtedly be challenged, and possibly targeted and oppressed should radical Islamists ascend to power.
When I told my Christian friend that in a country like Lebanon, Sunni fundamentalism is more a threat to me than it will ever be to her, I meant it, and I wasn’t just speculating.
Sunni fundamentalists will not come to Ashrafieh and tell women to cover up. They will not remove benches along the Dbayeh cornice to forbid young couples from sitting and displaying affection in public. They will not close a pub in Jounieh or force shops to close on Friday in Kaslik. But they would do it in Sidon and Akkar, and other cities were Sunnis are a majority.
They have done it in Tripoli, where under the watchful eye and tutelage of the Syrian intelligence, they have imposed their will and spread their way of thinking rightfully earning the city the label of Lebanon’s Kandahar. Christians, seculars and even moderate Muslims who didn’t like what they saw, had the choice of abiding or leaving.
I know all too well how political Islam in its radical forms ─ whichever form calling for a unilateral access to power ─ could be a threat to my personal existence and the future of a region, I still hope I will be able to raise my children in.
And I know that across Arab societies and way beyond Lebanon, political Islam could be the choice of a considerable portion of people.
I personally find it worrying that religious figures are more appealing to young people than the most pop stars.
One could just take a look at the number of friends on the Facebook pages of Amr Khaled, a Muslim preacher, and Amr Diab, Egypt’s most famous singer. (They both have over three million with advantage to Khaled.)
I find it even more worrying that giant companies are spending considerable shares of their marketing strategies on partnerships with those religious figures: Egypt’s giant phone operator Vodafone is the main sponsor and partner in one of Khaled’s many projects.
The truth is, I worry and I know that no one could today assess the real “threat” that Islamists, let alone fundamentalists, pose in the future.
We know for a fact that this “threat” has been invested in by previous regimes, but we don’t know its real size, how well rooted it really is, and how relevant it will still be when the season of revolutions wraps up.
And if it is still too premature to predict what role fundamentalist Islamists want, and more importantly could play in the next stage, the same applies for all other political groups, from classic parties of the left to young activists still working on figuring out what they really want.
Only free and fair elections can give us an idea, and getting there remains a huge challenge even in the countries where the people have managed to topple the regime.
As for Syria, I think it’s too premature to worry about anything other than those who are being killed and tortured everyday …
(Alia Ibrahim, a senior correspondent for Al Arabiya TV in Beirut, can be reached at: email@example.com)