The last thing the revolution of Syria’s oppressed people needs is to be tainted with sectarianism and radicalism.
Yet this is exactly what the al-Assad regime wants to perpetuate and entrench, so as to deter minorities internally, and the countries of the world externally.
For this reason, I wish that some of our preachers and religious speakers would adopt a measure of asceticism in the media these days, and desist from their harmful support for the Syrian revolution. I am saying this after one famous preacher recently said that rising up against the al-Assad regime and fighting its troops is a duty because in addition to being a tyrant and a killer, religiously al-Assad is a “heretic.”
If only we could recognize these harmful acts of support. What is happening in Syria is a revolution for the sake of freedom; a revolution against the oppression that has spared no one in the country.
At the forefront of the Syrian revolutionaries are all kinds of people who have sacrificed what is most precious and most dear; they have risked their lives and have been outspoken in their support for the oppressed, that is, the Syrian people. So how could such people, in full, not be considered a full part of the beautiful mosaic that makes up Syrian society?
Take the following names as an example: Writer Samar Yazbek, courageous actress Fadwa Suleiman (who remains a fugitive on the run from the regime’s security apparatus, but who suddenly appeared in the squares of Homs chanting anti-Assad slogans), Munther Khaddam, Munther Majos and Mohammed Saleh al-Ali among others. All the aforementioned are members of the opposition who belong to the Alawite sect, which the regime claims to be protecting and safeguarding.
There are other names like the creative writer Rima Fuleihan, a woman who has adopted an uncompromising stance in terms of clarity, courage and awareness, not to mention Montaha al-Atrash, the daughter of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash and the revolution’s artist Samih Choucair, the man who wrote the famous song in support of the city of Daraa. All the aforementioned are from the Druze sect and the people of Jabal al-Arab. Their stances are mirrored by those of Lebanese Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt, who called for the arming of the revolutionaries in Syria and warned Syria's Druze population against siding with the murderous al-Assad regime, as quoted in his interview with the French daily newspaper “Le Monde”.
Alongside the Druze, other stances have been adopted by other sects, such as the Syrian Christians for example. Here we have Mai Skaf, the actress who risked her life by sending a strong-worded message to the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, asking him to spare the Syrian people from his evils. Likewise there is also Faris al-Helo, Michel Kilo and George Sabra. All these are Syrian Christian citizens who, along with the rest of the population, have created this revolution that many people are now conspiring against.
Furthermore, we cannot forget Mashaal Tammo, the Syrian-Kurdish hero of the revolution who was assassinated by the regime. Even the Ismaili sect has participated in the Syrian revolution. A reliable source on the Syrian revolution operating from within told me that the city of Salamiyah, the capital of the Ismaili sect, participated in demonstrations and protests against the oppressive regime. Moreover, this city provided support, shelter and protection for the inhabitants of al-Rastan when they escaped from the brutal al-Assad killing machine.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, or a drop in the ocean, which reveals concrete evidence that this is the revolution of the entire Syrian “people” and not just a particular sect. It is a revolution powered by the purely humane feelings of the people who are sick of living in constant “degradation”. These feelings have been embodied by the emotional slogan of the Syrian revolutionaries: “Death is better than humiliation.” To live with dignity is a demand shared equally by all mankind, without the slightest consideration for religious, ethnic or cultural differences.
The irony is that those promoting the idea of a sectarian revolution, claiming that it is the work of Sunni radicals, or a “Sunni revolution” as they sometimes call it, are adherents of the al-Assad regime. However, many of the radical Sunni currents outside of Syria, under the pretext of supporting the Syrians, are unwittingly helping to bring oppression and ignorance together.
The regime is at a loss with regards to the resilience of this revolution and its growth. It is counting on creating sectarian and social rifts within the revolutionary ranks. Yet according to the regime’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, the regime is confused when it comes to calculating its profits and losses. By analyzing the latest statements made by Bashar al-Assad following the farcical referendum held on his new constitution, his regime is arguably powerful and capable on the ground. Nevertheless, it lacks control over space, that is the satellite media; and it needs to gain control of this in order to overcome the crisis. In an atrocious underestimation of what is actually happening, Bashar al-Assad says his forces are capable on the ground. He understands capability here in the context of his military power being dominant and all-conquering, and he is right about that. According to last Sunday’s edition of the American online news website the “World Tribune”, and as reported by sources within the Syrian regime, “The regime of President Bashar al-Assad, despite nearly a year of fighting, has been using only a fraction of its military might against the Sunni rebel movement.”
But what the “sage” Bashar al-Assad has neglected to consider is that “even a mosquito can blind a lion”, as the ancient Arab proverb goes. This proverb has been wasted on al-Assad, just like he has missed the numerous Arab slogans.
The problem is not whether the al-Assad regime possesses heavily armed troops and lethal weapons. Such an arsenal could be of use in a regular war, something that the Syrian army has not fought since the Yom Kippur War of 1973, during the rule of Hafez al-Assad. The real problem lies in the collapse in the legitimacy of the ruling elite in the eyes of the public. When people stop believing in you, no weapon on Earth will be of any use, just as we have seen in the past with those who had far greater numbers and resources than al-Assad.
This is the real problem for the regime. Something is wrong with the regime’s mindset, just like there is something wrong with the mindset of many of those dealing with Syria's revolution or crisis. A state of buffoonery, or let’s say confusion, dominates the approach to Syria’s predicament in particular. This crisis has confused many of the "dinosaurs" affiliated to the age-old left-wing, or shall we say the long-dead camp of “Arab resistance and opposition”, even though some of them have reaped part of the benefits of the Arab Spring in countries other than Syria. This, in some way, explains the recent contradictory positions of the “revolutionary” President of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki. Despite expressing “ideological” sympathy for the Syrian people, Marzouki has ignored or objected to every practical solution that goes beyond mere slogans to proper action on the ground. Even though the role of Marzouki and the entire Tunisian state is not vitally important for the course of events in Syria, as Abdul Rahman al-Rashed noted in his recent Asharq al-Awsat column, this confusion highlights the problem for the old Arab mentality of resistance. It is “struggling” to come to terms with overthrowing the Syrian regime which once served as an ideal embodiment of its empty discourse.
Just as many young members (and even some elders) of Arab leftism and pan-Arabism have gotten lost in evaluating the situation in Syria, as they labored under the illusions of organized conspiracies, some religious figures, especially those belonging to political movements, have contributed further detrimental analysis of the Syrian crisis by approaching it from the door of pro-Sunni sentiments in Levant. This is exactly what the al-Assad regime wants, so as to prove to Syrian civil intellectuals and the rest of Syria’s sects, along with the Sunni business community, that this is what will await them if they join the religious extremist revolutionaries.
What is most needed now is to establish an all-encompassing Syrian national dialogue, without being carried away by the sectarian and emotional deluge. Such a dialogue would strip the al-Assad regime of its logical capabilities, and nullify its intimidating discourse.
According to some foreign reports, including the most recent publications of the “International Crisis Group,” there are real fears among some members of religious minorities in Syria over their future. Religious leaders from the Christian denomination have expressed such fears which are quite justifiable. They should be given due attention and not be a source of disturbance. The Syrian opposition should offer absolute and solid guarantees for the protection of the unity of the Syrian people. I wish that a country such as Saudi Arabia, or the Gulf States collectively, would open up to all components and sects of the Syrian people with total transparency, and provide guarantees that Syria will not fall into the hands of an extremist radical ruling system after the anticipated overthrow of the current poisoned regime.
Without taking such action, and without adopting such a mindset, the Syrians’ suffering will increase and the revolution might end up yielding a bitter harvest, instead of the delicious fruit of the Levant.
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in Asharq Al awsat on Mar. 3, 2012