In the war against oppression and brutality, Syria and the dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad have carved out an oasis of supporters among Arabs in America. It’s puzzling until you examine the facts more closely; tragically, facts about the Middle East have escaped the knowledge of most Americans who come to conclusions on Middle East policies based on ignorance, stereotypes and emotion.
Just as most Americans wrongly and blindly support Israel, even though Israel’s policies contradict everything that Americans hold sacred in the rule of law and the US Constitution, so too do many American Arabs reject principle when it comes to Syria.
It’s strange to find an alliance of pro-Israel activists and pro-Syrian activists. While Israel has engaged in war crimes against the Palestinians, it doesn’t even come close to the brutality heaped upon Syria’s civilians by the Assad regime. Assad’s forces have murdered more than 30,000 civilian men, women and children in the course of one year, far more than have been murdered by Israel over the course of its 65-year occupation of Palestine.
That’s not a defense of Israel, though, but rather a cold and honest indictment of Syria, one of the most brutal dictatorships in the Middle East.
So why do many American Arabs support Syria? Politically, Syria is viewed as one of the last Arab countries to stand up to Israel. Syria has never surrendered to Israel the way both Egypt and Jordan have surrendered in exchange for US foreign aid and military support.
Many American Arabs believe fighting Israel is more important than bringing democracy to the Arab world. What has democracy done for the Arab world in the past except bring hardship and oppression? Some of the Middle East’s worst dictators were allies of the West, some appointed to power by the West. Most notorious were Saddam Hussein and the Shah of Iran, both butchers who massacred hundreds of thousands of Arab and Muslim civilians.
Ironically, Syria has done nothing at all to really challenge Israel. I don’t even think the Israelis really want Assad out. They can’t make peace with him, but Assad is no threat to Israel, even if it has harbored Hamas.
But that is still not enough to make those who have screamed about Israeli atrocities close their eyes to the atrocities of Syria, which have included the unthinkable act of murdering children to punish parents related to members of the Syrian resistance.
Another more important aspect is the diversity of the so-called “American Arab” community itself. While Americans ignorantly see Arabs and Muslims as one monolithic community, they don’t understand that Arabs and Muslims consist of many sub-groups with conflicting agendas and beliefs. Those subdivisions go deep, but the first layer is quite simple: American Arabs can be divided on the first level into two groups.
There is a claim that there are about 4.5 million Arabs in the United States. We don’t know this for certain because the US government refuses to count Arabs in the Census, mainly because not counting an ethnic group is the easiest way to oppress an American ethnic group and deny them government grants and funding. But we’ll use that number anyway.
About three million of them are Arabs who are Christian and Muslim. The remaining 1.5 million are actually Christians from the Middle East who do not consider themselves to be Arab at all. They just happen to have lived in the Middle East among Arabs. They include Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians and many Maronite Lebanese. These groups are militant against identifying with Arabs. And many of them are represented in Syria where they have been protected by the Assad regime.
On my Friday morning Detroit radio show, a discussion about Syria brings out many Chaldeans who openly support Assad and describe the resistance as “Al-Qaeda terrorists.” The Syrian resistance is not “Al-Qaeda terrorists” but these Middle East Americans were very close to former President George W. Bush and they also embraced his logic that the big lie can be used to achieve American political goals, which brought down Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Assad comes from a Shiite sect of the Muslim religion. Assad, his family and people from his village who control Syria with an iron fist are Alawites. The majority of Arab Muslims are Sunni Muslim and come from the Fertile Crescent, North Africa and the Arabian Gulf. But the Shiites have a large presence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and in Iran. That explains the backing that Assad receives from Iran’s maniacal President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and from Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist organization.
The many non-Arab Christians in Detroit, for example, are partnered with the large Shiite population in Detroit and together they openly support Assad. They’re tolerated, of course, by the American government in part because the American government has also had a strange relationship with Syria. Although George W. Bush once described Syria as being a part of the “Axis of Evil”, when he was seeking to fabricate evidence of Al-Qaeda ties to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he turned to Syria.
Dozens of Arabs were arrested in the US and in Canada after Sept. 11, 2001 and were sent to Syria by the US where they were tortured into making false confessions. Bush then used those forced confessions to justify his real mission, which was to avenge his father’s disgraced honor, grab oil and take down one of Israel’s greatest enemies, Iraq.
When you put all of these facts together, you find a coalition of American Arab groups that share one common goal of protecting Assad and the Syrian dictatorship. Many American Arabs can close their eyes to Assad’s brutality because they have learned it suits their selfish interests.
This article was published on the Saudi Gazette on Nov. 4, 2012.