Syria: I Really Do Want To Care More…
by Gerald A. Honigman
But my fears and some nasty facts of life get in the way.
May G_d forgive me.
A good friend, Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, is also Secretary General of the Syria Democracy Council. He wrote the Foreword to my own book which gets into the very issues we’re seeing unfolding right now in the Middle East…events involving the quest for justice for all peoples in the region. His organizations have been meeting in Washington and elsewhere regarding the recent upheavals.
You see, while dubbed the “Arab Spring,” the quest for human and political rights goes far beyond those involving just Arabs in the region. Sadly, however (and not by accident), if left to such folks as the American State Department, most of academia, and the mainstream media, one would be hard pressed to discover that scores of millions of native, pre-Arab/non-Arab folks have perhaps an even greater stake in the outcome of the current turmoil than the Arabs do themselves.
As a student who has been engaged in extensive research involving the Middle East for almost five decades now, the anquish that I feel for the thousands of Arabs mowed down in the streets by fellow Arabs in Syria is unfortunately offset somewhat by the knowledge of whom is fighting whom over there.
Sure, I want to see “democracy” prevail.
But democracy over there will very likely be far different than what we in the West come to think of by the meaning of that word. Think the Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood win in Egypt–and what that will very likely mean for non-Arab folks like the Copts (about ten million people)–as an example of what I mean.
Too much evidence suggests that the tolerance, inclusion, egalitarianism, and broad extension of rights we have come to expect in the West with democracy will simply translate into the rule of the majority in the so-called “Arab” world. And that majority is in no sharing mood.
Back in the ’60s, Syrian Arabs launched a major campaign against millions of Kurds in the country. The title of Ismet Cherif Vanly’s book, The Syrian Mein Kampf Against The Kurds (Amsterdam, 1968), says it all. Things deteriorated even further until the recent Arab uprisings when the Assad regime acted to grant some rights to Kurds formerly deprived of them in attempt to keep them quiet during the current upheaval. among other things, the Kurdish language and culture had been routinely outlawed.
But, to get a picture of what can be expected if the Assad regime of Syrian Arab Alawis–a minority offshoot of the Shi’a (as in the Arabs of Hizbullah in Lebanon and the non-Arab mullahs of Iran)–falls to the dominant Sunni Islamist parties leading the revolt (like those which toppled Mubarak in Egypt and other despots in adjacent countries), please consider the following…
When Kurds in Qamishly rose up against Assad and the Arabist Ba’th in the spring of 2004 and were slaughtered, Syrian Arabs of all stripes remained quiet. There was no mention of the Kurds’ courage in confronting the brutality and repression of the regime, their revolt was condemned, and they were accused of being mere separatists. By the way, New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, can also only manage to call some 35 million truly stateless Kurds by that same “S” word while repeatedly lionizing the Arabs’ quest for a 22nd state.
It’s that same old subjugating Arab mindset–again, and again, and again.
In the Arabs’ own words, the whole region is simply viewed as “purely Arab patrimony”–and to hell with everyone else who dares to protest, be they scores of millions of Copts, Imazighen/Berbers, black African Sudanese, Kurds, native kilab yahud (“Jew dogs”), or whomever.
As I like to reiterate, here’s how this concept is proclaimed in Syria’s Ba’thist Arab Constitution–an idea espoused by Sunni Arabs now seeking to topple Alawi Arabs at least as much–and probably more–than the latter…
The Arab fatherland belongs to the Arabs. They alone have the right to direct its destinies…The Arab fatherland is that part of the globe inhabited by the Arab nation which stretches from the Taurus Mountains, the Pacht-i-Kouh Mountains, the Gulf of Basra, the Arab Ocean, the Ethiopian Mountains, the Sahara, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea.
Now, in case you think that things have changed a bit in light of recent events, please consider that over the past months when the Syrian opposition held many conferences to draw up a plan for Syria’s future, Kurds attended as well. For the most part, they were totally ignored–even by the American State Department, an apparent fan of Islamists of all stripes.
Reports stated, for example, that during the opposition conference in Istanbul in mid-July 2011, the Kurdish demand that Kurds be recognized as a second ethnic group in Syria simply fell on deaf ears. The Kurds’ second demand–to rename the Syrian Arab Republic to simply the Republic of Syria–angered many opposition leaders who interpreted the Kurdish suggestion as a plan to strip Syria of its “true” (i.e., Arab) identity.
Compounding the Kurds’ Arab problem is the fact that the main Arab opposition parties in Syria are primarily supported by like-minded anti-Kurdish Islamist parties in Turkey. And, as usual, the Kurds will likely be used and abused yet again by all parties involved–including their own leaders.
The main problem is that when it comes to what “democracy” would likely look like, the weight of the evidence does not look good for a post-Assad Syria.
Too many Syrian opposition leaders fighting the Assad regime appear to adhere to concepts and policies similar to those of Assad or any of Syria’s earlier Arab dictators.
While an Arab more preferred Sunni regime would replace Assad’s Alawis, non-Arabs such as Kurds in Syria will have no more to look forward to with it than Egypt’s non-Arab Copts now do. Both peoples have a history of being subjugated and ruthlessly massacred by their Arab neighbors. The Arab Ba’th in neighboring Sunni Arab Saddam’s Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of Kurds over the years as well. While there may be more liberal voices in both Egypt and Syria, the power lies elsewhere and those wielding it will likely be no more tolerant than the regimes which they toppled.
Some may say that since democracy is so new in that region of the world, it must be given time to evolve. Fair enough…America’s own democracy needed time too.
But, the problem with this line of thought is that the ability to evolve into something better requires a tolerance of diversity for “the other” almost entirely missing from the age-old subjugating Arab mindset…despite claims to the contrary–the “Golden Age of Spain,” and so forth. Perhaps Egypt’s best known Copt, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, President Sadat’s (of blessed memory) Foreign Minister, summed this up best when he met Israeli author, Amos Elon.
In Elon’s Flight Into Egypt (New York, 1980, pp. 84-91), he reviewed his encounter with Boutros-Ghali. Here’s some excerpts…
In his office, there is a map of the Middle East on which Israel is still blacked out…Israel must integrate by accepting the nature of the area…that nature that is Arab.
In a tape of a long discourse delivered in 1975 to Professor Brecher he proclaimed that…in the vast area between the Persian Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean everyone had to be Arab or risk continuing strife.
Still, Boutros-Ghali felt that there might be a solution. How? Well, Israel could become an Arab country. Most Israelis were (Jewish) immigrants from Arab countries anyway.
Whether a Copt in Egypt, Kabyle/ Amazigh (“Berber”) in North Africa, Jew, Kurd, or whomever, the only way for non-Arabs to be tolerated is for them to accept the Arab rules of the game (whether their Arab masters are Sunni or Shi’a) and turn themselves into Uncle Tom Uncle Boutroses. All have to accept forced Arabization.
And take note, please, that the problem is really two-fold here–having both religious and racist dimensions–and committed by the same folks who love to lecture about allegedly racist Zionism. You see, unlike the non-Arab Christian Copts, the non-Arab “Berbers,” Kurds, black Africans in Darfur, and others are indeed Muslim…but not Arab.
What must also be remembered is that up until very recently, for a variety of reasons, Washington and others have largely turned a blind eye to the numerous atrocities committed by the Syrian regime–whether they were directed against Lebanon’s quest for freedom, Israel’s Jews, native Kurds, native Sunni Arabs in the elder Assad’s infamous “Hama Solution,” or whomever.
Indeed, despite all of the above, Israel was repeatedly offered up on a silver platter to the Syrians in exchange for just a bit more cooperation in Lebanon and in Iraq.
There were active plans to force Israel into a total retreat from the strategic Golan Heights which Israel took, at great cost, after it was forced to fight–largely due to Syrian instigation and machinations–in the June ’67 war. Prior to that time, the Heights (part of the original 1920 Mandate of Palestine, by the way) were used by Syria to bombard Israeli fishermen and farmers repeatedly. Since that war, Israel has repeatedly offered to exchange the vast majority of the land in exchange for true peace–something the Arabs have rejected. As usual, the latter expect that their repeated aggression will come totally cost free. Please note, however, that territory has indeed repeatedly changed hands all over the globe due to such aggression.
Early in President Obama’s administration, he sent his good friend and Arafat’s bosom buddy, Robert Malley, to the younger Assad with the same offer President George H. W. Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker III, offered to his father…a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Heights in return for some nice gestures–towards America and others, not Israel.
What’s even more disturbing is that, with all that has recently transpired during the so-called “Arab Spring” (and the uncertainty and instability inherent in these events), the American State Department will still expect that the Jews will expose themselves yet again to such folks–whether Arab despots or alleged Arab “democrats.”
Even worse, the man now occupying the White House (and who may very well get re-elected later this year, largely due to American Jewish support) is on record repeatedly stating the Israel would be crazy (exact words) not to accept the Saudi Peace Plan, the basis of the current non-negotiations.
Among other things, that Saudi “peace” (of the grave) plan calls for a total withdrawal by Israel to its pre-’67 armistice lines (not borders) which, among other things, made it a mere 9-15 miles wide at its strategic waist–where the vast majority of its population lives. Most people travel further than that just to go to work. The final draft of UNSC Resolution 242, the main post-’67 tool for peacemaking, specifically does not call upon Israel to do this, as has often been noted elsewhere.
So, given all of this, I indeed have mixed feelings about what is now transpiring in Syria.
One part of me wants to see the bloodshed stopped; but, my other consciousness warns that those now in revolt will be no better to their own perceived enemies than those whom they seek to replace. One set of massacres and victims will simply be replaced by another. And, if anything, as with what is evolving in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, what will likely replace the reigning despot in Syria (is there any other type of ruler in the “Arab” world?) will only prove to be even more hostile to Jews, Kurds, and scores of millions of other non-Arab peoples in the region.
Now, another fairly good argument could be made for severing Iran’s link to its Hizbullah proxies–who have all but taken over Lebanon and who have scores of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel from just a bit over the border–by toppling the regime in Syria which serves as the primary middle man for such aid.
The problem, however, is that–once again–the devil which will replace Assad will very likely be as bad or worse than the current regime itself when it comes to Israel, Kurds, true democracy Western style, and so forth.
While most Arabs distrust Iranian Shi’a connections with the offshoot Syrian Arab Alawi and the Lebanese Arab Shi’a Hizbullah, there is no doubt that Sunni Arab attitudes towards the issue of non-Arab rights in the region are, for the most part, as bad or worse. Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are Sunni, for example–and all call for the death of Israel and the slaughter of Jews. The butchers of Kurds during the Arabs’ Anfal campaign in Iraq in the ’80s were Sunnis…ditto for most of the Arab genocidal maniacs in the Sudan. And so forth…
Again, using Egypt as the model, the same Islamists now in control there–from whom the Hamas rulers of Gaza earlier sprung–will likely be calling the shots (both figuratively and literally)–when the dust finally settles in Syria.
Given this likely outcome, I find it hard to shed any tears for the tragic events now unfolding in that country.
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