Muslim confusion over the crisis in Syria
Those opposed to Bashar al-Asad’s regime in Syria are prepared to strike a deal with the devil. This will cost the Syrian people dearly if such a diabolical plot succeeds.
That the post-colonial order in the Muslim world is illegitimate and most rulers are unfit to be in power is not in doubt. However, in the Muslims’ quest to bring about change, they often lose sight of certain fundamental principles that result in bringing about a dispensation that is even worse than the old order. The US-NATO “liberated” Libya offers a good example. Colonel Muammar Qadafi was a tyrant but are Libyans better off today than during his rule? When confronted by the mayhem that has characterized life in Libya since Qaddafi’s overthrow and brutal murder, the typical Muslim response is: things will get better, insha’allah. How this will happen, they do not know. Pious hopes are no substitute for proper assessment and understanding of the ground realities.
A similar scenario is being played out in Syria with even greater negative consequences for the Ummah. First, some basic facts must be stated so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding as new scenarios unfold in Syria. Bashar al-Asad is not a representative president. The degree of support he enjoys among the masses is also no longer an issue. The Syrian government is supported by the minorities (‘Alawis, Druze, Kurds, Christians) and the well-to-do Sunnis of the upper-middle, the upper, and business classes, who all benefitted and were favored by the government’s pro-business culture. While the latter will not remain loyal, as they are only dedicated to their business interests (regardless of who satisfies them), the fact remains that the aggregate support for the government from the Syrian population totals to about 30%. Thus neither the Syrian government nor the opposition is expected to win by a knockout punch, as many Western media outlets are trying hard to project about their “own” rebels; the likely outcome is a war of attrition, with the winner being the last one standing — and this could take several months or perhaps even a year or more.
It must also be admitted that Bashar — and indeed his father, Hafiz al-Asad before him — were not fully committed to resistance against Zionist Israel but their policies have been far more helpful to the resistance front over three decades than any of the other regimes in the region. Thus, on the basis of performance, successive Syrian governments have fulfilled their promises even if it was expedient for them to do so. Deeds speak louder than words.
Further, prior to the March 2011 uprising, Bashar was viewed by most Western regimes as an ally. In fact, the US shipped people to Syria to be tortured. Canadian citizen Maher Arar spent a year in Bashar’s dungeons. The same was true of Qaddafi’s relations with the West (US puppets from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, take note!). There are reports that the Americans were holding prisoners in a “black hole” in their consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the September 11, 2012 attack killing the ambassador and three other staffers.
So why do Bashar’s erstwhile supporters (that is, America) now want to get rid of him — and him, in particular? For one reason and one reason only: his refusal to cut-off relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. To be sure, there are those in al-Asad’s cabinet who would prefer to divest from Iran altogether, seeing that by doing so, the civil war would be over in an instant; however, Bashar himself has refused to go along. What needs to be mentioned here is that the American foreign policy establishment considers the elimination of the Ba‘th Party in Iraq to be the biggest foreign policy blunder in the last century if not in US history. The Ba‘th with its ideological orientation toward secularism, nationalism, and socialism is a natural ally of the West, and to uproot it completely from Iraq signaled an open field for expanding Iranian and Islamic influence in the region.
The US does not want to repeat the same mistake in Syria, where the government and its bureaucracy are more Ba‘th than they are ‘Alawi. The US wants to get rid of Bashar but maintain the Ba‘th party structure, and this time it is using Muslim-on-Muslim violence to achieve an objective that was not possible by direct intervention in Iraq. By so uncritically accepting US military patronage and political sponsorship, thereby allowing themselves to be easily used for the achievement of US geo-strategic goals, the so-called “Islamic” forces in the opposition are probably in the dark about this, despite invocations by principled Syrian nationalists who do not want any outside forces involved in the final solution for Syria.
The unfolding events in Syria have hardened attitudes among Muslims. Opponents of al-Asad paint him as a monster who has killed more than 40,000 people. While the figure of 40,000 dead, most of them civilians, may be an accurate one, what is not known is the percentage attributable to the Syrian government and that to the American/Saudi sponsored opposition. The opposition obviously gains huge propaganda props by blaming all the senseless killing on government forces, while itself hiding in a “Who, me?” shroud construtcted for it by the American State Department and peddled into the homes of the innocent by a combination of the Zionist media and disaffected (loyal to the West) Syrian nationalists. In any case, casualty figures have also become the casualty in an escalating propaganda war. Al-Asad’s opponents present themselves as Islamic revolutionaries that want to establish an Islamic government in Syria (the khilafah). We must evaluate these claims in light of Islamic principles.
While establishing an Islamic government is a noble goal, there are certain rules that Muslims are supposed to follow in pursuit of this objective. Does the end justify the means employed to get there? Regardless of the brutality inflicted by the regime, are Muslims permitted to indulge in beheadings, car bombings and torture to establish the Islamic state? Did the noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh) ever permit Muslims to indulge in such acts during the numerous battles he engaged in? There are numerous hadiths about not harming civilians, animals or even cutting down trees while waging war against the enemy. So, what Islamic principles or values are the so-called Syrian revolutionaries following in their quest to establish the Islamic state?
There are other troubling aspects to the Syrian crisis that must be borne in mind. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, the uprising in Syria was not spontaneous. The fact that it started in a small non-descript southern town like Dar‘a and not a major urban center like Damascus, Aleppo or Latakia, gives the game away. Haytham Manna, a leading secular opponent of al-Asad’s regime revealed in an interview soon after the uprising erupted that the entire conspiracy was hatched in a Paris café in February 2011. Among the conspirators were two American Zionists — Jeffrey Feltman (then working for the US State Department and currently serving as political advisor to the UN Secretary General) and Dan Shapiro, US Ambassador to Israel. There was also Bandar bin Sultan, the perennial troublemaker who is now Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief. Other conspirators at the meeting were a representative of Saad Hariri, leader of the March 14 faction in Lebanon, Syrian opposition figures as well as a senior reporter from al-Jazeera television network.
The myriad groups battling government forces are neither independent nor enjoy the support of the Syrian masses. The overwhelming majority is made up of mercenaries financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar — two “shining examples” of democracy in the Islamic East — and aided and abetted by the US, Israel, the Hariri clan in Lebanon and an odd assortment of US-NATO allies. The Syrian uprising’s roots can be traced even further than the Paris meeting of February 2011 to as far back as 2005, according to the Washington Post (April 16, 2011) when a number of Syrian opposition figures were recruited by the George Bush administration. He funded their activities in an attempt to overthrow al-Asad’s regime. Many of the characters currently promoted as leaders for the Syrian opposition — primarily in the newly cobbled National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) that is projected as the main group — have been on the US payroll for many years. They have deep links with some of the most rightwing Zionist groups within the US establishment. The current head of the NCSROF, “elected” in November 2012, is George Sabra, a Christian former communist, who is otherwise known for writing the Arabic version of the children’s show Sesame Street. This in and of itself ought to speak volumes about the Ikhwanis, Salafis, and their sponsors outside of the country who all claim to be fighting fi-sabilillah under the leadership of an agnostic Christian (or previously, atheistic nationalists), who is more in step with American secularism, Zionist exclusivism and the realpolitik of utilitarian alliances than he is with Islamic universalism and relationships built upon principle.
The opposition group’s statements are given much prominence in the media (as was the case with its predecessor, the Syrian National Council. The Western media has waged a relentless war against the Syrian government. Not only the Qatari-owned al-Jazeera and Saudi-owned al-Arabiya channels that carry little credibility, have peddled endless lies, a number of Western outlets have also deliberately lied about events in Syria. Every atrocity, regardless of the perpetrator, is immediately blamed on regime forces. The Houla massacre of May 25 is but one example of this campaign of lies. The BBC, considered by many as a venerable institution, published a photo of hundreds of dead children wrapped in white shrouds with a child jumping over one of them. It claimed these were children massacred by Syrian forces in Houla. The photographer, Marco Di Lauro of Getty Images had to personally intervene to say this was a picture he had taken in 2003 after US forces massacred children in Iraq. The BBC had picked up the image from the notoriously unreliable Syrian opposition groups. Two German media outlets, Der Spiegel and Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung traced the Houla massacre to members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) by interviewing relatives of the survivors.
In May-June 2011, the story of a “Gay Girl in Damascus,” run by one Amina Abdallah Arraf al-Omari grabbed headlines for several weeks. She became the poster girl for Western do-gooders as well as opposition groups in Syria until the hoax was exposed in June 2011 by its perpetrator Tom MacMaster, an American student in Scotland. Then there was the story of Zainab al-Hosni who had disappeared from her home in September 2011. Her relatives claimed she had been abducted by the regime. Opposition sources added their own spice claiming the regime wanted her brother but unable to find him, they grabbed Zainab. When a charred female body was found, the mother claimed it was Zainab’s. The West, opposition groups as well as anti-Bashar Muslims condemned the regime for its brutality.
No amount of regime denials could convince its opponents that it was not responsible for the crime. A few weeks later, a dazed Zainab appeared on Syrian television to narrate that she had run away from home to escape beatings by her brothers. She hid with relatives in a village and was completely oblivious to the stories swirling around her “torture” and “death.” Can other horror stories blamed on regime forces be any more credible?
Even while opponents make allegations against the regime’s alleged atrocities, they try to present themselves as Islamic revolutionaries. They have taken to wearing turbans and growing long beards. If these were hallmarks of being good Muslims, the Sikhs would win hands down. Nor do carrying banners with kalimah al-shahadah inscribed on them provide proof of Islamic credentials. The Saudi flag has the kalimah on it; does that make the Saudi rulers Islamic?
It is, however, their behavior toward people they have taken captive that is truly appalling. In a story datelined Damascus, Patrick Cockburn of Counterpunch (December 17, 2012) writes: “It is one of the most horrifying videos of the war in Syria. It shows two men being beheaded by Syrian rebels, one of them by a child. He hacks with a machete at the neck of a middle-aged man who has been forced to lie in the street with his head on a concrete block. At the end of the film, a soldier, apparently from the Free Syrian Army, holds up the severed heads by their hair in triumph.” Cockburn goes on to narrate that Nadim Houry, deputy director for Human Rights Watch in the Middle East and North Africa, who has watched the video many times to identify the circumstances, has no doubts about its overall authenticity.
Wars are not only messy affairs but also result in horrible crimes. Beyond the immediate horrors, shocking as they are, there are other troubling aspects to the behavior and policies of Syrian opposition groups and their leaders. One of them is ‘Adnan ‘Ar‘ur, the chief religious leader of the Syrian opposition who has spent decades in the cesspool of Saudi Arabia. During the Zionist onslaught on Gaza (November 14–21), he released a video in which he denounced Hamas firing rockets at Israel as a “betrayal of the Syrian people.” One is at a loss to figure out what exactly ‘Ar‘ur meant, but viewed against the backdrop of his earlier statements, one can begin to understand it. In the past he has called upon the Zionists to liberate Syria from Bashar al-Asad, openly declaring that the Syrian people have no conflict with Israel. If these are the policies of the Syrian opposition and the caliber of their leadership, Muslims may be better off with Bashar until a more suitable leader emerges.
There is one more issue that must be addressed because it continues to agitate Muslim minds. Whenever there is a crisis in the Muslim world, many Muslims immediately ask what is Islamic Iran doing about it? This is a legitimate question and needs serious analysis. Regrettably most Muslims that ask the question are not interested in hearing the answer. Many, though not all, do not consider Iran to be an Islamic state. If that is the case, the question is irrelevant since Iran is perfectly entitled to pursue its own interests based on the assessment of its leaders. Those that do consider Iran to be an Islamic state must evaluate Iran’s performance in light of Islamic principles.
First, let us consider what the Qur’an says about fulfilling one’s obligations toward others and agreements with them. In several ayat of the noble Qur’an (2:177, 25:08 and others) Allah (swt) commands Muslims to remain faithful to their covenants and agreements. There is no stipulation that such an agreement must be with Muslims. The only condition is that the other side should not violate the terms of the agreement.
Islamic Iran has a defence agreement with Syria and the latter has not violated it so far. Further, Syria is the only country in the region that did not join the unholy alliance that launched a war of aggression against Islamic Iran in September 1980. The war lasted until 1988 and caused huge casualties and immense destruction of Iran’s infrastructure. While Iraq, then ruled by the dictator Saddam Husain, launched the war, the US, its Western allies and almost all the Arabian regimes supported it. The Saudis pumped in $26 billion into the Iraq war effort against Iran. Even while Iran was defending itself against the confederacy of kufr, it still agreed to support Hizbullah in Lebanon to confront the Zionist aggressors. Syria facilitated material and other help to be delivered to Hizbullah in Lebanon. Syria also hosted until recently, almost all the Palestinian resistance groups in Damascus. It was the Palestinian groups that left Syria when the uprising began.
Islamic Iran has also supported the Palestinians struggling against Zionist aggression. What Arabian regime has helped the Palestinians practically, apart from lobbing the rhetorical volleys they are so good at enunciating? Following the recent Zionist onslaught, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad publicly thanked Islamic Iran for giving them real (material) help on the ground — where it counts.
Is there any evidence in the Prophetic Sunnah and Sirah that offers us answers to the question of whether an Islamic state can have an alliance with an un-Islamic state? When the noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh) arrived in Madinah, one of his first acts was to promulgate the Covenant of Madinah that established the first Islamic State on a legal basis. Soon thereafter, the noble Messenger (pbuh) entered into treaty arrangements with neighboring tribes to the west of Madinah. Initially, most of these tribes did not accept Islam but the noble Messenger (pbuh) did not impose that as a condition. His primary concern was the defence and protection of the Islamic State.
Islamic Iran is doing exactly what the noble Messenger (pbuh) did more than 1,400 years ago. The defence of the Islamic State is an obligation on all Muslims. Those that ask Iran to expose itself to further dangers while the Syrian rebels work as agents of imperialism and their high priests spew sectarian hatred do not understand Islamic principles. One of the conditions for seeking help from the Islamic State is that one must accept its primacy and pledge allegiance to its leadership. Further, these Muslims must operate in conjunction with the Islamic State, not in opposition to its policies.
In the absence of such a covenant relationship, Muslims do not have the right to ask for help from Islamic Iran and the latter has no obligation to either help them or break its agreement with a government that has not done anything to undermine it.