Thoughts on The Syrian Situation

I don’t very often comment on politics or, more properly, world events on my blog, but on this issue I feel inspired to do so, so please bear me out. I actually can’t stand politics, it even seems to me such a thing really shouldn’t even exist, as rather than being an honest search for the best solution to our problems, it quickly degenerates into a battle of wits, or even worse a test of who is stronger. Why so many people blindly confuse strength, confidence or heavy financial backing with truth I’ll never know, but the most optimistic side of me says that this comes from some basic faith that whoever gets to be strongest is also rightest (at the time), but it still seems to me that politics is an ugly game, whilst world events are very real and pressing concerns, like it or not.

Anyway, with that out of the way, it’s time for me to get into my views on the thorniest of subjects- the state of the Middle East. Now I’ll come straight out now and say that I am not even attempting to speak in terms of strict acceptance of all views prevailing there. Some are to my mind true and others, however widespread they may be are actually false. I have no time for fanatical Islamism, which seems to me just fascism in a loosely ‘Islamic’ guise. Just as no-one believe these days we should tolerate, let alone support fascism, I’d say the same goes for radical Islamism, however convenient in the short-term such movements might seem (I talk here of the so-called ‘Mujahedeen’ brought into Afghanistan to end Soviet mis-rule, a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire for a country like no other analogy I can imagine).

I wish for and will only ever accept, a multicultural and religiously tolerant Middle East, so the fact that members of a religious majority in certain places might want to extend their prejudices by supporting a government discriminating on their behalf is not real democracy at all. At best it could be called populism, but it is destined to fail, as sooner or later the rest of the world will realise that they identify just as much, if not more, with the Christians, Jews, Kurds and other minorities of the region and will find ways of guaranteeing equal rights for them all. So whenever we talk of the need for more democracy in that region, the ‘elephant in the room’, so to speak is the danger of Islamism. What if, in such destabilised circumstances, populations rather than supporting liberal democratic ‘good guys’ turn in their evident frustration with the status quo to Islamic-clothes wearing fanatical ‘bad guys’, as they do in many cases seem to be doing. If they accept the voting principal, but use it in a bigoted way, or the only truly popular and organised opposition is in Islamic-themed (notice my use of ‘themed’ and ‘clothed’, as I don’t want to think or claim that this is the very nature of that creed, as then we really are in trouble), What then? I admit, this is a question I have no real answer for, though my faith tells me that time will bury such people if they refuse to recognise universal rights just as it buried the dictators that came before them.

All we can do, I suppose, is avoid legitimising or condoning their prejudices and without fail stand up for the minorities’ rights, even make respecting those rights a prerequisite for our support. The fact is, business will go on unabated. Seeing as Saudi Arabia, long considered a key Western ‘ally’ outrageously discriminates against Christians with the flimsy excuse that their fellow religionists have done so for generations shows us how bad things actually are there. Europe in the past did such things, in Medieval times minorities were widely persecuted and after the financial upheavals of the great depression fascist parties came to the fore, often with the blessing (perhaps under duress, we don’t yet know for sure) of the majority Catholic Church and others, who saved their property but arguably lost their souls in the process, leaving Europe as the most agnostic continent the world has ever seen in their wake. Not that I see that as a bad thing, on the contrary, a broadly secular state is the only guarantee of religious freedom, in the end the most precious of freedoms, as a lack of an imposed religion allows those of conscience to flourish.

I may add that secular injustice is also to be condemned. The so-called Baath parties of former Iraq and present-day Syria lack any kind of legitimacy, yet it is still questionable if violently overthrowing them is the right answer. In Iraq, it clearly wasn’t and in Syria a combination of delegitimising the existing government there and its own terrible, repressive behaviour, far from new though it may, though with terrifying barbarity, has led to widespread chaos. What kind of order can emerge from such chaos, could it be humane governments, or will more rough beasts slouch forth from Babylon to be born?

So, to bring the conversation right to the point of current events, we have a certain dilemma here, presented in its starkest terms in Syria. By toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein, we helped expose just how transitory such governments in fact are. We also revealed the sectarian chaos that can emerge from beheading a government in a country that was from the very beginning a post-colonial construction of convenience, cutting blindly across ethnic lines that would presumably has delineated ‘natural’ entities rather than forced ones that seem to require near-constant armed intervention to maintain. Not my use of the word ethnic rather than religious, though the two of course combine in identities. Even if you could strip away the religious identities of Sunni, Shiite, Jew, Kurd, Christian, Christians often being the most badly treated with shocking indifference from the West, ethnic conflict would still be possible in lands with unnatural borders, so rather than try to reduce identities it might be better to expand them with a sense of universal humanity and enlightened, shared custodianship of the Earth.

In Syria we have a protest movement that was so brutally suppressed that it turned into a fully fledged armed uprising, which has gathered such pace it can almost be called a civil war. I say almost as the sides are so unequal and, at least in the side of the opposition, ill-defined. A pressing question is what kind of opposition is it really? Assad claims it is al-Qaeda linked terrorists and it can’t be denied that members of such groups have made their way into the country, though hopefully the West isn’t and won’t ever dream of arming them. I would have thought after the experience of Afghanistan, finding themselves at war with some of the same groups they had helped supply previously, the West would realise that such entities are like a wild tiger. You might train it, but can never tame it and here we are talking of horrendously barbaric groups, which are in essence no different from the Attila the Huns and Genghis Khans of history.

Yet apparently, they are being heavily equipped by Saudi ‘charities’ and are in a position to do much of the fighting. How to help the legitimate, democratic opposition whilst avoiding arming them, who sooner or later will find some way of turning such arms on us anyway, whether it be by Maliesque hostage-taking, terrorist plots, or simply wishing to destabilise nearby countries and attempt to infiltrate them. Knowingly arming them would not only be downright cynical (which is why I wouldn’t put it past some our so-called intelligence services), but ultimately self-destructive as we are the ‘great Satan’ of freedom, enlightenment and prosperity they fear so much, whilst Assad and his Russian backers are just a little Satan. Yet do nothing and we will be resented as silent accomplices of the regime, which is fighting not so much a terrorist insurgency, though this forms part of the problem, as an internal uprising by a people thoroughly tired of his mis-rule. Here we have a crystallisation of the uprisings there in the 1980’s, which at the time we merely ignored, though now affecting the entire country.

It seems to me though that there has to be a clear decision by the rebel groups that they will commit to a democratic and egalitarian program, that recognises the rights of all groups there, if they want to see Western support. Without that, I’m not sure it makes any sense to give any armed assistance, for the reasons outlined above and the charge of moral blackmail isn’t very persuasive. However odious Assad’s government might be and however tempting the idea of winning over a country in Russia’s pockets, the end does not justify the means for the simple reason that the end is something that comes after the first act. How nominally Christian countries can even think of arming people whose stated, not perceived, but stated intention is to commit genocide against all non-Muslims in the area and also different types of Muslim, simply beggars belief. I can understand the desire to have some influence on the resulting government and to be remembered as allies rather than strangers, which surely helped lead to the Libyan involvement. Yet we have to be pretty clear we won’t support just another form of bigotry, however it is dressed up. I have seen news reports that the liberal groups are receiving specialist (non-lethal’ arming and training. though it has to be made very clear that this is conditional on it staying in their hands… something no doubt hard to guarantee, which makes any kind of involvement questionable.

Of course, in this context two things should be remembered, however unpleasant they may be. One being that these militants are reportedly being armed with the help of the Saudis. Seeing as Saudi Arabia is very much in the American ‘pocket’, even extending to formally secret drone bases, it is hard to believe the West would know nothing of this, especially as such a tactic was used in Afghanistan in the 1980s, with similarly blinkered objectives.

The second is perhaps darker and I hope it’s not the case, but I think it’s worth pointing out the possibility. In the time of the original crusades, the Orthodox Christians of Slavic and Middle-Eastern lands were seen as just (or even more) heretical than the Jews and Muslims, who at least had the excuse of not knowing who Christ was, rather than going against his wishes of Apostolic successorship by being folded into the Roman Church and following the Pope directly. So Orthodox Christians were not just abandoned to regional rulers, but actively targeted, based around a fanatical belief that their way of worshipping with icons offended God, though persecuting them would somehow please him.

Nowadays, of course, there is much more fellow-feeling amongst Christians, though it seems to me possible that one reason there is such shocking silence amongst Western Christians in the face of such appalling oppression of their brothers and sisters in the Eastern Churches has it’s roots in this. Christianity may have evolved to be much more peaceful and enlightened, but I wonder if the same silence and even Western aid would greet groups persecuting Protestants or Catholics. This shouldn’t be the case and I don’t accept it at all, but other than the possibility of a New World Order organisation that essentially sees Christians as a threat due to their overt morality, this explains in part the widespread silence. Another possibility is that they themselves don’t want to be any more identified with an ‘alien’ west than they already are and beg to be allowed to resolve things on their own terms. Reports of a Christian exodus from Iraq and ‘liberated’ parts of Syria and persecution in ‘Arab Spring’ countries like Egypt suggest otherwise. To an extent, the so-called freedom of the Arab Spring is a death-sentence for minorities and more has to be done if their rights aren’t respected.

In all of this we have the existence of modern-day Israel, who I will be clear I recognise, see as a good thing ultimately for the region and the world and support their right to exist. With this comes of course the right to self-defense, self-defense in one of the roughest neighborhoods on Earth I might add, though I hope they use that right wisely. I don’t have any time for radicals or religious fundamentalists there, either, though think it pretty much absurd to try to pin the blame for all the region’s troubles on such a small entity, which after all is just trying to survive and prosper and doing a lot better than any of her neighbours at doing that. Why do people try to blame Israel for things so obviously beyond their control? Part of this is no doubt the historical prejudice of ‘blaming the Jews’, an almost superstitious tendency to escape from the complexities of a situation by blaming an at least mostly innocent party, a ‘scapegoat’. This works very well for the regimes of the region and keeps the people they are ruling and oppressing off their backs (None of this is to exempt them from their own wrong actions and often oppressive policies, by the way).

Yet even if there are Zionist conspiracies, and I have no doubt in such an unstable region, some wheeling and dealing is going on to protect Israel from the insanity so common around her (economically unproductive insanity I might add), it is beyond stupid to think that everything that goes on there is a result of such conspiracies. Yet intellectual laziness has seemingly endless appeal, particularly amongst the disenfranchised (which is not to say that Israel does no wrong, but to emphatically say they don’t do all, or even most of the wrong). The only thing I can see ending this, or any other prejudice for that matter, is universal suffrage and free education. What we are seeing in the Middle East now is that without education, democracy means very little. People are more likely to vote in their own new oppressors, representing their own particular bigotry, rather than governments that have a real likelihood of solving their various problems. The cultural divide between the West and traditionally Islamic majority states, which I still maintain are in reality multicultural countries as well, is very vast. That doesn’t mean we should forget about human rights and pluralism. We are lucky to come from countries where human rights are almost taken for granted. The overthrowing of corrupt dictators is only the first stage of bringing those universal rights to the rest of the world. Only governments that respect the rights of all their citizens, whatever their background, should expect to be seen as legitimate.

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