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Mainstream, VOL L, No 11, March 3, 2012

Syrian Uprising and Muslim Apprehensions

Sunday 4 March 2012

by ADFAR RASHID SHAH and FAYAZ AHMAD BHAT

The ten-month-long Syrian unrest against President Bashar al-Assad, one more increment to the Arab Spring, has assumed the shape of unending mass demonstrations but simultaneously it is a paradox especially for the non-Arab Muslim world and political analysts as well. On the one hand the people are shouting for more free expression, development and revival of human rights concern but on the other the Syrian uprising is looked at through different angles by Muslims worldwide and seems somewhat different from other chaos-ridden Arab countries—be it the people’s holistic anti-regime participation in Libya, Egypt, etc.; reflections of NATO’s mishandled interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya; the West’s, especially America’s, moral travesties in Afghanistan, and anti-Muslim lobbying like intimidating Iran just for gaining more supremacy in West Asia. Last but not the least overthrowing the Assad regime to destabilise one more country in the region is intended for neo-colonial exploitation as in Libya and Egypt. This is the Muslim perception.

Though a considerable chunk of the Syrian populace have organised themselves against the current political establishment, which they believe to be authoritarian, iron-fisted and a regime of repressive state apparatus, the current intensity of anti-Assad fever and increasing anger in Syria has caused growing confusion in the Muslim world. There are certain underlying questions that need to be critically examined.

While all of us may strongly endorse the mass protests by Syrian citizens as protests are part of a democratic way of life, questions arise on the very genesis of the uprising, the reason and legitimacy of the protests, appropriate time for the protests, etc. Also to accept the ongoing protests as a mirror of public opinion against the Syrian Government and/or President Assad in totality or against the holistic state policies of the country will not be correct and timely. One more point: it should be analysed if this is merely the common man’s attempt to remove the political dead-wood and bring about the desired changes in the Syrian social system; or whether it is a methodical and non-violent campaign to achieve a particular goal, and involve the use of public pressure thereby persuading the establishment to address mass issues, etc. We also need to delve into the crisis, issues and challenges which President Assad has been through and see whether it is an untimely blame-game against him or not. Though admitting the fact that the current phase of Syrian protests is now an open disobedience of the establishment, which has turned violent, seeing the present tumultuous scenario and endless killings day in and day out one feels it is to a great extent a reflection of the crisis emanating from mishandling on the part of the Assad regime and may be the impact of Arab spring.

Muslims, who have been witnessing the plight of their fellow Muslims in Iraq or Afghanistan especially after 9/11, have developed a different perception about the West. They feel the West is yearning for colonies, dominance, cheap oil and other resources. They realise how Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib tarnished and abused human dignity and individuality. They witnessed how poor tribals in the Afghan frontier areas were bombed and killed in the name of fighting the Taliban guerillas. Muslims believe now that they have nothing more to lose as they have lost all at the hands of the West, especially America. Their identity in the world is ruined, their economy shattered, their future has become vulnerable and insecure through threats and intimidation, and they live with harassment and humiliation on a daily basis even in their own countries. They dislike the US, they hate NATO’s biased operations and decisions which have thus far proved only anti-Muslim, they are appalled by the West’s contempt for the Arab political establishments. Though they are critical of the Arab monarchs and condemn the oppression on civilians and are equally concerned over the prolonged unrest, they more than anything hate the West’s interference in every internal matter of the Muslim states. They also do not know what to do for peace building and how to restore harmony in the lives of the chaos-ridden Arab public. Further, the Muslims are in a dilemma as to whether to support the rulers or the public as they love both and dislike the tussle between both, purely because they feel the West is taking advantage of every instability in the Muslim world. Though Arab democracy is the desire of every Muslim outside the Arab states, they are for a peaceful coexistence between the rulers and the ruled. Also Muslims around the world nurture a strong distrust of America and its allies, for their interventions are less for peace building and more for gaining supremacy, access to resources and creation of puppet establishments which they have done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc.

LOOKING at the various layers of the Syrian political structure and the ruler’s planned mass-friendly policies and future prospects, it is believed by some analysts that President Bashar al-Assad deserves a chance to be listened to by the masses and must be given a specific time-frame to fulfill the promises he has made to his public, that is, the reforms he has promised. No doubt he has failed to recognise the immediate need for fundamental economic and social changes, which could have reduced the acute disparity among different sections of the population and subsequently ensured a dignified life and livelihood to the Syrian populace and prevented joblessness among the youth.

Nonetheless, there is still a hope from him as he is so different from such tyrants like the slain Gaddafi, Mubarak and other Arab dictators, for he recognises the legitimacy of protests and demands for functional change, which speaks of his respect for the people who are suffering and militating against him. He has shown a positive attitude of reconciliation even with those engaged in violent insurgency against the Syrian state by implementing his amnesty powers, that critics thus far have wrongly interpreted as Assad’s act of acceptance of guilt and surrender. However, they must not ignore that even world powers like the US are continually trying to negotiate with Iran and that in no way means America’s retreat or surrender. It is also being argued that Assad will go the Gaddafi way but Syrian protesters cannot be compared to the NTC’s rebels who had massive military manpower and support. Syrian protests have slowly turned to civil war and general disorder but still the armed forces are intact and Assad has a strong public support despite heavy induction of foreign insurgents into Syria who have mobilised a chunk of Syrian citizens for serving the West’s geo-political interests.

Assad also believes in organised social stability and order unlike others. One other positive aspect is that he has been successful in retaining his popularity among wide sections of the Syrian population primarily because of his foreign policy, which is valued by a majority, and his idea of reforms, despite continuing uprising against his stay in office and use of certain coercive measures by his forces. Such phrases as fierce ‘assault on civilians’, the killing of 6000 civilians in Syria by Assad are merely the Western media’s rumours. While the West gives a lot of hype to facts and figures regarding civilian casualties, it hardly reports about the loss of military lives, public property damage, etc. by the insurgents, rebels and funded agents.
It may also be worth mentioning that the Syrian President has repeatedly been acknowled-ging that Syria needs time to improve life condi-tions be it in education, building basic institutions for an improved social structure even before democratising its political system. On the other hand, the Syrian President has an uphill task ahead as so far he has not been able to remove the established sloth-ridden system; therefore, he needs to offer a certain space to his opponents by inviting them to dialogue on a common table though now he is likely to announce a date for a referendum on a new Constitution.

Also, as per sociological and political observations, the current Syrian protests seem largely a political conspiracy against his regime backed and funded by Zionist elements supported by the West and a few neighbours of Syria because Assad is believed to be pro-Palestinian and supporting their cause of liberation. He has also been targeted by outside forces by breeding internal uprising for his friendly ties with Lebanon and Iran, with which he shares borders besides Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Turkey. Syria’s friendly role in war-torn Iraq, its rehabilitative policies and its support to the Iraqi refugees can be another factor that prompted the evil forces to act against the Assad regime.

Also its confrontational stance with Israel and strategic partnership with Tehran, nourishing of Hezbollah to combat Israel, besides a strong Syrian influence in Lebanon through its armed affiliation with Hezbollah-like organisations, has actually irked its enemies to destabilise the state politically and led to a chaotic situation. Hence it is believed that behind the protests and planned uprising are the vested interests of Assad’s neighbours and a few other states resulting in the present severe situation with the President feeling helpless to quell protests peacefully. And all this has been later manipulated differently by the US as America is pro-Israel, spreading the propagenda of mass killings by Bashar al-Assad and thus people around the globe are made to believe it as a disproportionate reaction from the Syrian security forces against the protesters.

Syria badly needs Assad’s stay in office for more political, social and economic renovation and improvement. The current approach of the US or EU on the Syrian situation cannot be regarded as their breaking silence in defence of innocent Syrian citizens but their motivated attack on the Assad family and his regime and his political leadership. The international community which supports Assad’s ouster and indirectly instigates mindless protesters as they have done in Libya, should conceptualise and foresee Syria as another Iraq or hostility-ridden Afghanistan, or civil war-torn Libya or Egypt, where pro-American regimes have added to the chaos and agony of the general masses by strengthening their roots further in order to promote the loot of resources in spite of these having been safeguarded in the interest of the common man.

Tailpiece

THE consequences of the Arab Spring cannot destroy the whole of West Asia. It will be disastrous to wish regime change in all the Arab states via the Arab Spring as the clean sweep of political administration in all the unrest-hit countries will engender an unplanned and immature revolution culminating in civil war and further disorder. The violent toppling of the Assad regime may have very unhealthy ramifications for the Syrian society be it the vulnerability of the military forces, emergence of civil strife to destroy the basic Syrian social, economic and cultural ethos, breeding of violent regional, sectarian and religious conflicts and violence as is currently seen in many other Arab states. Its immediate impact may be on Syria’s neighbors like Iran, Iraq, and Turkey and even Israel which could lead to more hostile relations and violence between the two states, which will not be a good sign for the general peace in West Asia already destablished by the Arab Spring.

Adfar Rashid Shah and Fayaz Ahmad Bhat are Ph.D candidates of Sociology at the faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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