Regarding the conflict in Syria, many Australians presumably support the stand of Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, who declared recently that the “possibility of a negotiated settlement” with somebody who “carpet bombs” his own country is “inconceivable”. (1)
Was the prince thinking of Chamberlain, who made the mistake of appeasing Hitler? Or does he have another reference point, other concerns?
At a restaurant table the other day, I opened the subject of Syria with my brother, a decent well-educated man. He spoke with great conviction: “Assad has to go”.
Relying on a few oft-quoted lines, my brother maintained his stand, while I attempted to present the stories told by Syrian friends, analyses I had searched out on the internet, my reading on human nature and war, my knowledge and love for Syria – the diversity and vibrancy of the Syria I knew when I taught English there, … logic, even. I could think of an endless list of reasons to oppose an armed ‘revolution’ supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and NATO, and funded by Gulf monarchs in Wahhabi states. But my frustration stopped the discussion. The stories of the assassinations of imams, priests, civil servants, farmers and children were deemed tragic by my brother, but irrelevant to the big picture: “Assad has to go”.
There are other good people in Australia who are less certain than my brother about Syria and who do welcome a discussion. I have sent them Tweets and even visited the offices of some. But to make a public comment about Syria that goes against the prevailing narrative, they risk being labelled “pro- regime”, “pro-brutal dictator”. Setting out persuasive arguments and facts to counter that pigeonholing is too formidable a task for anyone who is deeply committed to being accurate and fair but who does not have the resources for ongoing research into the war. Consequently, they are effectively silenced by the overwhelming nature of the task and the tsunami of condemnation of the “Assad regime” coming from virtually every corner.
I have also sat in front of TV cameras in a brightly lit SBS studio with other good people who, unlike me, support the armed ‘revolution’ in Syria since they are convinced the “Alawi minority” is oppressing the “Sunni majority” and killing Sunni women and children.
I was given one chance to respond to a question in that studio. There was so much I could have said. Some days before, I had spoken for an hour to an SBS producer. Much of what I told her was a new take on Syria. I explained that I had Maoist friends forty years ago who believed in an armed revolution with a certainty that still cannot be shifted, and I know them to be ‘good’ people. I was never a Maoist, but if I were a young Sunni Australian who had no experience of living in secular Syria and no family contacts there, I might support a jihad to save my Syrian ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’.
The fight against the ‘heretical’ regime in Syria is a cultural revolution of sorts. No doubt it’s seizing the hearts and minds of young people who believe in utopias, causing grief to the families of others who have been dragooned into it, and lining the pockets of yet others who might be attracted to the fever of a war and to the butchering of those who have been categorized as the ‘enemy’ and so duly dehumanized.
Having that chance to say just one thing to a TV audience, I wanted it to be significant, a wake-up call.
At the very beginning of the crisis in Syria, there were fatwahs issued against secular Syria by extremist sheikhs or clerics. One of them was Sheikh Qaradawi, the most prominent Sheikh who speaks on Al Jazeera every week and he’s got a very big presence on the internet. He issued a fatwa, and he also said and it’s well known in the Middle East by people who speak Arabic, he also said that it’s okay to kill a third of the Syrian population as long as it leads to the toppling of the heretical government. This is what, this is what the Syrian people, the Syrian army is facing. People who feel motivated to kill minorities because they’re on the list, and also to kill secular Syrian Sunnis who don’t support that extremist ideology. (2)
The Saudi foreign minister’s statement came at the time of President Obama’s inauguration. Was that a coincidence? Was it a firming up of the policies of allies or the throwing down of a gauntlet? Or was it even more prosaic? Was it meant as a distraction after the release of a report in USA TODAY which claimed “Saudi Arabia has sent death-row inmates from several nations to fight against the Syrian government in exchange for commuting their sentences”. (3) If the Saudi prince is able to remind us again that Assad is the enemy, perhaps yet another criminal act will be overlooked.
The war in Syria demands research. The rhetoric that suppresses debate must be set aside. The mostly anonymous sources that help shape people’s views of events in Syria must be scrutinized. And ‘experts’ must be challenged. If this does not happen, the West risks an appeasement that could lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people. If there is genocide in Syria, we ‘good’ people who maintain our certainty at a great distance should be prepared to bear the guilt, and at some point the consequences.
The Grand Mufti of Syria makes reference to Sheikh Qaradawi’s fatwa in a speech following his son’s assassination in October 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj0QmykxMQs
It is also referred to by a Lebanese Australian, Robert Bakhazi in an ABC Radio National Encounter program (The Syrian Mosaic), 3 March 2012: (Section from transcript below) http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/encounter/the-syrian-mosaic/3855496#transcript
Robert Bekhazi: I’ve seen what’s happened in Afghanistan, with a similar campaign. I’ve seen what’s happened in Libya, where the media have deserted the ground en masse now, and no longer report on the continuous power struggles between various rebel groups that had been armed by Qatar and the West, who are now fighting it out village to village, town to town, where the media don’t talk about that at all any more – where in Egypt, over 100,000 Copts have emigrated since March of last year, as a result of the radicalisation of the society there.100,000 dead Libyans later, no one talks about them anymore, a million dead Iraqis later, no one talks about them anymore. You have to see what happened in Egypt for example. The media reports what happened in Egypt as though it was some sort of natural occurrence, where the majority of the people got up and decided that they wanted Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood as their representatives in a majority. What they didn’t talk about was the huge influx of Gulf money from the extremist states, from Saudi Arabia, from Qatar and Bahrain and such places. Huge amounts of money that went into the campaigns of the religious parties in Egypt and as a result the Islamists were able to galvanise their supporters, and emerge with a majority in the parliament. So I think that the media is really not paying enough attention to the extremist elements in all this. They’re not listening to the likes of Sheikh [ ], who broadcasts on Arabic satellite stations coming out of Saudi Arabia, who actively gets up on TV and warns the Alawites or others that they’re going to be put through meat mincers and fed to dogs. Or influential Sheikhs such as Qaradawi, who’s financed by Qatar and has appearances on al Jazeera, who said that it’s ok for 30% of the Syrian population to die, so that they can get their agenda through.
When it was mentioned by this writer in the SBS Insight program on Syria (October 2012), there were many Lebanese and Syrian Australians in the audience including people who supported the armed opposition and no one contradicted the statement. http://www.sbs.com.au/insight/episode/transcript/509/Syria
National Coordinator of Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) In Syria