Even as our car approached Damascus enroute from Beirut, we could see black plumes of smoke emerging from the outskirts of the city. The sound of bombardments continued all through the course of the day & night, with little respite. Way back in 2006, when Israel had waged the war on Lebanon, we had to travel from Damascus to Beirut, the twin cities of resistance.
Since the very onset, we were aware that the geopolitical war for Syria will have tremendous ramifications for the very power structure of the world & especially for West Asia, the Middle East & North Africa. Thus there was a strategic imperative for a deeper understanding & a constructive politically informed intervention on the part of the Indian people’s movements.
The Indian delegation comprising Jatin Desai (freelance journalist), Nirja Bhatnagar (Gender & Human Rights), Mubasshiruddin Khurram (Siyasat, Urdu daily) & this author, was there as the first team (February 9-16th) of a series of Indian journalists & political activists, on an invitation from the Syrian Ministry of Information & in coordination with Syrian civil-society.
As is the case with international issues, we are largely dependent on Western news sources, both in the print & the electronic media. Even whilst India is a growing political & economic power, our political leadership, social movements, as well as the media lacks an informed & independent perspective on issues of strategic geopolitical significance. The daily reporting on Syria in our media has been entirely through the prism of Reuters, AFP, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeerah & Al Arabiya. All of these news sources are part of the very Western imperial alliance & their vassal states in the region.
This has led to a vastly distorted perspective in our analysis of the Syrian crisis, which is undergoing a war that has been unleashed upon its very unity & sovereignty. Barring a few journalists from the Left who have both reported & analysed the situation, independent of the Western paradigm, there has been no concerted or serious attempt to debate & discuss this issue in our media, fixated as we are with Islamabad, London & New York, as that comprises our worldview & little beyond.
This war against Syria is being led by an alliance comprising the US-UK-France-Turkey (Nato) & Israel, in alliance with the despotic Gulf Monarchs of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE & Bahrain.
On the other side stands the alliance of Russia-China-Venezuela & Iran, as well as the BRICS nations. Here it needs to be emphasised that India, as part of the alliance, has adopted a position that calls for an adherence to the UN charter, political solution to the Syrian crisis & has opposed foreign intervention & resorting to fomenting terrorism as a strategic option, as well as the imposition of the war on Syria by the nations that are funding, arming & fuelling an insurgency.
The Nato-GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) agenda is definitely not for ‘democracy’. But it certainly is once again a glaring instance of ‘regime change’ in the garb of ‘humanitarian intervention’. The Western led alliance has mobilized militants, mercenaries & terrorists from across 29 nations to infiltrate & destroy Syria, partition & balkanize along religious, sectarian & ethnic lines.
These mercenaries are part of the global network led by the extremists Wahabis, Salafists & Takfiris, who are extremely intolerant in their beliefs & consider all other Muslim sects as kafirs, leave alone the adherents of all other faiths, where the less said the better.
Even the al-Nusra (a Taliban-Al Qaeda-like affiliate) is deeply involved in this insurgency. Thus whilst the US, UK & France claim to be fighting these very forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan & Mali, they have willfully & systematically organized, promoted, funded, armed & mobilized them in Libya & in Syria. The cold-blooded hypocrisy has never been more evident, but has rarely been written about in the Indian media, despite the obvious. ( Syria: A Jihadi Paradise, By Pepe Escobar).
It is undoubtedly evident, that Syria requires major democratic reform in all spheres of its socio-religio-cultural, economic & political structures. This has been the message of the ‘Arab Spring’, where the Arab & Muslim masses are taking to the streets demanding their rightful democratic freedoms & aspirations. Thus Syria, which was hitherto ruled by the Baath Party, will have to undergo genuine reform, to ensure a free & vibrant democracy, where the people have the right to protest, freedom of expression, the right to dissent & a free & robust media. There is also a need to recognize the fact that Syria lacks a genuine multi-party system & as well as a reform of electoral laws.
Thus the moot point here to be considered is that, was the Syrian government & the ruling elite, which comprises all the sections, entirely opposed & disconnected from the aspirations on the ground, or where they willing to respond to a process of democratic reform & actively engage the opposition parties & civil society?
In our estimation, the Syrian Government, as well as dominant sections of the national opposition are committed to a political process of dialogue to resolve the national crisis.
Thus we need to analyse the varied complexities of the situation due to which Syria has been subjected to this war.
The Nato-GCC powers had drawn up plans well in advance, for another “Libyan solution”, or even worse – ‘Somalization’!
Syria has been subjected to this geopolitical war for the following reasons:
After the Arab Spring broke out in Tunisia & then onto Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, (which the media entirely neglects) amongst others, peaceful protests also broke in Daraa, a town in the south of Syria. We met protesters who had participated & raised the slogans for democratic reform & the empowerment of the people. As is the case with entrenched one-party ruled states, the initial protests were also met with a degree of state violence, a fact which the government has acknowledged. But at the higher levels of the Syrian leadership, they also began to respond to the demands of the people.
But soon an armed insurgency began to spread across Syria & mercenaries began to pour in from the neighbouring countries, namely Turkey, Jordan (Governments are openly complicit), as well as Lebanon & Iraq, where there are militias funded by the Saudi-Qatari’s. The peaceful democratic protesters were marginalized, even as armed rebels, insurgents, mercenaries & terrorists, with a very regressive & sectarian Islamic agenda began to spread all across the country.
The political opposition & civil society protesters we spoke to, soon began to realize that a larger geopolitical war was being waged by the Western powers & the Gulf vassal monarchies & surely their agenda was not democracy. Can any serious observer state that Saudi Arabia & Qatar are democracies, or even aspire to be so in the near future? Are the Nato powers here to to create liberal secular democracies, or wage war, change regimes & control the natural resources of nations? The answers have always been clear.
Syria was targeted, as this country has been a bulwark of the resistance & forms a physical arch that includes Iran, Syria, the Turkish people, Lebanon & Palestine. With all their faults, the Syrian leadership did not compromise with the US-Israel, as did Egypt & the other Arab powers after the Camp David Treaty (1978) & the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty (1979). Then with the defeat of Saddam’s Iraq (1991), Syria was the only Arab country with a political system, military & a courageous civil-society that could stand up to Israel.
Syria & the leading Arab & Muslim nations have been targeted for regime change both in the PNAC (Project for the New American Century, a Neo-Conservative document, 1997) and other documents authored by Benjamin Netanyahu & the US Neo-Conservatives to be referred: A Clean Break, A Strategy for Securing the Realm , 1996 and A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties, by Oded Yinon, 1982.
The victory of the Lebanese & Palestinian national resistance in their historic victories in 2006 & 2008-09, 2012, was due to the fact that Syria stood by like a rock, whilst other Arab states stood & watched. Israel stood defeated & the myth of Israel’s military invincibility lay shattered forever.
Syria also lies in the pathway of the Oil & Gas Pipelines, with plans to pass from Saudi-Qatar-Syria-Turkey to Europe. Also the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline challenges the hegemony of the Saudi-Qatar-US-Israeli plans to control the routes & the flow of the natural resource.
The recent discoveries of major Oil & Gas deposits in the Mediterranean & Aegean Seas have lead to competing claims between Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Cyprus, Greece & Israel. Thus both the Corporate West & the Gulf Petro-Sheikhs require pliant regimes in Syria, as they now have in Libya. ( F. William Engdahl , New Mediterranean oil and gas bonanza)
Also the Syrian Arab Nationalist & liberal secular plural identity, are an anathema to all those forces in the region, who cannot see beyond the narrow confines of religion & sect. It’s simply amazing to witness the rich multi-cultural ethos of this ancient Mediterranean civilization going back to more than 10,000 years, with Damascus being the oldest city in the world, with a continuous human urban settlement.
We would speak with a group of 10 Syrians & at the end would remain completely flummoxed as we could never ascertain as to which identity they belonged to. This is also the reason as to why the Syrian nation, even after 23 months of a massive international war, has been able to stand united. If not, Syria too would have fallen & crumbled like Afghanistan & Iraq, as the societies within were deeply divided along ethno-sectarian fault-lines.
There is also a plan that envisages the vivisection & Bantustanization of Syria along Sunni, Christian, Alawite, Shia & Kurdish lines.
If this nefarious design were to be achieved, then Turkey with its Ottoman pretensions & Israel with its nightmare of Greater Eretz Israel, would once again carve up the Arab lands, as the colonial representatives of the West. Here the minorities & especially the Christian, Alawite, Shia & Druze communities have been targeted as kafirs & heathens & there are horrendous fatwas being brazenly issued.
The majority of the Muslim Sunnis who are liberal as well as the other Muslim & Christian minorities in Syria are truly frightened at the prospect of a Wahabi-Salafist takeover. Many Christians we spoke to, proud of their Syrian-Arab identity will pack their bags & leave the day the ‘Syrian Arab Republic’ is transformed into a ‘Syrian Islamic Republic’. They will be reduced to second-class citizens, as is the case with all theocracies, as well as Atheocracies – though God forbid.
The common basis of their existence is the Syrian civilization & not on Islam they say & rightly so. The Christians do respect Islam, as part of their common Arab heritage. This is a position that all minorities across the world have professed. The imposition of Islamic states, will lead to more tensions in Egypt, as well as in Nigeria. We have already witnessed the partitions of Ethiopia & Eritrea, followed by Sudan & South Sudan-Darfur.
The Western strategy is to balkanize Asia & Africa along religio-sectarian & ethnic lines. Thus the creation of Islamic states, will exacerbate this very crisis. To again state the obvious – the common identity of the Egyptian people is not only Islamic, but it is the Egyptian civilization & Arabism as well. We also need to recognize the fact that socio-religious groups & ideologies too have a legitimate right to create political parties, as is evident in many western & other secular liberal democracies across the world. This issue too is at the very core of the ongoing struggle in Syria.
Fortunately enough in India, the visionary leadership led by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru & Maulana Abul Kalam Azad , understood this fact only too well & there were many in Syria who both admired & lauded India’s secular heritage & thus the mutual respect for all religions, cultures & languages.
It must be stated here, that the one of the most remarkable meetings that we had was with Grand Mufti Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun , who represents the Muslim Sunni sect & thus the majority of the population. Mufti Hassoun’s 21 year old son was murdered & he too has been threatened with death. Mufti Hassoun’s first words itself captivated us. He spoke of the ‘sanctity of God & the sanctity of Human life & beyond this nothing was more precious or sacred’. Mufti Hassoun is a true representative of a liberal peaceful Islam & this was the overwhelming sentiment amongst the Muslims that we met. Mufti Hassoun was thankful of the role that India has played, in addition to that of Russia, & China.
The Islam of the Mediterranean civilization will not be overcome by the Islam practiced in the obscurantist Gulf Sheikhdoms or the caves of Tora Bora. Thus Syria must defend its secular liberal ethos & culture.
The religio-sectarian battle being waged against the Syrian Government is based on the innuendo that the President Bashal Al Assad is from the Alawite minority (who are Kafirs, according to the extremists & fanatics who lay claim to Islam) & thus he should go. And go he surely will, if & whenever the majority vote against him.
And coming from India, where our PM comes from the minority Sikh community comprising 2% of the population, it did sound very obnoxious.
There is also valid anger amongst a section of the people about the four decade long rule of the Assad family, but this coming from those backed by the ruling families of the Gulf monarchies sounds very hollow indeed. They are also the same forces that sent in an army to quell the democratic uprising of the majority of the Bahraini population.
Our insistence is that the democratic change in inevitable, only it needs to follow a political process, not a destructive sectarian civil-war backed by international powers.
The solution is a national reconciliation, dialogue & negotiation, leading to a new constitution & elections , which must be monitored by the international community, the true one, I must add. In our discussions with many during our stay in Damascus, the popular mass support for the Government has actually increased after the war has been unleashed on their nation. The President remains popular to the extent of 60% & beyond. This entire debate can only be settled by an election & that will lay all speculation to rest. This is precisely as to why a political process & elections are being opposed by the Nato-GCC combine.
It was the first Arab League Committee, led by General Dhabi (Sudan) that referred to a national dialogue & a political process as the only way to resolve this crisis. He was immediately sacked by the Saudi-Qataris. Then later Kofi Anna’s initiative was similarly sabotaged by the US. Now Lakhdar Brahimi is attempting to play the role of the interlocutor with the backing of the UN. But until the major powers do not arrive at an agreement, the crisis will not be resolved.
We met many sections of Syrian society including the PM Dr. Wael Halaqi & the Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Feysal Mekdad, the Minister for Information, Mr. Omran Zoubi & the Minister for Electricity & Power, Mr. Imad Khamis.
Amongst the opposition, we met Mr. Omar Ossy, Kurdish MP, as well as the Chairman of the National Committee for Dialogue & Reconciliation, Mr. Sattam Dandal (a prominent Sunni Tribal Leader), Mr. Fahed Barod, Ali Turkmani & Nabil Fayyad. Amongst the Christians that we met included Mr. Salim al Nassan George, Mother Agnes-Mariam of the Cross, Hassan Arnoq & Heratch Barsikhian (an Armenian Christian).
Amongst them all, we grew very close to Mr. Youssef Alshahab, who is a proud Syrian Christian, a prominent TV personality, but a refugee in his own city as he was unable to return to his flat in a Damascus suburb itself. He was living in a hotel, where many other media channels had also moved for protection from the daily threats of the insurgents & many journalists have been murdered & kidnapped.
The journalists whom we met were also truly remarkable, even as the women were willing to stay on till late at night so that the media war against their nation be countered as effectively as possible. Here we do have to mention Ms. Nawaem Salman (whom we preferred to refer as Salman behen), who was the representative of Syrian TV & had organized our visit with a lot of deep thought & truly sincere & dedicated effort.
We also had a wonderful meeting with a group of Syrian youth who were fighting for the unity & sovereignty of their land by waging a struggle by serving in the refugee camps, by collecting donations & by countering the lies of the global media through a sustained campaign over the social media. Here we need to mention Yazan, Reina, Waseem, Maisa, Ghalia, Feras, Bernard amongst all the rest of the wonderful group that we interacted with. Yazan could not meet us again before we departed, since he was kidnapped by the mercenaries, but since then has been released & is now coordinating with many across the world to get the truth out.
They were all of the similar opinion that the sectarian war could lead to a similar deteriorating crisis in Lebanon, Iraq & with ramifications across many other Arab & Muslim nations. They were all very clear on the steps & the process of the national political initiative & the need for the war to come to an immediate halt. This is only possible, once there is an agreement between the US & Russia, after which the Nato-GCC-Turkey-Israel are pressurized to back-off.
Then the Syrian people are left alone in peace to decide their own future. The process entails a dialogue with all opposition forces, as well as civil-society, the formation of a transition government, negotiations for a new constitution which would be put up for a peoples’ referendum & then a free & fair election, leading to the formation of a new democratic government.
Actually the Syrian government has undertaken a process of reform & a new constitution was passed in a referendum in 2012, where 56% of the people voted. Here the ‘clause 8′ that referred to the Baath party as the sole leader of the revolution was removed, thus paving the way for a multi-party system. This constitution is again up for discussion & a negotiated agreement. Not a word in our media was there?
Earlier in May 2012, general elections had been held & a government constituted, but again, not a word ever appeared in the media. This was very much in contrast to the elections in Yemen, where there was only one candidate for the election & we had headlines stating that Yemen is now a democracy. Such is the manipulation & deceit of the global corporate media, with their legions of embedded journalists.
Thus even whilst the daily killings continue with reprisals & counters from either side, with unconfirmed estimates quoting up to 60,000 dead & a vast number of refugees.
The rebels & mercenaries continue to destroy Syrian infrastructure (with plans to be rebuilt by contracts given to the US companies such as Bechtel & Halliburton, if I may add). From Electric transmission lines, to hospitals, schools, colleges & health centres, bakeries, to factories that have been ripped apart & sold across the border in Turkey, where even entire neighbourhoods have been looted & so have cows & sheep.
The entire Syrian welfare state, which has served the people well, is being systematically destroyed, readied for a neo-liberal takeover. Syria is self-sufficient in both food grains & energy. Remarkably it has ‘zero debt’, despite the subsidies in all the key sectors.
Even Syrian missile sites defending all Arab lands against Israeli aggression are being targeted by the mercenaries. Thus Syrian friends also discussed the infiltration of Israelis (Sephardic-Mizrahi of Semitic origin, as the Ashkenazi majority is non-Semitic), who could blend into the insurgency & attack Syrian strategic-military targets.
Was a political process for a national dialogue possible right at the onset?
Could not the Arab League as well as the OIC, resolved the crisis through a sustained political process? Could not the NAM been involved? The Syrian crisis also exposes the divisions with the Islamic nations, as it is their very failure that has led to this crisis. It is these very Islamic nations that let the US play the role of arbiter in their internal regional issues. An Arab League in deep shameful slumber over Palestine, has gone into a Rambo-like testosterone drive on Syria.
Yes they should have, but then most of the petro-Arab states are vassals & also follow a narrow regressive religio-sectarian agenda.
Also the role of the global corporate media needs to be discussed & exposed. Once again, it was the media, led by the CNN, BBC, Al Jazeerah & Al Arabiya amongst others, that fired the first salvos, even before the mercenaries were mobilized from across the world. Their agenda of the corporate media is to pave the way for foreign intervention by distorting the news, through sheer lies & deception. They were manufacturing consent for a Nato-GCC intervention, but were prevented this time (unlike in Libya) by Russia & China, as well as the BRICS. Here it is important to state that Al Jazeerah has lost all credibility amongst vast sections of the Arab masses & counter channels are now taking root in the Arab nations.
The Syrian crisis is also deepening the political differences between the Islamists led by the Ikhwaanul Muslemeen (Muslim Brotherhood) & the Salafists on the one hand & the secular-left liberal opposition on the other. This is evident in Egypt, Tunisia & even in Turkey.
After sustaining the onslaught for nearly two years, certain powers have understood that now there is no military solution or possibility of regime change, nor can Syrian society be divided along religio-sectarian lines. Thus many Syrians themselves are now taking the initiative & calling for national reconciliation & democratic reform.
Thus now from Mr. Araby of the Arab League, Muhammad Khatib of the Syrian National Congress (SNC backed by the Nato-GCC), as well as other sane voices across the Arab world are calling for a negotiated solution.
Therefore Syria is now very important to the fate of the world itself . It’s about a liberal secular democratic Syria that respects all faiths, that treats all its citizens as equal & not merely as protected dhimmis, veritable second class citizens. It’s about ensuring that the plural culture of Syria triumphs over the regressive forces unleashed against an ancient & advanced civilization.
It’s about ensuring that Churches are not destroyed as was the recent despicable fatwa from the Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the so-called Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia (Not a word in the Western media outlets, so as to protect the image of ‘moderate’ Saudi Arabia).
It’s about a democracy that ensures an equal stake to all sections of society & in due course, the majority sections will assume power through the ballot itself. But this does not mean that only a Muslim must lead Syria. The Syrian Christians must have the same right. Currently a Christian is debarred from the top post, even in an avowedly secular socialist Syria. This was shocking & is just unacceptable & the Constitution must delete ‘clause 3′ which was inserted in 1951, as a compromise between the secularists & the Islamists. The majority of the Muslims that we spoke to said that this clause was unjust & must be removed. The Christians certainly find it extremely discriminatory & rightly so. Due to Islamist pressure, Muslims & Christians cannot currently inter-marry & the Christian has to convert to Islam, whilst the Muslim cannot. Apart from religious law, there is a need for the option of civil law as well. Many of the youth also find this law truly absurd & are planning to reform many such discriminatory laws.
Also, for the first time in decades, the Kurdish language has been recognized amongst the national languages & this is indeed a victory for the Kurdish people.
The overwhelming Palestinian population too enjoys a great degree of opportunity for their socio-economic advancement & respect the support that Syria has always given them, especially during their worst years, when most of the Arab regimes had abandoned their cause.
It’s thus about defending the arch of the resistance , stretching from Iran, the Turkish people, Syria, Lebanon & Palestine, even as it spreads to liberate more nations & people.
The victory of Syria will restore Russia to its rightful place as a world leader on par with the US. Thus the political, economic & military assertion of Russia-China, in alliance with Brazil, India, Iran, Venezuela & South Africa, will lead to a new political restructuring of international relations, with the economic & strategic balance increasingly moving away from the West.
The people of Syria are undergoing great devastation & death, in a war that has been imposed on a hapless population, who still cannot believe that their nation is being subjected to this tragedy. Yet the Syrian nation possesses the inherent strength, wisdom & courage to withstand the onslaught & emerge far stronger from the ever before. If left to themselves, they will resolve the national crisis in due course of time. The new Syria that will emerge will be very different, far more democratic & a people that after a long & arduous struggle will not only have succeeded in defending their nation, but will have won more rights to ensure the genuine empowerment of the people & committed to the values of social justice & to a plural multi-ethno-religious ethos.
The Syrian nation resistance will also have contributed to the further retreat & downfall of the Western project for global hegemony.
On the very last day, we visited the magnificent & exquisite Omayyad Mosque , whose grandeur is breathtaking. Men & Women both pray together , even as Shia’s have been provided with two rooms, which also houses the ‘Ras-ul-Hussain’ & the shrine dedicated to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. The Mosque also houses the Shrine of St. John the Baptist. Nearby lay the mausoleum of Saladin the great .
Our attempts to pay our respects at the Shrine of Syeda Zeinab were not facilitated due to security considerations.
We then walked down the cobbled lanes of the Christian quarters of Bab Touma & paid our respects at the Church of Ananias (more than 2000 years old), dedicated to the memory of St. Paul himself.
This was all astounding to witness & provides great hope for the future of the world.
I silently prayed at each of these spiritual centres, for God to protect this ancient nation & to restore peace.
One evening, in a short taxi ride, even as the bombings continued, we discussed the future of Syria with the taxi-driver, who smilingly stated – “Don’t worry, we are a 10,000 year old civilization, we have seen worse & will overcome this crisis”.
He did not need any words of assurance, as he knew within his heart, he knew.
Feroze Mithiborwala is a peace activist in Mumbai. He led the Asia to Gaza peace flotilla.
Source: Counter Currents