In the name of God the most gracious, the most merciful
Social relationships between the two revolutions (1925 – 2011)
Syria is greater than its geographical size on a map. Few countries can compete with its civilization and the intellectual impact it has had on our world. Our alphabet originated from it. Without exception, all civilizations and religions have breathed its air. Its land witnessed historical and cultural events characterized by universal importance. Its internal creative capabilities and varied population, made it a centre of attention to nations of the world during all periods of time.
This land acquired accumulative social relationships, that functioned to replace an absence of political stability, being rooted in amazing reference points. The most important of which are the following:
1. Family authority: each family or tribe had elders to undertake and address their issues and concerns.
2. Guild authority: each profession had a master of the craft who was the reference to seek out.
3. Neighborhood authority: leaders of neighborhoods assisted to a large extent in achieving social stability.
4. Religious authority: one of the stronger authorities ; among its majority, this started with the imam of a mosque up to the Mufti.
With the arrival of dictatorships, these authorities were restricted or co-opted. The Baath party assumed power in 1963 and sought to destroy them, one by one, replacing them with its own repressive institutions. These highjacked civil society utterly, leading to catastrophes on all levels.
These reference points (authorities) were in essence the security valve for our society.
They played a leading role in creating a national fabric. I will mention some of its manifestations:
- At the beginning of the French colonial mandate over Syria, and with the arrival of General Gouraud, he set about cutting Syria up, to divide its people across sectarian lines. He created the State of Mount Lebanon; then the Alawite State; to be followed by the State of Damascus, the State of Aleppo, and the State of the Druze. However, Syrians of all sects rose in the face of his plans. Had it not been for this strong social structure, Syrians would not have been able to retain their unity.
- The French government tried to insist, in 1920, that Syria encompass various peoples that speak Arabic, but have nothing else in common. The Syrian government insisted that Syria encompass all Syrians, no matter their mother tongue. The French plan failed because of the fabric of Syrian society, that could then protect the rights of minorities
- After the death of Hasan al-Kharrat, the French High Commissioner arrested the important leaders of Damascus neighborhoods, and began to set loose his colonial Senegal soldiers against civilians. The revolutionaries established a Revolutionary Court, that made decisions with the aim of preventing any attacks on women and protecting the rights of civilians from all backgrounds.
- During the elections of 1947, the names on the electoral lists came from all sects and minorities in Syria. The candidates were considered for their patriotism as Syrians, regardless of their religion, community or sect.
- Religious scholars played an important role in visiting rural areas and villages , picking out potential students to be educated in institutions in Damascus, which were fully funded by Damascene merchants.
Social relationships were characterised by impressive tolerance, with the leaders of the Syrian Revolution being Muslims, Christians, Alawites and Kurds. Before the emergence of the Baath party, Syria had four Kurdish leaders:
1. Muhammad Ali Bey al-Abed (1932 – 1936).
2. Husni al-Zaim (1949)
3. Fawzi Silo (1951 until 1953).
4. Adib al-Shishakli (1953 to 1954).
Since independence, Syria has been under threat of foreign intervention. The case of the 1947 elections; the military coup of 1949; and the attempt to overthrow the government in 1956. Nevertheless, the social fabric was capable of withstanding them.
However, the fifty years of Baath rule have resulted in the tearing apart of that social fabric completely, as its leaders worked relentlessly to transmit doubt and suspicion among our people, putting individuals and sects in conflict.
In spite of this, the Syrian Revolution was characterized by its peaceful patriotism and dignity when it began, with hundreds of thousands of Syrians taking part in it. Hundreds of thousands were martyred and tens of thousands detained since, in unspeakable conditions.
I would like to remember a young Christian man, Basel Shihadeh, killed in Homs by Assad, while taking part in a demonstration. His family was banned from holding a Mass for his soul in church. Vast numbers of Muslims, far exceeding the number of Christians, attended his funeral, but the regime prohibited anyone from visiting his home, to pay their condolences, fearing as it did the reemergence of a supposedly-destroyed social fabric.
This social fabric now suffers from many problems and is facing many dangers in the form of:
First - systematic destruction by the regime through the infiltration of its security apparatus.
Second - the way in which the people of Syria have been treated under the pretext of Arab nationalism, the biggest example being the mistreatment of the Kurds and the Turkmen, who lived in harmony with the rest of the people of Syria before Baath rule.
Third - the restriction of Sunni expression. Here, one can distinguish between two types of secularism: the type that aims at destroying religion, and the type that considers society to be composed of sects and groups that have equal rights.
We say that the rights of people stem from their very existence, and not from the size of the group they belong to. Unfortunately, most Islamists consider nationalism to be contradictory to religion, and some of our teachers continue to give sermons emphasising that they contradict each other. In reality, Syrian nationalism is an integral part and a basic component of all our religions.
Fourth – The way we understand Islam is that it is a point of attraction for the world, but there are various parties and groups that understand Islam as a point of confrontation and conflict with the world.
I would like to address an important issue honestly — that of the Alawites in Syria. There have been historical fatwas made against them. It is not for us to discuss the level of faith or lack of it for any sect. I will say this very loudly indeed: we have no problem with the Alawites as a sect. Our problem is with the regime that uses the Alawite sect as a human shield, to protect its existence, digging a historical and social grave for a whole group, as the regime throws it into a battle that is not theirs. The objective of this Revolution is justice and not revenge. People must be judged based on their actions, not their sects. I would like to remind my fellow Alawites that it was not the Sunni sect that assassinated General Muhammad Umran, arrested Salah Jadid, keeping him in prison for 28 years, ‘suicided’ Ghazi Kanaan, or arrested and abused Dr. Abdul Aziz al-Khayyir.
Fifth – Some mothers in Syria - belonging to all sects - have corresponded with me concerning their loved ones that are detained or missing. I call on all different sides, and on the regime as well, in spite of its horrific brutality, to release all detainees, especially children and women. It is shameful that a child or a woman would remain detained in Syria. I call upon international organisations, such as the Islamic Cooperation Organisation, the Carter Centre, or the International Red Cross, to intervene on humanitarian grounds to ensure the release of all women and children detained in Syria , regardless of their sect or community.
Sixth – The Baath party has completely erased our contemporary history, denying our Syrian people their right to a true identity. This erasure of history is shown by the ludicrous way that the figures behind Syrian independence have been wiped out of our history books. Everything that preceded the Baath has been wiped out, though Syria is a country with great men and women, who contributed generously to the cultural and social development of the whole region, not just their own country. It is now essential that we try, along with all the components of Syrian society, to find a unifying and ethical national identity.
My last point concerns the fear surrounding minorities.
It is undoubtedly immoral, illegal, illegitimate, and inhumane for any human being to be endangered for the mere fact that they belong to a specific community, religion, sect or intellectual belief. It is, nevertheless strange, that talk about minorities arises only when they are exposed to danger, which is laudable enough, but no such fears arise for the majority in Syria, that has paid the price of hundreds of thousands of martyrs , and counting.
What about the 250 thousand men, women and children that the regime has detained? What about the six hundred thousand maimed and injured? The ten million homeless and displaced? What about the land itself destroyed?
Is it not high time for a hypocritical international community to pay some attention to this bloodbath? We are no longer asking for support for our long-overdue Revolution. We are simply asking for support for human beings. It is they who are being destroyed everyday in Syria.
Ahmad Mouaz Alkhatib