The Aleppo tale of death from two fronts

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By: Tarik Al-Diery

Image result for East AleppoMan carries young child out of rubble in East Aleppo after Syrian regime bombardment. Photo taken from The Daily Star.

In George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, we see a story unfold of an endless power struggle by multiple factions fighting for the ultimate prize of winning the throne of the seven kingdoms. Along the way, the reader observes the extent that different parties are prepared to undertake to achieve the end goal. When describing his former colleague and associate Lord Baelish, Varys states “he would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes.”

Syria’s fascist dictator Bashar Al-Assad is Lord Baelish, and one can only question if George R.R. Martin saw into the future before creating this fictional character. As we approach six years from the start of the Syrian uprising, one cannot help but find parallels between popular Game of Thrones characters and the Syrian ruler.

An Arab spring that blossomed with hopes of democracy, equality, and justice for all in 2011 has been blown a heavy loss due to a long dreaded winter by fascist forces conspiring to prevent any hope for modernization and progression.

After enduring a four year brutal siege, Syria’s largest city Aleppo has been retaken by Assad forces and its Shia sectarian allies from Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan, along with aerial backing from Russia. The ancient city that once fought off and defeated every invader, could no longer stand against the most brutal and barbaric regime of its age. Aleppo’s beauty, history, and wisdom were sucked from its soul by a tyrannical leader adamant on ruling over a city of ashes.

Aleppo has been besieged on two fronts. The first came from Assad and his sectarian radical Shia allies. Contrary to what the Syrian regime will admit, the Syrian army has long been shattered and diminished of its resources and manpower. Poor and often uneducated Shia youth from Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan, under the command of Iranian leadership, waged an ethnic cleansing war on behalf of the Syrian government against the Syrian people. Despite the influx of thousands of mercenaries, that alone was not enough to secure victory, and by September 2015, Russian interference was vital in order to prevent the collapse of the Syrian regime.

The second element of the siege came from the international community and the West. The United States and its allies damaged the hopes and aspirations of Syrians far more than the Assad regime and its allies. The Obama administration, indecisive and contradictory with its plans, allowed for the Assad regime to grow bolder and more ambitious as the war prolonged. Obama’s red line warnings with regards to the use of chemical weapons proved to be nothing more than empty threats.

The Obama administration handed Assad a gift far greater than Putin’s own interference: the prevention of forming no-fly-zones over Syria and the arming of the rebel Free Syrian Army. The United States’ reckless and irresponsible foreign policy is a detrimental factor in the loss of over 500,000 Syrian lives, and the forced displacement of half the Syrian population, all of which could have been avoided.

The United States has focused its attention to fighting ISIS, a radical group that has been a blessing in disguise for the Syrian regime, as it could finally justify its crimes against the Syrian people through its supposed fight against terrorism. The US has thrown its full weight behind the Syrian-Kurdish YPG forces, a branch of the Turkish PKK terrorist organization. Ironically, the same Kurdish groups that the Obama administration has funded, participated alongside Assad forces and Shia militias in carving up Eastern Aleppo. The US finds itself in an awkward position, directly and indirectly, on the same side as fascist forces.

Western-leftists, often priding themselves on standing against injustice, corruption, and imperialism, often found themselves split amongst each other with the war in Syria. Many justified the crimes and atrocities of the Assad regime, and turned a blind eye to Russian and Iranian imperialism. For many Western-leftists, the idea of associating anyone other than the United States with imperialism failed to fit their narrative. The war in Syria exposed the hypocrisy and double-standards of many supposed leftist intellectuals.

The world abandoned the cause of the Syrian people. In ignoring the plight for reform and democracy, our international community has signalled to fascist regimes across the world that we will tolerate and turn a blind eye to injustice. We will appease to criminals to justify the status-quo.

What fascists fail to understand is that although Aleppo fell, victory and triumph belongs to the Syrian people for their defiance and resilience against great odds. The Syrian people have overcome much adversity through their long and proud history. Their commitment to liberate their country from hate and injustice cannot be defeated. No force on this earth, no matter how great or powerful, can defeat the will of the people and the might of a pluralistic society. Democracy in Syria will win.

Syria is a story being written. Out of the ashes of Aleppo will rise a free Syria.

Islam and Democracy in Syria: compatible or polar opposites?

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By: Tarik Al-Diery

Great states have come and gone. Ideologies are never engraved in stone and everything that reaches its peak eventually crashes down. Governing political systems are constantly changing and never survive the wear and tear of time. Nevertheless, democracy and Islam have not only lived through the ages, but are currently experiencing a revival unprecedented in world history.

For 1300 years, Shariah law, or the Islamic form of governance, was the rule of the land. In the late 19th century, the Ottoman Empire transitioned to a secular system as it deemed it more progressive and modern. The Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of World War I and by 1924, the Caliphate was officially abolished. After experiencing a few years under Western colonial rule, the newly independent Arab states had to search for an identity. Seeking to follow the advanced model being practiced in Europe, they embraced secularism. After decades of corruption, repression, dictatorships, instability, and the catastrophic defeat of the 1967 war against Israel, many Arabs began to question whether their deviation away from religion was the answer. By the early 1970s, Islamic revivalism was on the rise, and it has not stopped since.

What started off as a popular revolution in Syria quickly took on an Islamic tone. Many perceive that dictatorships and corruption are the by-products of secular regimes, and that the re-emergence of the caliphate and Shariah law will alleviate these issues. In a rich and diverse country like Syria, ideologies will never be homogeneous. Some demand a pure secular state where religion plays no role in government while others insist that a return to God’s laws is the only way to secure a successful state. So, are Islam and secular democracy compatible with each other or will they be polar opposites that will repel one another?

The Syrian public’s attachment to Islam takes on multiple factors. Islam in its essence is a revolutionary religion. It was radical in every sense of the meaning and challenged the social norms of the time when first introduced in Arabia. Freedom, liberty, and justice are the foundations of the religion and it is for these reasons that many people are drawn to it and have made it their source of identity.

Opponents and critics of Shariah will argue that Islamic law is incapable of being executed in this modern age as Islam has failed to catch up with the demands of the present. Defendants of Shariah will claim that secularism is a western-imposed ideology that does not define the Arab people. This narrow scope of outlook fails to bring in all the elements that represent Syrian society. A democratic Islamic state reaches the balance that is missing.

Liberals must fathom that Syria will never again witness pure state secularism of the 60s. Islam is a backbone of Syrian society. Furthermore, extreme proponents of Shariah cannot expect a 7th century like Caliphate. Shariah is open to interpretation and modification. Democracy is as much a part of present day society as Islam is. In addition, Shariah’s principles call for independence and freedom. Democracy and Shariah are not polar opposites that cannot survive together. Rather, they are one and the same when both are properly implemented.

A future Syria must look for a way to balance both the cornerstones of democracy and an Islamic identity.  Neither side can override the aspirations of the other. Syria can attain this if it works towards a middle ground. A nation must be built in which the voice of the people is supreme. Elected officials from the heart of the people have to be the backbone of government. Parliament is to deal with all matters involving civil law, finance, foreign policies, and domestic affairs. A Prime Minister is chosen by parliament to lead the nation. Where the state takes in its Islamic component is in the judicial branch. Independent religious institutions separate from government and the state should appoint scholars who are also trained in civil law to serve as the Supreme Court judges. Scholars would be entrusted as ‘guardians of the faith.’ Shariah is the ultimate law of the land and anything that steps out of its boundaries or contradicts it is to be blocked. The role of this judicial branch is to overlook the laws passed by parliament and the head of state and to ensure that they remain within the appropriate lines of religion.

When religion is used in power, it can and does become corrupted. Separation of church and state should be in a manner where religious institution cannot dictate the decision making of the government in matters not concerning religious issues. Moreover, if parliament or the head of state were the ones to appoint these scholars to judicial posts, they can easily be swayed and manipulated. This does not create the independence or separation of branches that a strong functioning state needs. Judges have to be completely independent of the state and act in their best judgement. Checks and balances will keep government in line and certify that true and effective democracy is practiced at its height.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the Arab citizen does not look to live in a Taliban-like system. Justice is what people yearn for. The Islamic Caliphate succeeded because of the balance that existed between the Caliph and the scholars. In the past 70 years, the Arab world was a one man show. Nevertheless, Syria did enjoy secular democracy in the 1950s despite the instability and numerous coups. This indicates that secularism has succeeded for a short period contrary to what many people illustrate it to be.

Islam is a religion of enlightenment and progression. It is a religion of free-will and independence. It never forces anything on anyone and maintains that every individual is responsible for his/her own. The ideology promoted by radical groups does not represent what true democratic Islam is nor does it embody what the sophisticated Syrian public believes in. Where secular democracy lacks, Islam makes up for.

In Franz Fanon’s masterpiece, The Wretched of the Earth, he offers valuable advice to new independent nations. In his conclusion he states, “If we want to turn Africa into a new Europe, and America into a new Europe, then let us leave the destiny of our countries to Europeans. They will know to do it better than the most gifted of us. But if we want humanity to advance a step further, if we want to bring it up to a different level than that which Europe has shown, then we must invent and we must make discoveries.” What path the Syrian public chooses to take will solely be their decision, but after fighting for the right to question and challenge, Syrians should explore all options and not settle for just anything.

Twitter: @AlCazanova