Posted by Joshua on Monday, June 16th, 2008
What Syria stands for: The moral argument for US friendship with Syria
By S. Farah
for Syria Comment, June 15, 2008
In a recent Op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, US senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel presented a persuasive argument for reengaging Syria for the mutual strategic benefit for both the US and Syria and to advance the peace process in the ME. However, they failed to see the moral reasons to engage Syria in a strategic partnership, arguing, “Cooperation with Syria rests not on shared values, but on shared interests.”
Syria’s detractors have focused attention on its political system. Many who know President Bashar Al Assad know that he, too, longs for the much-needed political reform. But as he mentioned in press interviews during his recent tour of several Gulf States, such reforms have been slowed by the unprecedented security challenges facing the region, from Lebanon to Iraq.
While continuing to expand freedom and reforms, Syria should draw the attention of the world to its religious democracy and its cohesive yet diverse culture (a much-needed model for the new ME) where people are free to explore and worship God. Poopa Dweck, the author of “Aromas of Aleppo,” a Syrian-Jewish cookbook, was quoted in the NY Times as saying, “The Europeans (Jews) built a wall around themselves. We didn’t. My mother was shoulder to shoulder with Arabs in the market. We learned all our recipes from them.”
Syria is also a cradle of Christianity, the depositary and living example of the universal message of St. Paul. Islam in Syria is truly a spiritual enlightenment. Syria is perhaps the only Muslim nation where Muslims often frequent Christian monasteries for worship. And Syria is the only country that states clearly in its grade school Islamic religion books that Christians will go to heaven, and it has insisted that its struggle with Israel is not a struggle against Jews, but rather a struggle for Arab rights.
An important measure of a state is how it protects its minorities and weakest citizens. Syria has been a refuge that few Middle Eastern states can equal. The Lebanese, during their civil war, found Syria a hospitable haven where they could work and worship. Today, close to a million and a half Iraqis live and work in Syria supported by Syrians and the Syrian government. Shiaas, Sunnis and Christians live and worship side by side, spared the sectarian violence that has beset Iraq since the US invasion, that beset Lebanon during its long civil war, or Palestine/Israel for the better part of 100 years. The half million Palestinians that live in Syria enjoy rights and equality that few other countries offer. Time and again during the past one hundred years Syria has acted as a refuge for persecuted minorities. Over a million Armenian Christians passed through Syria after the events of 1915; many of whom stayed and found a welcoming home in Syria. Similarly, Assyrians in 1932, Syriacs in 1915 to 1922, Kurds in 1926 and later, Alawites and Christians fleeing Antioch in 1938 all found Syria a safe and a welcoming home.
Syria has stood fast for Arab and Palestinian rights and has been a broker of peace in the Middle East. After Lebanon slipped into a civil war, Syria, under the auspices of the Arab League and the consent of the United States, entered Lebanon, ended the civil war and reunited the country by enforcing the Taef agreement. Syria also helped craft and implement the April Understanding that saved Lebanese and Israeli civilian lives and paved the way for the Israeli army withdrawal form its occupied south.
It prevented the Iraq-Iran war from becoming an Arab-Iranian war, and played a key roll in keeping the waters of the Persian Gulf open for shipping during that protracted war. It helped liberate Kuwait by joining the American-led desert storm. And it has been credited again in helping broker the most recent Qatari sponsored agreement that ended the political stalemate that almost plunged Lebanon into a new civil war.
Syria has supported a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace and the integration of Israel in the Middle East by supporting the Arab peace plan, all this while promoting religious harmony and fighting extremists. Syria has also been credited for being a reliable ally in combating Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism, and saving lives by thwarting terrorist attacks on Arab, American and European targets. The United States’ blinkered foreign policy during the current administration has harmed US interests in the ME.
Arabs have become disenchanted with an America that they believe is hypocritical about human rights and, in particular, their human rights. Syria has weathered tremendous pressure for its positions when it believes they are right and principled, even as others disagree. But Syria has always kept the door open to constructive dialogue in order to restore Arab rights and its occupied land.
America must reclaim its clout in the region and its status as a beacon for freedom and human rights. To do this, Washington should engage Syria as a moral and strategic partner to promote a just and a comprehensive peace in the ME based on the inadmissibility of acquisition of land by force, while encouraging and supporting human rights.