“What Syria stands for: The moral argument for US friendship with Syria,” by S. Farah

What Syria stands for: The moral argument for US friendship with Syria
By S. Farah
for Syria Comment, June 15, 2008

Clerics Gather in Damascus 2006 
(photo: Clerics of many faiths assemble in Damascus: 2006)

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.

Comments (157)

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151. Mazen said:


Democracy and Freedom, just as Islam and Jesus, are much more than tools. What I said is that the US is using them as tools, just as the Saudis are using Islam as a tool. I really have to urge you to think for a moment about the analogy.

The social programming is extremely powerful in both cases. Huge amounts of money have been invested into turning these terms into sacred cows. The mere mention of them blinds a huge proportion of the population. At the mosques in Saudi Arabia, and in front of TV sets on Prime Time America.

But the politicians doing this are fake, and this forgery extends to the product they’re promoting. And as a Muslim, I acknowledge that Saudi Arabia has done great damage to the name of Islam. I urge you to see that the US has done the same thing to the great name of Democracy. Without this disassociation from the terms, we can never see the truth, in my opinion.

On the national interest issue. An elected elite who happen to be all lords of Big Oil, is likely to see National Interest quite differently than many Americans. They might choose to invade a country that never threatened the US and kill 1.5 million people in your name, while it’s actually for Oil more than any other single reason.

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June 18th, 2008, 6:37 am


152. Shai said:

Alex, why are you up so late? Are you getting used to CET (Central European Time), so that you can be there at the Elysee Palace, with Bashar on July 14th? Aha!

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June 18th, 2008, 6:48 am


153. SimoHurtta said:

Alex why not start from Saudi Arabia? If Saudi Arabia would elect a nationalistic democrat president + government which would maximize the price of oil and gas, it would be interesting to see the American “limits” in tolerating democratic governments.

The history after WW2 is full of examples how USA’s greatest fear are nationalistic democratically elected governments which do not play the game using US rules (= giving access to for US companies to their markets and natural reserves and a right to exploit their cheap labour + military bases). USA (=government) loves dictators, whom it can control more easily as democratic governments. Did the 200 year long “trade relations” with USA make Latin America rich and democratic? Well when USA focused its attention elsewhere they begun to be richer and more democratic and kick out the US “educated” dictators.

US government uses the democracy propaganda but it has nothing to show that it is/has been sincerely and without hidden agendas promoting democracy. Most people outside USA know that when Bush is speaking about democracy it is as believable as a Saudi prince lecturing about women’s rights.

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June 18th, 2008, 7:33 am


154. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Well then, what are your thoughts about Obama and the speech he gave to AIPAC? Your and Alex basic position is that the US is influenced by AIPAC to work against its own national interest. If this is not your position, then what it is your position? As for changing Syria, Alex sometimes talks fo decades to democracy, but now he is talking of 7 to 14 years to half democracy and much longer till democracy in Syria. What is your estimate?

And I see that you have a huge problem with accountability. If you do not want to say what you are doing to change Syria, then it is reasonable to assume that you are doing nothing. You do not owe me any report. You owe yourself a report.

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June 18th, 2008, 1:25 pm


155. ausamaa said:

Guys… why dont you take David’s advice above (17 June 2:44pm). It is a verrrrrrry good one, unless of course you enjoy reading and responding to the same rancid arguments repeated uselessly but provactively over and over again.

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June 18th, 2008, 2:10 pm


156. Alex said:


Instead of continuing to make Mazen and Alex look like they are only good for complaining, Why don’t you read and criticize my recommendations for how the United States can successfully promote democracy in the Middle East?

Here it is again


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June 18th, 2008, 4:08 pm


157. Majhool said:


Are you surprised? I mean if the whole opression thing is due to lack of places to retire then my home is open and let’s get it over with.

When this happens you will be my candidate.

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June 19th, 2008, 3:53 am


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