Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Syria Accountability Act

Sanctions on Syria are a mistake. The neoconservatives who have designed this policy seek regime change in Syria, arguing that it is a totalitarian, fascist and a terrorist state. This is far from the truth. Bashar al-Asad is the best president Syria has had in over 40 years and could be a valuable ally to the US. Syria has been the most successful country in the region at accommodating the demands of its highly diverse population and in promoting tolerance among its people. It is the only Arab government that explicitly states in its Islamic school texts that Christians will go to heaven. Lebanon has a Christian president today because Syria intervened in its civil war on the side of the Christians who make up somewhere around 30% of Lebanon's population, which is betwen 3 and 4 million. If the United States used the same logic in Lebanon that it is using in Iraq, Lebanon's president would be a Shiite, because the Shiite community is the largest sectarian group in Lebanon. (Juan Cole estimates it is roughly 40% in his May 22 posting.) What is more, Hizballah is the largest political party in the Lebanese Parliament. Asad recently offered citizenship to more than 100,000 Kurds who fled Turkish oppression and were denied Syrian citizenship by a previous regime. A fascist would not give citizenship to non-Arabs, but Asad has been solicitous of the Kurds and given them important government positions which they can use to temper excessive Arabism and Islamic fundamentalism. The best example of this the last Syrian prime minister Mustafa Miro who is of Kurdish origin and Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro, the Grand Mufti of Syria. Asad has repeatedly asked Israel to resume peace negotiations. Sharon turned him down, saying there was no point because Israel is not prepared to give back the Golan Heights. According to the Toronto Star, Jan. 19 2004:

Sharon was asked by a legislator at Monday's committee meeting if now is a good time to renew talks with Syria, said Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin.

"No one should have any illusions: the price of peace with Syria is leaving the Golan Heights," Gissin quoted the prime minister as saying.

Ran Cohen, a committee member from the left-wing Meretz party, said Sharon suggested that such a pullback would be too much for Israel to bear.

"His main declaration was that he is not ready to withdraw from the Golan, even for peace with Syria," Cohen said. "He didn't agree to pay the price that President Assad asks to complete a peace treaty with Syria."
Sharon leaves Syria no choice but to resist Israeli expansionism by supporting militant groups. Rather than treat Asad as a pariah, President Bush should help him carry out his liberal reform program, find an accommodation with Israel, and seek his support in a region that needs the stability and religious tolerance he has brought his people.

For an excellent argument against Sanctions and confrontation with Syria see "The Syria Accountability Act: Taking the Wrong Road to Damascus," by Claude Salhani foreign editor and a political news analyst with United Press.


9 Comments:

At 6/01/2004 10:09:00 AM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

"It is the only Arab government that explicitly states in its Islamic school texts that Christians will go to heaven. Lebanon has a Christian president today because Syria intervened in its civil war on the side of the Christians who make up somewhere around 30% of Lebanon's population, which is betwen 3 and 4 million."

Dr Landis,

Unfortunately, your view is utterly biased. It might be because Syria is your life's work.

First, the suggestion that the Christians are still in Lebanon due to Syria is utterly hilarious. You effortlessly brushed aside all the horrors that the Syrians committed in Lebanon. Wholesale indiscriminate bombings of Christian towns, sometimes deliberately timed at around the time when schools let off to cause terror. Your view of Syrian involvement in Lebanon is so misleading, it's worse than the suggestion that the Palestinian occupied territories aren't really "occupied". In fact, you did say that, as you said somewhere on your blog that you're not sure whether the Syrian occupation of Lebanon is really an occupation! Well, have you asked the Lebanese people, especially those same Christians that you portray as owing their lives to Syria!?

Sir, your views are often learned and insightful, but this is a travesty (especially also the comment on Syrian prisons being 5 star hotels. I suggest you read this.

I'm afraid, this bias supports Fukuyama's statement:

"[Arabists] have been more systematically wrong than any other area specialists... This is because Arabists not only take on the cause of the Arabs, but also the Arabs' tendency for self-delusion." (in Robert Kaplan, The Arabists, pp.7-8)

 
At 6/01/2004 10:11:00 AM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

One more thing. In your attempt at sugar coating the treatment of Christians in Syria, you forgot to mention that Syria (like EVERY Arab country, save for Lebanon) explicitly specifies in its constitution that its president must be a Muslim.

 
At 6/01/2004 10:16:00 AM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

The Asad regime also pressured its puppet Lebanese government to illegaly issue Lebanese passports to tens of thousands of Syrian Muslims to tamper with the delicate sectarian balance in Lebanon to the favor of Sunni Muslims. (By the way your estimates on the numbers of Christians are also problematic. 1- they are not official. 2- they don't count Lebanese Christian expatriates who vastly outnumber their Muslim counterparts.)

 
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