June 3, 2013
I understand where the sentiment comes from, that a people have a right to self-determination, and I concede this. However, I disagree from the heart that nobody has the right to morally evaluate a people’s, a nation’s, decisions at self-determination. When a people act disproportionately, when a nation is duped into sectarian violence by demagoguery and media manipulation, when a population’s choice threatens to jeopardise the rights of an oppressed people, long abandoned to their fate in neighbouring lands, I believe one has every right, even utter duty, to morally condemn such an act.
Your correspondent, Abdel Nasser, made an illuminating point: Saudi Arabia is building mosques and schools (though I should not be too happy about this, this is part of the problem) and hospitals. The threat to these benign policies should not deter us from wanting to overthrow the Saudi oppression of its people. In other words, a greater evil may need to be averted at the cost of a lesser evil. This division of evils into greater and lesser may seem rather brutal, but it is the only method of deciding between two exclusive options. The alternative would be inaction, which may result in the greater evil winning over. So, clearly, in each case, the question one should ask is, ‘Which option is the lesser evil?’
It might be argued that a cause, no matter how noble, may face a crisis where it must stretch a hand to those who have channelled all resources to the repression of free, independent people. But it is a poor argument. Your correspondent, Abdel Nasser, wonders whether Hezbollah has been unIslamic in condemning the rebels. But no matter how difficult the crisis for the cause of God, it is no excuse to make a pact with the Devil.
What is pure fact is that Syria has been key in supporting the resistance against Israeli occupation and aggression. For all its faults, it has been resilient against efforts to severe its links with the resistance. Hezbollah is thankful for that. An ally would never backstab an ally. This would be morally repugnant. What Hamas did was morally repugnant. It could have sided with political dialogue to resolve the issue, not bite the hand that fed it. An ally helps reform an ally, remove its flaws, even criticise and pressure it. Your correspondent, Abdel Nasser, concludes his letter with the regret that Hezbollah did not enter into dialogue with Arab leaders. But Sayyid Nasrallah claims otherwise. Being interviewed by Julian Assange, he made it explicit that his overtures to the Syrian opposition were rejected. One can see this in the transcript below, pages 2-3.
In one part, he says, ‘I said this a few days ago that certain Arab countries are prepared… are prepared to have ten years… to go into a political dialect with Israel for tens of years non-stop – despite everything that Israel did in the region – but they won’t give one year or two years for a political – or even just a few months – for a political solution with Syria, and this just doesn’t make any sense and it’s unfair.’
Of course, the Sayyid knows why they will not give dialogue a chance: they fear the popularity and strength of the resistance. It must be weakened at all costs, even if it means Syrian (and Iraqi, and Lebanese, and shamefully, Palestinian) blood.
So it is a mistake to blame Hezbollah for the lack of political dialogue with Arab leaders. The blame rests squarely on the Arab leaders themselves. Even Assad’s regime is prepared for political dialogue. In fact, politically but not militarily, the Assad regime is cornered. Any political settlement will certainly dislodge the Ba’thi system, whereas a military statement may prolong it. But the aim of this war is not a dictatorship, but the resistance, and a stable, unified Syria is key to that resistance.
Unless I am mistaken, your correspondent, Abdel Nasser, lays emphasis on the principles of Islam as providing a proper framework to perceive and resolve the dispute. Islam, he says rightly, is against the oppressor and for the oppressed. I admit this point. But, I propose that the Koran has a more nuanced teaching with regards to crises. I will provide verses, but I wish to back it up with an interesting piece from Muslim history.
[Hujurat 49:9] And if two factions of Believers fight against each other, reconcile them; and if one of them oppresses the other, fight against the oppressor till it returns to the command of God; then if it returns, reconcile between them with justice, and be fair; indeed God loves the equitable.
[Hujurat 49:10] The Believers are brothers to each other, therefore make peace between your two brothers and fear God, so that you may gain mercy.
The history I would like to rely on is illuminating, not only on the Islamic view on crises of political legitimacy but also because it is a point of consensus between Sunnis and Shiites.
Uthman, the third caliph succeeding the Prophet, revered by a large portion of Muslims as a rightly-guided leader, faced a large rebellion from vast swathes of the community. Dissidents from Egypt and Iraq flocked to Medina, the Islamic capital, to protest the nepotism of Uthman and the unjust governance of his appointees. While disapproving of Uthman’s preference of blood over merit and a number of his appointees, the highly-revered Ali, who was to become the fourth caliph, ordered his tribe to stand guard to defend the caliph’s life from the rebels. He then pressed Uthman to acquiesce to their legitimate demands, which Uthman carried out. In reconciling the ruler and the rebels, Ali was effective in lifting the siege against Uthman, giving a chance to reforms, and preventing what might have become the first civil war in the young community of Islam. Nepotism, corruption and injustice are the same charges, brought today against Assad and centuries ago against Uthman. One need not approve of nepotism, corruption or injustice to prefer bloodless reform over bloody revolt. What is astounding, however, is thatboth Sunni and Shiite historiography remember this moment favourably, as an example of the virtue of political prudence.
And lastly, given the aforementioned verses, is this political prudence not founded on Koranic principle?
(To read the history piece in more detail, please see Madelung, Wilferd (1997). The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate.)
With the scene set, the question is ripe to be posed: what did Hezbollah do when faced with the Syrian crisis? It sought genuine reforms and called for reconciliation. And when the opposition rejected talk of reform and reconciliation but took to arms, Hezbollah condemned them.
The only objection I can envisage is that Assad is a criminal, not just a Muslim party to a dispute. But, let it be agreed that until March 2011, Assad was just an autocrat, not a mass-murderer. Not likeable, but no different toalmost any Muslim caliph to have ever graced history. Until March 2011, he has had his strengths and his flaws. In the spirit of the ‘Arab Spring’, many people demanded an end to Ba’thi autocracy. That’s the start of the dispute. I do not absolve him from blame for what followed March 2011. But no government gives up its rule just because a segment of its population demands reforms, especially if it believes it holds the popular mandate. Assad, on the other hand, claims he has popular mandate. The only method to decide the issue is reforming the electoral law to bring about free and fair elections. Assad has done some work towards this. The opposition has carte-blanche refused to acknowledge any dialogue. If Islam is to be invoked, the blame lies on the opposition, not on Hezbollah. This should be clear now.
The only exception I can find to this is when a country is about to lose its independence to foreign powers, and that is a time to revolt against its lackey rulers. Ironically, the case in Syria is entirely the opposite: funded by lackeys, encouraged by foreign powers, these sectarian rebels have targeted a deeply flawed, but fiercely independent country. With all respect, Professor, they are political prostitutes, whether they know it or not, and I think that is morally abhorrent.
* Seymour Hersh (2007)
* Gen. Wesley Clark (2007)