The Syria debacle is becoming increasingly worrying. Caught between a rock and a hard place, open society teeter-totters between letting a ruthless dictator have his bloodbath – because better ‘the devil you know’ etc – and intervening against him, which will see a number of disorganized factions rise to power, among which feature prominent a number of radicalized Islamic groups.
The situation has been precipitated and brought to a head by the alleged use of chemical weapons in the region by Assad’s regime, or, to be more accurate, by the use of chemical weapons in the region, allegedly by Assad’s regime. The powers that be want to send a message to the perpetrators, stating that the use of such weapons won’t be tolerated.
But an intervention in Syria will probably lead to more strife, as open society gets entangled in one more web of deadly tribal proportions. Outsiders are damned if they intervene (imperialist hubris) and damned if they don’t (callous apathy), which goes to show not only how distressingly dysfunctional that part of the world is, but also how contradictory and self-defeating democracy becomes when it has no clear vision, or mission, to hold it together in the face of difficult choices.
Who’s the enemy against whom we ought to unite? Who poses the gravest threat to open society?
In the past, a similar problem was solved fairly rapidly after it became clear to all those involved that there was a terrible foe to face, an enemy so aggressive and irrational – Nazism – it would stop at nothing to have its way.
The Nazis, last century’s destructive specter, reared their ugly heads in the 20s, established themselves in the 30s, and charged against the world with a vengeance. Their creed? Yield to no one, stop at nothing, make everyone submit to their cause.
It was an irrational, psychotic attitude that galvanized the resolve of the weak and fumbling democracies of Europe, bringing them together to confront the deadly threat facing them.
Unfortunately, this time round, seventy odd years on, the bogeyman is fuzzy. On the one hand you have ruthless secular dictators, some of whom have been helped to power by the very democracies that now oppose them. On the other hand you have the toxic branches of an increasingly radical political Islam whose advocates will stop at nothing to promote their authoritarian, theocratic ways over any kind of competing ideology or creed.
So, who’s the enemy against whom we ought to unite? Who poses the gravest threat to open society?
We don’t know because we’ve allowed ourselves to become disoriented, sucked as we have been into a situation we were not meant to be part of, exposed and ill-informed. The divisions of the Islamic religion, which have been tearing the Muslim people apart for some time now, have somehow seeped into the rest of the world, from skin to bone, dividing us down their excoriating lines. Their blemishes have began to affect, if not define, our actions and choices, our very limits. Destroy the dictators and promote democracy? Mind our business and stay away? Intervene selectively and according to varying rationales, depending on the circumstances? Each of these choices tears us apart.
They also involve derivative trouble, sprouting two heads for every one severed, like the Hydra. Taking out the military dictators invites chaos and disorder, tribal conflict, death and destruction. Democracy falls in the hands of thugs, or worse yet, religious hardliners hell bent on imposing the law of God, as told in the Quran, in the way they interpret it. Giving them a free hand sends a message of weakness, inviting trouble from all kinds of aspiring tyrants, troublemakers and killers.
And selective intervention, that precious asset of open, thinking society is beginning to feel more like vacillation than anything else, making those who practice it sound self-important, foolish and confused. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, damned if you think you can sit back and think about it for a while.
Perhaps it’s time we realized that in such an impossible situation we have to make hard choices, opting for the lesser of all evils. We need to choose between ruthless secular dictators, tribal chaos and civil war, or Nazi-like Islamists, at least until we can dispose of all three of them.
In order of preference, from least dangerous to most dangerous, first come the ruthless secular dictators. The damage they cause is either contained within their country’s border, or it spills over to a neighboring country, which they have either infiltrated or invaded.
To prevent them from doing that, one must address the issue at the core. In Syria’s case, one must address Islam itself. It explains not only the hardliners’ intransigence, but also the tribal war and chaos associated with the region, and the tendency for dictators to thrive there, be they self-generated or foreign-backed. It’s a simplistic and partial explanation, but the aim of this article is to focus on this specific issue, warts and all.
An Overdue Metamorphosis
Here’s what might help open society take the right decisions regarding the Muslim world’s open wounds: a vision of preservation and recuperation. Open society needs to preserve itself until it can recover from its woes.
This means not getting carried away by moral emotion in the heat of the moment. One must act with cool resolve, doing what is necessary for the global village’s wellbeing. And the global village’s wellbeing at this moment depends on maintaining a healthier free world, not a world bogged-down in the quagmire of religious tribalism hell-bent on taking things to the edge, and beyond, driven as it is by apocalyptic zeal and a distaste for anything unlike it, as laid out by those who’ve hijacked the faith, applying their fundamentalist and authoritarian interpretations to it, taking hundreds of millions of people down a perilous path.
The globe’s good fortune rests on the condition that we disengage ourselves from the current maelstrom of the Muslim world long enough for us to be able to deal with it efficiently, in ways that promote reason and logic, peace and human rights. Let our knee-jerk morality give way to steady apprehension and an easy conscience. We owe nothing to no one except the obligation to act according to our hard-earned knowledge.
Over the centuries, our experience has taught us one thing: we ought not negotiate with any creed that is absolute and incalcitrant, or give any quarter to anyone who takes without giving back. Islam’s leaders do exactly that, taking without giving anything back. The very name of their religion means ‘Submit,’ and its ontology demands submission, day in, day out, by both those practicing it as well as those they deem infidels, apostates and blasphemers. The reformation hasn’t arrived yet, so it’s easy for the rigid aspects of the faith to be twisted into something awful.
Muslims of the world, you may be good people, good individuals, but your religion is by its very nature absolutist and hegemonic. As such, as it stands, open society ought not engage with it, unless it’s to help it dislodge itself from outdated mentalities. If your leaders continue stirring bad blood – and you with it – as has been the case for the past thirty-or-so years, with their entrenched theocracies and their tyrannical rule, their subjugation of the human spirit, we have a problem. The world needs to confront the situation. If your leaders, political and spiritual, choose to disregard the universal values of the world, like Nazism did, open society will stop them.
So if you want to be part of the world, part of the bigger picture here, at least here on Earth (let’s leave the afterlife for another discussion) – if you want respect, which you’re obviously dying for, even though you pretend not to care about what others think of you – take the leap. Reform parts of your creed, change your leadership, remove the fundamentalists and bigots from authority, promote only those who have a fresh vision. Let them steer you forth, turning the faith into something that doesn’t depend on absolute rule and everyone’s submission to the word of God, at least not as interpreted by inflexible leadership. Be responsible for your transformation, bring forth your reformation. Be ready to strike down those among you who would stand in the way of your progress.
Take a lesson from the Germans. What happened there in the name of a creed gone awry was a tragedy for all.
False equivalent? I don’t think so. Let the above points attest to the validity of the argument. Caution is raised with merit, and it has to do with the willingness and ability of any system to work with others, all without deeming itself above criticism, immune to change, and superior to others.
Democracy deems itself superior to others, too, but it also works with challenging and often opposing points of view, hedging its stance. Flexibility is key, especially in an informed, scientific, technologically-driven world of facts and data, research and innovation.
So, Muslims of the world, and all admirers of Islam, take charge of your metamorphosis so that others won’t do it for you. If you don’t, you’ll end up in the garbage can of history, like the Nazis. And if you don’t think you need to transform yourselves because God protects you, or because you’re doing his bidding, you’re no better than the God-fearing mannequins of the Middle Ages who thrust Europe and the rest of the world into a thousand years of war and ignorance. Remember that time? It was when your religion had thrived, because it was more open-minded than its competitors, more in tune with progress than Christianity and other religions were.
Religion needs reformation. Without it, it becomes a failed dogma. It’s time to make a move. Take the fundamentalists out, and many things will fall in place. The platforms for spiritual dictatorship will crumble, which will undermine the cause of secular dictators and their strongmen. Let the denominations embrace each other so that the sects will stop hating each other. The tribes will have one less thing to fight about, and peace and harmony may return to a troubled part of the world.
It’s a hard and long path ahead, and open society has an obligation to help, to assist Muslims in dislodging the fundamentalists among it, helping the faith along. That much can be said.
As for Syria, it would be wise to sit this one out for a while, until we’re sure of ourselves and what we aim to do, should we decide to get involved after all. The place is a powder keg, prime location for a proxy war with no end, if not a greater conflagration.