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Syrian dictator opening door to religious fanaticism
By Ray Hanania – That Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad felt compelled to do an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC TV this week to refute charges of brutality and oppression against the people of Syria is remarkable.
His claims that he is not in control of the military and that units of his military have committed acts that do not reflect his policies. He did not order a crackdown on dissidents, he asserted.
Yet in the past six months since the protests began, more than 4,000 Syrians have been killed; Assad claims many of those dead are members of the government’s security forces.
What’s really going on?
It’s hard to tell in a country like Syria where protesting against Israel is encouraged but criticism of the government can land you in jail.
But here are some thoughts.
It took the Arab League months to finally act and impose sanctions on Syria as the death toll continued to mount. But they did finally act. Those sanctions motivated Assad’s television appeal, which will do little to build sympathy for his claims that the pro-Democracy protesters are actually terrorist thugs.
Why did the Arab League act? Part of the reason has to do with the politics of Syria. Part of it has to do with politics in the region. And part of it has to do with religious rivalries.
Arabs for the most part are Sunni Muslim. The Assad family is Alawite, an offshoot of Islam. Syria’s primary allies are in fact Shi’ites, including the Shi’ite government of American-occupied Iraq, the Iranian Republic and the powerful Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.
It was easy for the Sunni-dominated Arab League countries to finally come down on Syria’s oppression.
They couldn’t possibly have voted to impose sanctions against Syria because the Assad regime is an oppressive dictatorship. Nearly every member of the Arab League is a dictatorship, too.
Killings of protesters including attacks against journalists have taken place in Bahrain and in Jordan. Yet there is no move to sanction them.
In fact, the Arab League would implode if they were mandated to impose sanctions against member countries that engaged in dictatorial policies and the suppression of civilian freedoms. They all do it.
Another factor is the rivalry between Syria and Saudi Arabia which played out for decades in war-torn Lebanon. Syria has always claimed Lebanon as being a geographic splinter taken from its homeland by the Allies in the aftermath of World War I. Lebanon was carved out of political interests driven by the French and the presence of a growing Christian Maronite population there.
Saudi Arabia is the political ally of the United States, even though it was 15 Saudis of the 19 terrorists who commandeered the four hijacked airlines including the three that crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Saudi Arabia has counter-balanced growing anti-Saudi public animosity by artificially managing the price of oil to help hold down the price of gasoline in America.
Never under-estimate the power of lower gas prices when it comes to buying off American anger.
Another factor in the mix is the constant struggle between the forces of extremist political Islam and the secular Arab movement. The two movements continue to clash.
Syria, a secular Arab country, has tried to insulate itself against religious fanaticism by embracing the two largest religious fanatic movements in the Middle East, Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
But Saudi Arabia continues to be the largest funder of militant Islamic political movements who are less Islamic and more political extremists.
The Arab World is slowly and steadily changing from the old days when Egypt’s President Gamal Abdul Nasser advocated Arab nationalism to unite the Arab World to today’s movements to impose strict interpretations of Islam on the Arab people.
The Arab World is becoming less and less “Arab” and more and more “Islamic.” That trend is driving the redefinition of the Arab World assimilating it more into the non-Arab Islamic World. The majority of Muslims in the World are non-Arab and the Arab as an identity is becoming more and more of an extinct cultural breed.
In his battle to protect his secular dictatorship, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is helping to strengthen the rise of the Islamic Middle East.
Not that dictators really care about what happens when they are gone. But the secular dictators are fast being replaced by religious dictators and religious movements that claim to be Democratic but that in reality are in conflict with Democratic principles.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. Reach him at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)
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Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.
Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com