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‘Gassing’ Syrians Is Overshadowed by Considerations of “The Eastern Question” - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English
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Opinion

‘Gassing’ Syrians Is Overshadowed by Considerations of “The Eastern Question”

Washington graciously ‘reassured’ us the other day that the fate of Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad is no longer a United States priority in dealing with the ongoing tragedy there. This message was conveyed by not one, but two foreign policy authorities, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Hours before, Turkey, too, had some ‘good news’. It declared its “Shield of the Euphrates” in northern Syria as ‘complete’ as after ‘achieving its aim (!)’, although, what had been achieved up till the declared ‘completion’ contradicts with not only Ankara’s promises, but also with its threats and sabre-rattling since 2011.

Between Washington’s ‘reassurances’ and Ankara’s ‘good news’, the journey of lost peace, non-existing trust, as well as ill will, limped to another unsavory Geneva stop.

The Syrian regime’s thugs continued with the help of their Iranian and Russian ‘sponsors’ the process of uprooting and displacing people, and shamelessly and openly redrawing a map of Syria based on sectarian cleansing and partition.

Secessionist Kurds, too, were working over-time to carry out what they had been tasked to do in order to destroy what remains of the Syria we know; while ‘loyalists’ and ‘opposition radicals’ – who have been accusing each other of apostasy and terrorism – found enough common interests in carrying out ‘population exchange’ at the expense of helpless people.

A couple of days ago, I read two interesting articles. The first tackled the competition raging between Turkey and Iran to re-establish their long gone old empires while, in fact, they are nothing more than lackeys to the more powerful superpowers. The second posed the valid question of ‘why after 6 years of tragedies and bloodshed we do not hear of a ‘Syrian Question’, similar to the ‘Palestinian Question’ and the ‘Armenian Question’?

Here, I venture to say that there are several complex and intersecting issues involved. Issues that one needs to understand and deal with realistically, away from the announcements and posturing.

I claim that, we in the Middle East are completely lost. There are no more proper yardsticks for running away and moving forward, expansionism and entrenchment, barricading behind nationalism bordering on racism… and religion to the extent of accusing others of being infidels. Indeed, if the Arabs appear almost ‘absent’ from the scene, the Iranians, the Turks and also the Kurds seem to be lost even if their respective leaders have managed to convince them that they are approaching a great dawn in the ‘absence’ of the Arabs.

However, there is still one major difference between the case of the Iranians and the Turks, and that of the Kurds. The former are raising the banners of religious and sectarian ‘leadership/legitimacy’ in what is fundamentally a nationalist bid for regional supremacy. As for the latter, they are bidding for national sovereignty and expansion by becoming clients to global superpowers that are much more powerful that Turkey and Iran, both of which have never agreed on one issue as much as they did against a ‘Greater Kurdistan’!

While the Arabs are nowhere to be seen, Tehran is bidding to convince the West, indeed, the ‘World of Christendom’, that it is its ally in the war against “Takfiris”. A term in Tehran’s jargon which simply means political Sunni Islam.

In turn, Ankara is trying – so far unsuccessfully – to remind the West of its past NATO ‘services’ during the Cold war. However, Russia’s apparent success in ‘penetrating’ Western political and security establishments has weakened the credibility of Turkey’s leadership in America and Europe. Noteworthy here, is the fact that in Russia’s Christian and nationalist memory, there is a deeply held hate and fear of any Muslim power – particularly, Sunni – sharing its southern borders.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rhetoric, almost always, is neither helpful in putting to rest the Ottoman siege of Vienna and the old ‘Eastern Question’, nor persuading Europeans to ignore what their racist leaders are drumming up as the ‘Muslim time-bomb’ in the Continent.

In this regard, the Iranians have proven to be far more ‘PR savvy’ than their Turkish neighbors. They have been much more skillful, despite the frequent vocal threats against Israel’s existence. To begin with, even the Israel’s leadership does not believe these threats, and treats them as empty bravado intended for local consumption; the reason being that Iran which today boasts being in control of four Arab capitals, has never attacked Israel. However, Tel Aviv seems happy about these empty threats for two reasons: the first is that they facilitate the process of liquidation of any future Palestinian state; and the second, is that they ensure Tel Aviv continued Western political, military and economic support.

Furthermore, a powerful Iran wreaking havoc in the Muslim world, and creating terrorist Sunni organizations that help its PR strategy, and distort the image of Sunni Political Islam, is very beneficial to Israel and the West since the Sunni-Shi’ite animosity whose fire Tehran is stoking is the best recipe for a global Islamic ‘civil war’.

While these complications engulf the Middle East, voices of hate and xenophobia – especially against immigrants and refugees, and particularly those from Muslim countries increase. Regardless, which is the main reason behind such a situation; is it Western racist supremacy which establishes centuries of colonialism, and even the Crusades before that; or is it the Islamic conquests which reached central Europe and Western Europe, or the current difficult co-existence between Muslims and ‘civil rule’?
My guess is that the two sides have enough to fear and be greedy about. The Christian west is demographically dwindling, and its global influence looks threatened by the rise of non-Western, non-white and non-Christian powers, and in both cases its cause is not being helped by the tide of globalization. Thus it feels cornered as the refuge of the ‘nation-state’ is shaken, ‘capitalism’ is losing its glitz, ‘democracy’ no longer enjoys consensus, and neither does the issue of the separation of the state and the church.

On the other side, those outside the ‘World of Christendom’ that they are outside the arena which they had entered, and sometimes accepted its rules and preconditions unwillingly. They have adopted a ‘democracy’ alien to their traditions, a ‘capitalism’ detached from their heritage, and a ‘secularism’ they are barely comfortable with. However, as major Asian players are accommodating what is going on with patience and wisdom, irrational violent rejection embodied in what we define as ‘terrorism’ is pitting the Muslim World, specifically, Sunni Muslims in an indiscriminate war of obliteration against the West, Indeed, the whole World.

This brand of ‘terrorism’ has provided anti Muslims everywhere with not only the perfect excuse to practice racism and discrimination, but also justified using all kinds of weapons against them… including disregarding their human rights, dehumanizing them, and ignoring their most just and humane causes.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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