I agree with Robert Nicholson, executive director of The Philos Project and my boss, that Syria needs to be partitioned in the hope of future stability and security for minorities in the region. And I know Middle Eastern Christians who long for federalism to work; but many remember Lebanon and are skeptical that Muslims would honor a separate Middle Eastern country for minorities of any kind, especially for Christians.
The thesis is: let’s not foist Western-style secularism on the Islamic world (I absolutely agree), so let the Sunni Arabs in Syria have their own part of the land to have the government they want ruling over them. What they want is a Sharia law-based government, so let them have it. Robert quotes author Shadi Hamid asking, “Why shouldn’t Egyptians, Jordanians, or Turks have the right to try out an alternative ideological project outside the confines of liberal democracy, however much we disagree with it?”
As a Middle Eastern Christian, I have written of the dangers of the West pushing Middle Eastern countries into a Western-style secularism, and I agree with Hamid on that point. What I disagree with is the presumption behind Hamid’s statement above, especially “Why shouldn’t Egyptians, Jordanians, or Turks have the right to try out an alternative ideological project?” Hamid seems to presume that all these poor Arab countries haven’t had a chance to self-actualize into full Muslim countries.
Islam Is as Islam Does
What, exactly, have all these Muslim states been doing since 630 AD? When they conquered Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Spain, North Africa, and other areas, were they not ruling according to their ideology? Kuwaiti activist Nasser Dashti tells his interlocutor in a heated debate, “On the cultural level, we are sectarian, dictatorial, and tyrannical. Sadly, this is the Arab mentality.” He goes on to say that Islam has no real system for the transition of power. When the other panelist brings up the Islamic conquests, Dashti states:
In political science, those Islamic conquests constitute colonialism. Only in Islamic history are they called ‘conquests.’… Who burned the books of Averroës? Who banished Alhazen? Who accused Avicenna and Ibn Al-Khwarizmi of heresy? Was it Israel or America? They didn’t even exist back then. We did. Let’s be honest about it. All the nations progress if they criticize their history. We do nothing but glorify our history. This is inconceivable. Our present is so wretched because we live in this lethal duplicity.
These critical remarks are not coming from Westerners trying to impose Western secularism. But the Arab complaint returns with what France and Britain did to the Middle East after the two world wars. But even after Sykes-Picot, did not most of the Middle East stay under Islamic control?
Set aside the complaints about Western partitioning of the Arab world. Besides one wave of violence after another among themselves, what have these Arab states done to advance themselves? Or let us look at Iran. Do they not run their country by Sharia law and hold to Islamic ideology? Have any of these countries become less dangerous to the world? Have any of them stopped sponsoring terrorism or working for the downfall of the West? Have any of them left us alone? No.
Or let’s take a look at what Islamists did to Lebanon. God forbid that a Christian-majority country exist in the Middle East. Islam will not stand for that. It didn’t take long after the formation of Lebanon as a state in its own right before Arabism spread through its Muslim population. The end of the French Mandate and the influx of Palestinian refugees into Southern Lebanon destabilized the political atmosphere further until war broke out between the Christians and the Muslims in 1975.
The Political Problem Is Really Religious
We don’t need to rehash the entire history of the Kurdish people to see what a hard time the Kurds have had trying to free themselves from Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. If these Arab nations refuse to give the Kurds their freedom through a land of their own, how will they respond to a tiny island of minorities in a sea known as the Arab nations?
Israel is the prime example of Islamic intolerance toward minorities. Muslim countries have hounded Israel since its inception. If they have done this to Israel, do we really think they’re going to leave small minorities alone to have a land of their own? If the Middle Eastern Islamic world was not retrograde, would my family even be here in America?
I paint a gloomy picture because these are the arguments Middle Eastern Christians will throw out against the idea of federalism in the region. One can say this is the Middle Eastern immigrant mind. Even as I hope and advocate for federalism in the Middle East, the refrain from Middle Eastern Christian immigrants is: “It will never happen, Islam will not tolerate such a state of affairs.”
By all means, partition Syria. I’m in full favor of it. In spite of the odds I am still willing to work toward that goal. Let the West stop pushing Middle Eastern Muslim countries into Western-style secularism—I’m in favor of that as well. But let us be sober about the situation: Islam will not allow minorities to have their own land and to rule themselves. Even if Western nations forced them into it by some form of treaty, outside of a miracle, it wouldn’t last long.