Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
GET UPDATES FROM Farzana Hassan
 

Peace in Syria Won't Come Easy - or Cheap

Posted: 10/29/2013 1:41 pm

Syria was an oasis of peace in the troubled Middle East when I visited it in January 2009 as part of an interfaith delegation. The objective of our "citizen diplomacy," sponsored by the Canadian embassy was to foster harmony between Syrian Christians, Muslims and the hundred or so Jewish citizens of Damascus, who likely felt isolated that year due to the raging Gaza/ Israeli war next door.

The Golan Heights were visible from Damascus. I had concerns about my safety there but was assured by officials that Syria is "not like other Middle Eastern nations. Syrians get along. Syrians don't hurt other Syrians and there is religious and sectarian harmony in the country."

That certainly appeared to be the case on the surface. One could never imagine that a cauldron of sectarian hostility, religious discord and pernicious fundamentalism was brewing underneath that deceptive calm.

The world has already witnessed the worst of Syrian on Syrian atrocities. The images of the chemical attack victims are hard to stomach.

The issues we had gone to address were between members of different faith communities rather than the internecine violence that is endemic to Muslim culture. We did not know at that time that it was the trenchant sectarianism that would rear its ugly head merely two years later, rather than any inter-religious tensions. This is not to downplay the threat to Christians after an increased radicalization of Syria's rebels.

Now Assad has bought time with his project to reduce chemical weapons

The G-20 summit in London to discuss ways to end the Syrian war has ended. But the situation in Syria is too complex for a simplistic Western strategy to end the war. What we see in store for Syria is instead a protracted civil war with the potential of an even greater humanitarian crisis.
The outside world is aware of extremist elements fighting against the Assad regime. Regrettably, there is approval for such fighters among the Syrian people, the majority of whom are Sunni, because these radicals are seen as the best fighters and their only hope. Then there is the Muslim Brotherhood providing material support to the rebels. Lost amidst this religious army are the few secularists who prefer a Western style liberal democracy.

The carnage will continue till such time that one particular faction is declared the uncontested winner. If a Sunni government is installed in Syria, most likely the PKK and the Alawites will attempt everything to destabilize it. We have seen enough parallels with Iraq, which has been engulfed in a civil war, now in its tenth year even after the removal of tyrant Saddam Hussain. Egypt too has failed in its attempts to bring about democratic rule.

That is the tragedy of the Middle East. It is simply not as easy to depose tyrants and establish a liberal democracy. Even the vast Sunni majority that considers itself moderate is firmly rooted in orthodox religious precept. And one must leave aside politically correct and spurious distinctions between Islamist or Islamic doctrine. Neither one admits divergence of opinion which is one of the cardinal principles of true democracy.

Pluralism and democracy cannot flourish among people whose sensibilities are firmly rooted in doctrine and dogma. This psyche breeds bellicosity that often transforms into jihadist zeal.
One hopes that secretary of State John Kerry will be successful in forging a negotiated peace. With the rebels in disarray, and with Assad firmly rooted in power, the chances of even a fragile peace are all but slim.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Syrian refugee, Ahmed al Delly, 59, from Daraa in Syria, reacts as he speaks about his wife, four sons, and two daughters, who are still in Daraa but he has had no contact with them, after the prayer of Eid al-Fitr, that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. (AP photo/Mohammad Hannon)

  • This image provided by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show mourners next to bodies of victims of an attack on Ghouta, Syria on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network)

  • This image provided by by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show several bodies being buried in a suburb of Damascus, Syria during a funeral on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network)

  • Columns of smoke rising from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood in west Damascus, in Cairo, Syria, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

  • In this citizen journalism image provided by the Media Office Of Douma City, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man mourns over a dead body after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists, in Douma town, Damascus, Syria on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Media Office Of Douma City)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian man reacts as he carries a dead body of a Syrian girl, after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens trying to identify dead bodies, after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows dead bodies of Syrian citizens in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • A Syrian family sits in a tent at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees stand in a queue to receive free food at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees wait to receive a tent at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees wait to receive a tent at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees gather for food aid at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees wait for food aid at Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • A Syrian military soldier holds his AK-47 with a sticker of Syrian President Bashar Assad as he stands guard at a check point on Baghdad street, in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

  • A Syrian military soldier holds his AK-47 with a sticker of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Arabic that reads, "Syria is fine," as he stands guard at a check point on Baghdad street, in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Local Committee of Arbeen which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian man receiving treatment, in Arbeen town, Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • A general view of the Kawergost refugee camp in Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this image taken from video posted by Ugarit News, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show a fireball from an explosion at a weapons depot set off by rocket attacks that struck government-held districts in the central Syrian city of Homs on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video)

  • Syrian refugees gather for food aid after cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man comforts a child injured by a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this citizen journalism Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, buildings are seen damaged from the shelling of Syrian forces at Karm al-Jabal area in Aleppo province, Syria. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)

  • In this citizen journalism Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrian rebels open fire as they battle against the Syrian forces in Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)

  • In this image released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian army soldier stands behind his machine gun during a battle against the Syrian rebels at an unidentified location in Latakia province, Syria, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man carries an injured child away from a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • In this image released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian forces tank fires during a battle against the Syrian rebels at an unidentified location in Latakia province, Syria, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • In this image taken from Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, video obtained from the Sham News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a rebel fighter fires a gun in a valley in an unidentified location in Latakia province, Syria. (AP Photo/Sham News Network via AP video)

  • Mansour Mahameed, 26, from Daraa city in Syria, a former Free Syrian Army fighter who lost his leg last March after the Syrian troops bombing, prepares to sit for the Eid al-Fitr prayer that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

  • Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man carries an injured child away from a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, dead bodies of Syrian rebels are seen on the ground, killed during ambush by Syrian forces near the Damascus suburb of Adra, Syria, Wednesday Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • In this image taken from video posted by Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show a fireball from an explosion at a weapons depot set off by rocket attacks that struck government-held districts in the central Syrian city of Homs on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

  • This image posted on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 purports to show Syrian President Bashar Assad shaking hands with a soldier during Syrian Arab Army day in Darya, Syria. (AP Photo/Syrian Presidency via Facebook)

  • This image posted on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 purports to show Syrian President Bashar Assad walking with soldiers with during Syrian Arab Army day in Darya, Syria. (AP Photo/Syrian Presidency via Facebook)

  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian youths run away from the scene of a missile strike in Raqqa, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

 

Follow Farzana Hassan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@FarzanaHassan1

FOLLOW CANADA