Towards Liberty for Syria: An Alternative Charter
“…and say: surely, this is my path…”
A political actor is free if he is able to determine his own trajectory in expression of a divine will, but servile if he is to choose between two fixed “realities” created by a false dichotomy appearing as natural. The intellectually feeble, whose minds have been neutralized and stripped of its ability to think critically, cannot think outside the box and cannot transcend these dichotomies and, in turn, regressively produce and reproduce these false-realities which have impeded our emancipation. Ironically, those who cry and warn of conspiracy and imperial plots are the very same people who fall into this colonially and imperially constructed mentality of dependence.
An example of such is the dichotomy created around the Syrian revolution. Our trajectory is either the Despotism of Assad or American Imperialism. A debate then circulates about which of the two is the lesser of evils or the pros and cons surrounding both. On one hand, the Baathist regime preserves the local resistance and acts as a counter-hegemony to American influence in the region. Choosing the latter would only further proliferate the U.S-Israeli influence in the region and most probably suffocate the so-called resistance in Lebanon. Those who opt for American Imperialism are more concerned with the immediate results following the daily killings and rising death toll. Speed and violence debilitate objectivity and hence “long-term” goals are put aside amidst the chaos and crisis ensuing during the revolution. A choice between the two has created much confusion and has acted as the point of departure for many debates, analyses, and conclusions based falsely on this illusionary scenario which is part and parcel of a colonial schema. There is indeed a third way which becomes apparent when one transcends this schema and deconstructs the Assad/America dichotomy. At this point, we are better able to determine and shape our trajectory, both during and after the revolution, and determine a third way.
First step to liberation is the acknowledgement of an alternative third way.
Assad and Resistance
Resistance and anti-imperialism are in fact two key constitutive and determining features of the intellectual foundations of the Baathist regime. Historically, pan-Arabist have appealed to their constituencies through espousing an anti-Western/Imperialist discourse while frequently warning of the Western conspiracy against the “Arabs”. Considering the romanticism, ambiguity, and weakness of pan-Arabism, such regimes have relied heavily on pointing out the counter-hegemonic nature of the state whose presence was in itself a defiance to the Colonial West. In reality, however, the Baathist regime in Syria is far from being a counter-hegemony to the United States or Israel. It has yet to challenge the Israeli occupation of Golan Heights; as a matter of fact, it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1974 – a year after the occupation – and went on to hand over Hemron to the Israel shortly after. A peace conference in Madrid in the early 90’s consolidated ties between the two countries which remain strong.
The U.S and the ‘New’ Middle East
An opportunistic West maintains its power and hegemony through the subordination both politically and economically of peripheral states, amongst which is Syria. One of the ways in which it does so is through native elites and local proxies which represent and maintain the interests of the neo-colonial powers abroad by preserving the status-quo. Following the changes brought about by the Arab Spring, the U.S has begun to search frantically for a proxy or local elite in Syria by which it can control the transition Syria will embark upon following the inevitable collapse of Assad. The Middle East Transition Office established in Egypt, headed by William Taylor to oversee the “democratic transitions” in the Arab world, is an example of such. Such a transition would secure that a peripheral Syrian state remains subordinated to the Core states and remains within a neo-colonial hierarchy of power, and more importantly it must remain defined and limited to its colonially constructed identities. Colonialism in the Middle East, unlike that of Africa, was not so centered on the exportation of surplus, production of raw material, and cheap labor, but rather the providing of security to the colonial core. Syria’s Assad dynasty has provided this security and has excelled in doing so. Suppressing the uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982, repressive anti-terrorism policies, and a 1973 treaty with Israel all reassure the West that Assad is basically doing his job. Providing this security has largely involved the creation of major military-security apparatuses and subsequently an Authoritarian regime. It is no surprise then that the West has supported and strengthened the iron fisted and robust Arab regimes despite their being anti-democratic.
Surely, a population which questions the colonialists’ concepts and ‘natural’ categories is a nation which has liberated its conscious and becomes a major threat. This helps explain the hesitance of the Western states to carry out military intervention against Assad—because the secular and heavily fragmented “Syrian National Council” (a group of exiled Syrian intellectuals), which claims to represent the opposition, is largely detached from the actual body of opposition and hence its representation is nominal. A recent charter released by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood however, quite explicitly, reassures the U.S that Syria will remain indeed a security-providing state by cracking down on “terrorism”, respecting international norms, and of course maintaining the economic dependence of the peripheral state – Syria – on the core states through subordination to the transgressive economic treaties and neo-Liberal norms.
An Islamic Alternative for Syria – The Third Way
Political Independence: Beyond the Nation-State:
An independent and autonomous political programme of action whose vision falls nothing short of complete political and economic independence is one which is principled in that it is based on its own distinct political principles and henceforth has its own criteria for legitimacy. An appeal to supposedly universal ‘democratic’ norms or narratives would contribute little to developing a programme of action and have little substance, and only increase the ambiguity. Those unaffected by the illusions created by the reality-defining institutions like the media and academia know clearly that in an emerging multi-polar world and amidst the failure of pan-Arabism, only Islam stands as a political alternative for the Arab world.
Cosmic Grounds for Legitimacy:
Assad’s supposed support for resistance, and the so-called conspiracies against Syria have no weight on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the regime from an Islamic normative perspective as Islam’s liberating vision for society and man. The regime lost its legitimacy through its monopolization of legislative authority (an expression of power) which subordinates one segment of society to another while legislative authority belongs only to Allah ‘azza wa Jal. In other words, the Baathist regime has transgressed the greatest right of man (freedom) and of Allah ta’ ala (sole right to legislate). Arguments about resistance and conspiracy are dismissed when priority is given to the freedom and liberty of man. Not to mention, the nature of the resistance being supported is also called into question, for in Islam, the only legitimate resistance is one whose end-goal involves the lofty act of emancipation from all forms of man-made servitude. So-called resistance groups like Hezbollah have abandoned their revolutionary origins, have exposed themselves as being by no means a resistance movement, but merely an Iranian militia with ulterior motives. Hamas on the other hand have been described by Assad as “uninvited guests” and pulled members out of Damascus while formally declaring support for the revolution.
A Liberating Political System:
Decades of repression have naturally produced calls for free elections and accountability. Those with reductive and servile understanding of political systems reflexively attribute and associate the above procedures and conditions to Democracy. However, elections, and accountability are procedural and neutral mechanisms which are not, and have never been exclusive to Democracy. What is important however is the political system and the location of power within the model of governance through which mechanisms like elections would be utilized. Democracy, as with all non-Islamic systems of governance, allocates absolute power to a particular temporal being—majority—hence, the fetishization of power and the subordination of man to man through various instruments of governance amongst which is legislative power (assuming of course that Democracy, in its practical manifestation, actually circulates power with the majority and not a particular ruling elite or class which is able to produce and re-produce popular opinion and control the ‘majority’ through the monopoly over instruments of rule). Islam, at the heart of which is Tawhid, provides an alternative system of governance which is radically different than that of all non-Islamic models. Absolute Power is ontologically transcendent and belongs solely to Allah ‘azza wa Jal—the will of whom is expressed through revelation. Relative Power however is delegated to the Muslim community which appoints an executive head to (1) execute the legislative and administrative dimensions of revelation as found in the Qur’an and Sunnah and (2) the will of the Muslim community by administrating its affairs. Two mechanisms however are fixated at the core of the Islamic mode of governance: Shuraa (consultation) and Bay’a (allegiance). Shura, unlike elections in the Liberal West, dictate both the pre-appointment and post-appointment consultation of the head of state with the community, while Liberal-Democracy creates the illusion of ‘participation’ through periodical elections and the illusion of choice between two parties both of whom are subordinate to the economic powers . Shuraa is a continuous and communal mechanism of participation.
Although inextricable from one another, both a principled and strategic analysis of the situation in Syria point towards the inevitability of an Islamic alternative, one whose strategic implications would change the shape of the region due to the geopolitical advantages Syria would have on surrounding ’nations’, whose Islamic movements would then have strong politico-economic bordering entity into which they can dissolve. Similarly, a more practical and realistic solution to the illegitimate and domineering presence of the Israeli state emerges as a supplement to the localized resistance from Gaza, for surely a powerful political and economic entity in the region which does not submit to the defeatist international norms would become a real and major threat to Israel. A war against Israel or any other regional forces also becomes symmetrical and no longer impeded by structural constraints and weaknesses.
Religious and confessional diversity in Syria necessitates an Islamic polity as an alternative to the conflict-generating nation-state. Ironically, the call for a democratic nation in order to address the religious diversity in Syria paradoxically instantiates the problem. An artificial ‘national’ identity which must be constantly constructed and re-constructed and subsequently legitimized has been the source of internal conflict since the inception of the nation-state. And a ‘majority rule’ as dictated by Democracy necessitates a ‘minority’ which is subordinate to both the ‘majority’ and an artificial identity super-imposed at the expense of preexisting cultures and traditions. Islam however provides a mode of governance which does not monopolize identity but rather grants administrative, judicial, and legal autonomy to the various confessions and faiths existing within its jurisdiction.
Towards a Radical Departure:
An Arab Spring has broken the first amongst few major psychological impediments for the reemergence of theKhilafah. An Islamic programme in Syria would break the first and perhaps only structural and political impediment left in our way. An Islamic alternative would provide us with a radical departure with our colonial and servile past and will prove to be a radical alternative to the Assad/America dichotomy which in reality are two sides of the same coin.
”…and such are the days…”
Ali Harfouch is a student of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut working in Islamic activism with Islam Policy.
 The following short paper is a response to the charter produced and released by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood calling for a ‘Civil Democratic’ state after the fall of Bashar al-Assad and his regime. While writing this however our brothers in Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain produced ‘The Islamic Khilfah: A Manifesto for Change’ which articulately and concisely details an alternative political programme for the Post-Arab Spring world.
 The Political System in Islam by Taqi ad-Din an-Nabahani The Principles of State and Government in Islam by Muhammad Assad Al-Hurriya aw at-Tuwfaan by Dr. Hakim al-Mutairi