Sunday, September 29, 2013

What should America do in Syria?

Oil painting by Ragod Rustom
What should America do in Syria?

It's been two years since Syrians rebelled against their dictator. Early on, the citizens pleaded for American arms support. They were denied.

Since then an old war has resurfaced. Fundamentalist Muslims have hijacked the war and turned it into a religious one. They have declared that it's a fight between Islam and the non-believers — the latter being Assad, who is a secularist. Having turned it into a religious war, also known as 'jihad', they enlisted thousands of militant Muslims from all over the Islamic world to come and join the fight. Sure this will work to take down Assad, but it won't work in that there is no viable replacement government in sight.

100,000 dead. Millions displaced from their homes. Millions left Syria. Why?

It's because this war has a divided front — the rebels are mainly Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims and they've been fighting for Islamic political power since the inception of Islam 1400 years ago. And they are fighting against each other again in the middle of this rebellion.

So what is best for Syria?

Well a simpler question is: What was best for Syria at the start of the uprising? That had a better chance for success than today — so it's an easier problem to consider. It's easier to see how America could have gotten involved in a helping role to take down Assad, and in a helping role to create a democracy. But this theory has holes.

I asked a Syrian about what he would prefer between the following two options:
1) What the English did which is gradual-change of government — i.e. evolution of government — from dictatorship to democracy, or
2) What the French did which is radical-change of government — i.e. revolution of government — from dictatorship to democracy.

He answered English! He'd rather have piecemeal reform instead of revolution. And the reason is that piecemeal reform means less chaos, less destruction of infrastructure and knowledge, and less bloodshed. (See Edmund Burke.)

But then I asked, what would have happened had the Syrians given up their uprising before the militant Muslims from around the world joined in? How would the Syrians make sure that Assad enacts piecemeal reform like the English were able to achieve?

He had no answer.

So I asked: Do Syrians want liberalism?

He said no.

I asked, at least some of them?

He said a tiny minority.

So then, what would happen if Assad was suddenly overthrown? There would be many sides of religious groups that each want a dictatorial Islamic state, and each group wants the seat of power. This is bad. It's just more war. The resulting leader will be the one that does the most killing of his opponents — that means the one that does the most massacres. Case in point, the Taliban committed 15 massacres from 1996 to 2001 as they ascended to power in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion and subsequent Soviet installation of a communist dictator.

So Assad's government is better than the alternative, which is NO government at all. If Assad's regime falls, they will have devolved back to warring tribes.

And to make matters worse, most of the smart Syrians left Syria, so what are left are the dumber ones including the fanatics that have moved in from other places to join the jihad.

If Assad falls, we have another Afghanistan.

Before the Afghan civil war and subsequent Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan was not that bad a place. It was kind of like Egypt and Syria.

The civil war was over modernization. Some Afghans wanted it but most didn't because they saw it as an attack on Islam.

A new prime minister, Hazifullah Amin, came to power by military coup as he exterminated the entire family of his predecessor — a common practice back then. He immediately tried to westernize Afghanistan by advocating for equal rights for women and promoting secular government — which is both a pro-liberalism and pro-communist move. He carried out a land reform —  huge and sudden state-sanctioned theft from rich to give to the poor — which was resented by most Afghans. This one was an anti-liberalism/pro-communist move.

Amin instituted laws that prohibited voluntary trade involving usury (interest on money) in a situation where there was no alternative for peasants who relied on the traditional credit system in the countryside. This led to an agricultural crisis and a fall in agricultural production — another anti-liberalism/pro-communist move, which coincidentally is also a pro-Islam move.

He also changed the national flag from the traditional Islamic green color to a near-copy of the red flag of the Soviet Union, a direct provocation to the fundamentalist Muslims because communism condemns religion — another anti-liberalism/pro-communist move. His government imprisoned, tortured or murdered thousands of members of the traditional elite, the religious establishment, and the intelligentsia. This is what the French poor did during the French revolution.

The Afghan resistance forces that rose up against Amin called themselves the Mujahideen, which means the people that do jihad — jihad means holy war against those people who are against Islam. In 1979, when the Soviets believed that Afghanistan was lost to the Mujahideen, they invaded. As a result, the jihad war was now extended to the Russians who were now in Afghanistan trying to maintain the power of Amin's communist government. The Russians claimed that they had been invited in by Amin's government and that they were not invading the country. They claimed that their task was to support a legitimate government and that the Mujahdeen were no more than terrorists.

In December 1979, the Soviet Special Forces stormed the presidential palace and killed Amin and his 100 or so personal guards. The Soviets installed Babrak Karmal as Amin's successor. Kamal's position as head of the Afghan government depended on Russian military support of 85,000 soldiers to keep him in power.

The Mujahdeen proved to be a formidable opponent. They were equipped with old rifles but had a knowledge of the mountains around Kabal and the weather conditions. The Russians resorted to using napalm, poison gas, and helicopter gun ships against the Mujahdeen — but they experienced exactly the same military scenario the Americans had experienced in Vietnam.

By 1982, the Mujahdeen controlled 75% of Afghanistan despite fighting the might of the world's second most powerful military power. Young conscript Russian soldiers were no match against men fueled by their religious belief. They love death more than their opponents love life — I'm not exaggerating here, it's in the Quran. To fundamentalist Muslims, martyrdom's reward in heaven provides more encouragement than the material life of this world.

Some factions were also fueled by support from America. Analogously in Syria, the opposition, whom America is now providing arms support in Syria against Assad, are the same as the Afghan Mujahideen — they have the same philosophy of how to resolve conflicts, that is, by force.

By the end of the 1980's, the Mujahdeen were at war with themselves as each group tried to consolidate power.

In 1989, when Gorbachev realized that Russia could not win the war, they withdrew. The Soviet-backed Afghan communist regime survived for three more years, after which the Afghan political parties established the Islamic State of Afghanistan and appointed an interim government.

Immediately civil war broke out between many militias, each backed by regional powers such as Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, and Uzbekistan, each seeking influence over the centrally-located Afghanistan, and each supported and in some cases controlled one of the militias. Analogously, in the Syrian civil war, Qatar has interests in Syria as it tries to get access to a pipeline through Syria bypassing the existing Saudi-controlled pipeline, and it too is funding the Al-Qaeda-connected rebels in Syria. Iran has interests in Syria because it wants an alliance with a Shite-friendly leadership.

The Taliban, one of the groups trying to consolidate power, with the backing of Pakistan's Army, took control and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They were enforced by several thousand Al-Qaeda fighters from Arab countries and Central Asia.

During the period from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban were responsible for 15 massacres on the Afghan people. This is the result of their efforts to consolidate control. This is what they know about how to resolve conflicts — violence instead of diplomacy.

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the UN sanctioned intervention in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom. The purpose of this was to defeat Al-Qaeda, remove the Taliban from power and create a viable democratic state. They have not yet succeeded.

So let me break this down. America supported the Afghan rebels — which later spawned Al-Qaeda — to fight against the Soviet-installed communist dictator, expecting, I presume, that afterwards the rebels would create a democracy — or at least a capitalist-friendly secular dictatorship as has happened in many Islamic countries. Analogously, America is supporting Syrian rebels connected with Al-Qaeda against the Russian-backed dictator, expecting, I presume, that afterwards the rebels would create a democracy or at least a capitalist-friendly dictatorship.

Do you see the problem? Most Afghan people don't know the meaning of liberalism nor its relevance to governance. And neither do most Syrians. They don't know how to operate a government peacefully, which is critical for a nation to prosper. They don't have any interest in the liberal-democratic form of government because they are fundamentalist Muslims whose core religious values directly contradict liberalism. That's why Afghans rejected early attempts at modernization of their country by the Afghan King in the early 1900's, and that's why they resorted to violence instead of diplomacy after America helped the Afghan rebels overthrow their dictator. And all of this will happen again in Syria if Assad falls.

Maybe Syria won't be as bad as Afghanistan?

I said to my Syrian friend that the situation in Syria won't turn out to be as bad as what happened in Afghanistan because Syrian culture is more evolved than Afghan culture — mostly because of Enlightenment ideas installed by the French during their few decades of colonial-rule.

My friend disagreed. He said in this environment everybody must send their kids to the mosque. So their kids get indoctrinated there. A people can move backwards pretty quickly by just enforcing laws that everybody must attend mosques, and that nobody can criticize Islam or else be punished by death. So we would have a whole generation of Syrian Muslims who have no clue about how to resolve conflicts nor how to operate a government. All they would know about how to resolve conflicts is that violence is the answer.

There's a good sign, and a bad one.

Then my mom chimed in. She said that she has explained what an Islamic state would be like to her Syrian Muslim friends, and they all get shocked by the truth. And then they side with the idea of no Islamic state — they side with democracy. More importantly, they side with secular government instead of a state based on a religion. This is a good sign. But there are bad signs too.

I got into a discussion with a Muslim who said 'I CAN'T TALK TO YOU ABOUT THIS. IT'S.. IT'S HARAM [forbidden by religious law] FOR ME TO EVEN BE THINKING ABOUT CRITICISM OF ISLAM!!!" A moment later during the discussion he said that it is moral to punish for criticizing Islam. And the thing is that the standard punishment for that "crime" is death, since it's declared exactly that way in the Quran (9:11/12). And he knows it, and I know it, and we each know that the other knows it. So he's telling me that I should be punished by death. This is bad. It means that there are a lot of Muslims who are terrorists in their hearts who just haven't committed any crimes yet.

Some of these terrorists-by-heart are here in America. Fortunately in America we have way fewer of them than compared to other places like in Europe because they appease Islamic fear-mongering for censorship of criticism of Islam a lot more than we do. But don't get me wrong. We are guilty of it too. It's just that we are less guilty of it than they are. America is more pro-liberalism than Europe is.

So what do Syrians want? 

Most Syrians now want Assad to stay in power. They've seen the ugly reality of what a rebel war would be like, and now they don't want it. They don't want fundamentalist Muslims invading their country. They would rather have a secular dictator over a long civil war that results in a huge amount of human suffering in the form of destruction of lives, property, and infrastructure that is followed by a dictatorial Islamic state by the "winner" of the civil war that rewards the most cruel leader, the one willing to commit the most massacres.

And they especially don't want foreign help. “We stress that we reject foreign interference in Syria,” said Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch for the Syrian Catholic Church, in a statement read before a conference of more than 50 regional Christian leaders and a handful of global Christians and Muslim scholars in Amman this week. “We don’t accept any intervention by foreign powers … to protect minorities,” Pope Anba Tawadros II of Egypt’s Coptic church said in a statement. “It is basically a pretext … to advance their countries’ interest in the Middle East.”

Syrian Christians are afraid that their communities will suffer a similar fate to Iraq, where the US-led war and subsequent religious fighting forced roughly half of the country’s one million Christians into exile.

Syrians do not want more human suffering. Their pleas should not be ignored any longer.

So how should the US deal with the Syrian situation?

When Obama contemplates military strikes on Assad, he should be thinking about it rationally like so:

First, let's agree that there is a problem, and that we should work on solving it. Second, let's agree on what the problem is, explaining it in detail, which includes a detailed explanation of what a solution would look like. In this step, one of the details that should be considered is the amount of human suffering in the form of loss of lives, property, and infrastructure that would be caused by the proposal, as a measure of its success as a viable solution to the problem.

So, if your proposal is pretty much guaranteed to increase the amount of human suffering in Syria, instead of decreasing it, then your proposal is actually adding to the problem, instead of being part of the solution.

If you don't think about it in terms of problem-solving, then you're thinking irrationally. All life is problem solving. So the question is, what problem are you trying to solve? In the case of Obama funding the Syrian rebels, what problem is he trying to solve? Does he want another Afghanistan where rival fundamentalist Muslim groups keep fighting each other until the most cruel opponent finally succeeds and assumes power and creates an Islamic state with Sharia law? Or does he want a situation where a democracy evolves by slowly reforming the government like the English did?

Let's be clear about what Assad is.

He's a dictator that helped preserve and expand on evolved ideas that were installed by the French during the few decades that they colonized Syria — ideas like women learning to read and women in government. Before the French, Syrian girls were taught, and expected, to stay at home and take care of the children. Reading, and productive work outside the home, and governance was for men only.

If Assad's regime suddenly falls, these evolved ideas will too. Women will go back to their old status more like the women in Saudi Arabia — who are still fighting for their right to drive — and like the women in Afghanistan — who don't even have the right to go to school. Women will suffer from this chaos way more than men will.

Children will suffer more too. And Christians and Jews. And any Islamic sect that isn't in the seat of power. That includes the Alawis, which is an offshoot of the Shiites and is the sect that Assad and his whole government belongs to. Ethnic groups like the Kurds and Armenians won't be spared either. All these people are going to suffer at the hands of the people in the seat of power, which for Syria will probably end up being the one that is the majority, which is Sunni Muslims. Interestingly, Sunni Muslims have had almost exclusive control of Mecca, the center of religious power of the entire Islamic world since Islam's inception 1,400 years ago.

If this is not the time to help a country get rid of a dictator, then when is?

Sometimes a country could use some help. But that country needs to do like 99% of the work, and the outside help can give the extra 1% to make it happen. Syria is not even close to putting in that kind of initiative. Most of the people don't even know the meaning of liberalism — the political philosophy or worldview that (under the law) people should be free to do whatever they want short of initiating force on other people. That includes free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and private property. They don't know that liberalism is the goal and that democracy is a way to achieve that goal. So lots of Muslims claim to want democracy, while not knowing what liberalism means, and not knowing that Islam's concept of censoring criticism of itself contradicts liberalism and is counter-productive to it's intended goal, which is peace and prosperity.

What's missing from these static societies?

That raises the question, what's missing from these static societies? It's the knowledge that when criticism is censored, evil spreads — and that where criticism flourishes, evil dies out — so good evolves. Criticism is the natural selective pressure that kills evil ideas.

The greatest advances in history of knowledge and technology are a direct result of those cultures having adopted the tradition of criticism (see _The Beginning of Infinity_, by David Deutsch). That's what the philosophers were doing — guessing ideas and refining and refuting them with criticism. And that's what scientists do too. Their ideas are scientific theories and their criticism comes in the form of the theoritical design and execution of experiments, and the interpretation of their results; and the criticism also comes in the form of explanations of flaws within the scientific theories.

The ability to criticize is the most awesome invention the Universe has ever created! It's something that only humans can do — it's what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Why would anyone want to do less of such a great thing? Why wouldn't anyone want to do way more of it instead!? Why not do more of the best things in life!?

Why censor criticism when censorship of criticism is itself evil??

And what political system lets criticism thrive best? 

A democracy, where free speech is protected and cherished.. where there is a strong tradition of people settling their conflicts with ideas instead of weapons.. where if a ruler is found to be horrible as a ruler, there exists a legitimate way to change rulers peacefully so that destruction of infrastructure, knowledge, and human life are minimized.

So let's not invade Syria. Let's instead use diplomacy to help Syria reform towards a liberal/democratic form of government. President Putin is taking the route of diplomacy as he tries to get Assad to give up his chemical weapons. We should follow his lead.

Helping get rid of Assad, with pretty much guaranteed chance of all-out religious warfare like in Afghanistan, is not as good as keeping Assad in power, and getting ready for reform where Assad phases himself out in a gradual way as the Syrian people learn how to rule themselves.


Join me to help finish my Islam book — give honest feedback, get your questions answered, and contribute your own ideas.


More background: _So much for the Arab Spring_, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

_Get Ready to Compete With the Muslim Brotherhood: Egypt Could Chart a 'Third Way'_, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

EDIT: It seems Assad is worse than I thought. _Assad regime set free extremists from prison to fire up trouble during peaceful uprising_ Read more:

No comments:

Post a Comment