By **Robin Yassin-Kassab**
Here are two slightly differing takes on accusations that the protests in Syria have an overly Sunni and anti-minority character. First, from someone in Damascus:
There are claims that the Ismailis weren’t part of these protests, but actually al-Salamiya was one of the first towns in Syria to protest after Daraa. Then other areas followed.
In Banias last Friday, the Sheikhs invited an Alawite speaker to address the protesters.
I find the word “Islamist” quite problematic. I mean, in Syria many are religious, but Islamists? What does that even mean? They want to impose an Islamic state? Doesn’t that mean that the Syrian people would be supportive of the Ikhwan’s ideology? What’s interesting is that many disapprove of the regime AND the Ikhwan’s ideology. So we’re talking about conservative Muslims and not Islamists—conservative when it comes to their daily lives and when it comes to their daughters. But, when we talk about Islamists, we’re talking about a political discourse that wants to turn Syria into an Islamic state, a discourse that we haven’t heard thus far in any of these protests. Nor from Sheikhs of Banias, Douma and Homs, who addressed the president with a statement and clear demands.
As for the mosques thing, my friends go to mosques to protest there, waiting for Friday prayers to finish. My Alawite, Durz and Kurdish friends in Damascus, who are atheists, go to mosques because there is no other safe place to protest. Just today there were a couple protests at Damascus University trying to initiate something away from the mosques, which is something that we’re trying to do now. We’re talking about a country where a gathering of more than 8 people might be threatened, where sit-ins in front of embassies to support revolutions were violently dispersed. So people skeptical about protests following Friday prayers are not well-aware of the situation in Syria. This is how it will start but it will soon change Insh’Allah.
I do not want to romanticize the protests in Syria. There might be a lot of sectarian people or extremists who only protest against an “Alawite regime.” But what’s interesting is that ever since Bashar’s speech, which was an incitement of sectarian strife, the chants and slogans of these protests became about national unity and the Syrian people as one. I think the people are scared of civil war; hence, they stress the idea of national unity every time they go out to protest.
The regime still has so many cards to use. They can still strike deals with the West to cover their killings and actions.
The second voice belongs to someone from an Alawi family that has nothing to do with the regime. Worryingly, his parents are receiving anonymous phone calls threatening sectarian vengeance. From who? Salafis? The regime itself? The fear is coming down again. This man still wants change, however, but at a more careful pace.
“The more important truth is that despotism will never protect anyone from religious extremism, because religious extremism is one of the symptoms of despotism.”
That is the essence of the problem…A single ruling party and extremism…They are there to support each other’s existence…By being dragged to the streets only on Fridays we are giving the government an excuse to kill and send infiltrators…
Syria and Israel also support each other’s existence…If it was not for Syria the Northern border of Israel would have never been protected…And if it was not for Israel the Syrian government would have found it very difficult to impose the emergency law for 40 years…
And mind you all, the eighties were not only about the killing in Hammah. So much killing happened before that, if you need a reminder!
My relatives inside Syria are receiving phone calls from unknown sources threatening them and telling them that all Alawis are targeted. My relatives and so many other Syrian minorities and majorities are confused and worried. At the time being they see gatherings starting from mosques, Khaddam’s people in Banias and Refa3at people in Latakia. Well, this is a recipe to repeat the eighties. And mind you all, the eighties were not only about the killing in Hammah. So much killing happened before that, if you need a reminder!
For something to work out in Syria, and to have the support and the cover from the West and the Arabs, we need to stop the focus on mosques and we need to not threaten the Israelis.
The regime in Syria will not change by violence and extremism. If anything it will continue to be endorsed and will become more powerful. It is a lost battle, but it could be a long one.
There are ways to change in Syria, and more importantly there are ways to attract and move the majority that are still observing and watching. The demonstration at the University yesterday was a start. The lighting of candles in Bab Touma was another one. I wonder what would happen if people stopped using their Makhlouf mobiles for a week or two. What if they cancelled their mobile service altogether? The Mukhabarat can force us to stop chanting, but they can’t force us to use mobiles.
Guys, people discuss politics in al-Khouli and al-Khaddam and al-Assad cafes and restaurants. Don’t you realize that we are giving them money to kill us. And it is not only about these names. Think about the businessmen supporters of the regime. Why don’t we all stop drinking Mandarin (the fizzy drink produced by al-Jud company)? Why don’t we all stop using phone cabins, installed by the Hamsho group, and stop going to his restaurants? Why don’t we all stop buying Baladna magazine and other products of the United Group? Or stop using Syrian Airlines? These measures and many others can easily be advertized through small groups and will not scare people. We are not killing each other or starving each other at the end of the day. We are giving up luxuries that bring profit to this regime. Slowly, our voice will be heard.
I am only asking that we don’t allow history (the eighties) to repeat itself. The regime still has so many cards to use. They can still strike deals with the West to cover their killings and actions. Please don’t give them the chance to do so.
Copyright 2011 Robin Yassin-Kassab
This post originally appeared at QunFuz.Com.