Randa Kassis

Randa Kassis
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Featured, Human Rights, Islamist Politics, Political Parties, Political Reform, Religious Freedom



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Since the beginning of its eruption, the Syrian uprising, faced with a totalitarian regime, has found difficulties winning over the ethnic and religious minorities as well as other groups that remain wary of losing individual freedoms enjoyed under the Assad regime should Islamists come to power. There are many reasons contributing to the fear of these groups and their hesitation to join the uprising. First, there is a loss of hope among many Syrians that any social and cultural change will take place, especially with the significant ground gained by the religious rebels and their capability of penetrating the fabric of Syrian society. The censorship imposed on individuals has facilitated the infiltration of the radical religious trends, which has become their last resort. Many individuals suffer psychological damage from the mechanisms of repression of the regime that inhibited their ability to achieve a self-sufficient outlook in finding a way to improve their living conditions. Due to the psychological frustrations experienced among individuals at all levels of society, it can be understood that people turn to religion as a way to continue their day to day lives and to compensate for what has been lost, even if imaginary or unrealistic. This is common among societies that are repressed by totalitarian powers.

The Islamists in Syria are increasingly swooping down on the popular movement, suggesting that they are the strongest and the most widespread among the Syrian groups through their dependence on the religious and conservative bases of certain communities. Their presence is due first to the sense among the Syrian street participating in the uprising that the international community had abandoned them and that they have been left prey to the brutality of the Syrian regime. Second, this is due to the Islamists’ exploitation of the Syrian psyche in order to slowly penetrate the Syrian street in an organized fashion. In addition, the Islamists’ control over the distribution of supplies and humanitarian assistance significantly contributed to their extensive appearance in the squares and streets, resulting in the appearance of gaining a monopoly over this uprising. The Islamists have taken advantage of the divide between the communities previously supported by the ruling regime and those they call the majority group, thus upholding sectarian discrimination and fueling feelings of aggression and repulsion between the groups in order to gain a wider segment of the Syrian society. They also capitalize on the principle of "the strongest majority," which gives that majority the right to direct society according to its desires and standards. Here, we are entitled to review what they consider the majority and the minority, who comprise, according to their view, singular, collective blocks.

Syrian society is comprised of non-Arab ethnic groups that may exceed 15% of the population and different religious and sectarian groups that comprise close to 20% or more of the population. As for the largest segment, the Sunni Arabs, we acknowledge the significant differences between its groups. For example, we cannot view Sufis, Salafists, or members of the Muslim Brotherhood monolithically. In addition, Islamists are not all part of a single current, as Jihadi Salafists are different from non-Jihadi Salafists. We also find that varying Koranic interpretations and the presence of multiple and diverse schools make a diverse representation within a single group.

The equation in Syria crosses beyond the country’s geographical boundaries, as there are regional influences that support these movements and provide them with ample money. This is what makes the Islamists real players in the Syrian arena and give them significant influence over the course of the Syrian uprising in order to give preference to particular religious trends. This is at the expense of other groups in Syria, which constitute a majority if we view them as one front, who are willing to make complete cultural, social, and intellectual changes.

We must not forget that the proportion of secular Muslims in Syria constitute a significant percentage. Therefore, we must amend the established proportions and the blocs that could be created in Syria in order to overturn the political equation in favor of the seculars and the groups supporting them at the expense of the Islamists. This would make clear that the Islamists do not constitute but a tiny minority that do not have any political, social, or cultural weight inside Syria.

There is no doubt that we must give a chance to Islamic parties that are working, as they claim, on changing themselves and their concepts. However, to this day, they have failed to apply in practice what they allege to do inside Syria. We see them working diligently to exclude any group or individual that may be a competitive force.

The principle of competition between opposing forces that are given equal power is considered the greatest catalyst for permanent reform. This principle contributes to the refinement of social, economic, and political programs that are aimed to improve living conditions of the individual and provide greater opportunities for individual creativity. This can only be accomplished following the adoption of a principle of partnership between all groups, which must begin by calling for national reconciliation between all components of society.

I believe that the responsibility for the persistence of violence today falls first on the regime that is immersed in a so-called security solution. Second, responsibility falls on the Islamists who are trying by any means to Islamize the Syrian uprising in order to enable their exclusion of different groups. Third, the responsibility falls on the groups in Syria that refuse to participate in this uprising and impose themselves as true partners.

We are all responsible for what is happening in Syria beginning with Assad’s crimes and continuing with the human rights violations committed by some opposition parties against the supporters of the regime. Today, we must start to condemn all violations committed by both parties and convict any individual or group that is mobilizing the population against a particular group. The start of change must begin in our commitment to the rights of all and acceptance of different opinions.

Randa Kassis is an anthropologist and author of the book Vault of the Gods. She is president of the general assembly of the Secular Democratic Coalition in Syria and a member of the Syrian National Council (SNC).