As Arab Americans, we were unsettled by the ideas put forth by Jonathan Kamel’s recent piece on the Syrian conflict. The article’s narrow perspective was laced with skewed pretenses about the current state of affairs in the Arab world.
Though there is an increasing Islamist influence in Syria, the root of the uprising was a quest for social justice. The means by which this justice is pursued depends on the individual. For some Syrians, this has come to mean calling for a government in which church and state are not separate entities. However, this is not new; religious factions throughout the world are known for contributing to, and even capitalizing on, political crises during tumultuous times.
The war in Syria continues to be a struggle between rebels and the regime, not a “religious battle between secular and radical groups.” To simplify the conflict in Syria to a religious conflict is to denigrate the self-determination of the Syrian people. Should Bashar Assad fall, it should be in the hands of the Syrian people to determine whether to support a secular or religious government. As citizens of a secular nation, it can be difficult for us to accept that the latter could actually be a preference.
For example, Egyptians recently elected Mohammed Morsi president, knowing his affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. Though Kamel questions its effectiveness, this organization has existed for over 80 years, providing social welfare and acting as opposition to the former regime.
Kamel’s dismissal of the beneficial changes in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya seems shortsighted. In their current conditions, these nations are in a transition period that Kamel believes is a sign of failure, but is in fact an intrinsic phase on the path to liberation. As with any nation in the process of reconstruction, the chaos is a result of change. To say these movements have been detrimental is to say these countries were better under dictatorial rule and to belittle the people’s sacrifices for progress.
American involvement in foreign affairs should not be characterized as a policy of noble enterprise in cases when it is actually advancing the causes of special interests. Through fear of the “other,” we readily see America as responsible for undertaking a role as the world’s mitigator.
Despite American special interests in the Arab world, Syrians should be allowed the right to self-determination. That being said, the United States should not intervene in Syria for fear of appearing “weak and ineffectual in global affairs.” Doing so would be a disservice to the Syrian people, who have risked their lives for something much greater than appearances. By projecting American affairs with other states (North Korea, Iran, and Israel) onto the turmoil in Syria, Kamel detracts from the human element of the conflict.
Mariam Gomaa is a Weinberg junior and a Daily staffer. She can be reached at [email protected] Serene Darwish is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected] If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]