The rising sentiment of the Syrian people, who have been protesting for months to break the patterns of tyranny and the violation of rights, is for Syria to be a secular nation. The revolution has revealed many extremes and differing factions within the Syrian community. The true nature of the opposition became evident in its disjointed efforts ranging from their political actions and infighting to their efforts to divide the opposition into small groups. It is clear that many have fallen into the trap of seeking individual gains through separate factions. Currently, there is a slow struggle emerging between secularism and the culture of political Islam, which refuses even the discussion of a secular future. These small groups and factions undermine the revolution along with the Syrian National Council (SNC), which is in reality run by Islamic figures and is secretly supported by Turkey and other countries.
However, the Syrian revolution has made apparent that most Syrians are liberal and secular by culture, with ambitions for a secular Syrian nation where individual and collective rights are respected under an umbrella of freedom, rule of law, and state institutions. On the other hand, there are radical Islamic groups acting under secular banners and slogans, despite the fact that they are, in actuality, stemming from fundamentalist political Islam. They extend from the fundamentalist thought of both the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood, which attacks secularists and liberal culture. All of these concerns are becoming clearer as we witness the rise of political Islamic movements in the region, which are overriding the waves of the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt. After the fall of the regime, will Syria and its revolution fall under political Islam?
From the start, the Syrian revolution has been spontaneous and remained so for several months. However, recently, there has been a shift toward increased organization and homogeneity, despite the SNC’s ongoing political crisis. Likewise, the established Kurdish National Council and its coordinating body are going through a similar phase.
In its state of imbalance, the Syrian revolution is still missing real political leadership. Despite the mass murders of protesters at the hands of the regime and its forces, accompanied by the unified goal of the Syrian people to topple the regime, the SNC has been unable to consolidate all Syrian movements or act as the political voice of the revolution. This reality is a result of the council’s creation by figures who did not uphold democratic principles while choosing its members. Therefore, the Islamic movement in control of the council marginalizes and excludes the voices and participation of others. Secular and liberal movements, as well as women, are ignored and are completely excluded from decision making bodies, which are limited to known council leaders.
How can we foster a culture of secularism and civil society in Syria under the veil of Islamic thought covering the entire process? We find groups in Homs, Hama, and Iblib, even amongst Kurdish youth, who follow the television channel “Al Wasal,” which promotes the teachings of Sheikh Al A’aroor and his address to the Kurdish people, attacking secularists. In addition, some SNC members oppose secular and female members of the council, who are liberal in thought and culture.
The emergence of fundamentalist culture and religious rhetoric can be observed in several aspects of the revolution. Religious names are given to some liberation army troops and revolutionary bodies. Frightening religious videos and slogans have reached the point of naming one of the Friday revolutions “Jihad.” This fundamentalist extension is suspected of being embedded in the Syrian revolution through the Muslim Brotherhood, which is tied to Hamas, Turkey, and even Hezbollah. While the people are fighting for their freedom, the Islamists are gathering political power. Syrians are witnessing the attempts of Islamists to Islamize the revolution, benefitting from the fragmented Syrian opposition and the political situation in Egypt and Tunisia as well as the indifference of the international community towards the rise of Islamic movements.
However, offering some reassurance in an otherwise grim situation is the nature of Syrian society, which is open-minded, dynamic, and ready to change. In addition, the secular ethnic minorities in Syria amount to approximately 50 percent of the population and there are other established liberal political forces. These liberal and secular groups overpower the size of the fundamentalist groups, breaking the hopes and dreams of the Islamists and their supporters to direct the Syrian revolution and Syria’s future to their side.
The Syrian revolution came about to destroy and revolt against all forms of oppression and will remain a revolution to rid the Syrian community from cultures of exclusion, marginalization, and tyranny. The revolution aims to devote the people’s power and will to establish a democratic, secular, and multi-party republic based on the separation between religion and state, while granting personal freedom and independence far from religious control and political Islamic culture, which is not commensurate with the values of secular knowledge and the modern state. The future of Syria will be based on freedom, people’s power, and the guarantee of material and spiritual freedom. These are the principles on which the revolution was founded and these reasons will guide the revolution forward.
Jehad Saleh is a Kurdish Syrian freelance journalist based in Washington, DC.