Rev. Bassam Michael Madany
What was hailed as the “Arab Spring” in 2011, turned five years later, into a horrific nightmare impacting the Middle East, and Western Europe. Scholarly books and essays have been published seeking to explain the failure of the rise of democratic regimes to replace the authoritarian governments that had plagued Mideastern countries, since the end of WWII.[i]
The New Yorker Magazine published on 3 January, 2017, “All Roads Lead to Aleppo” by Jon Lee Anderson. It’s one of the best essays that I’ve read about the Syrian “Intifada” that began spontaneously in March, 2011, at Der’a, a city south of Damascus.[ii]
Mr. Anderson summed up the “Fall of Aleppo” in the opening paragraph:
“With the evacuation of the last of its armed rebels and their families, last month, the Syrian city of Aleppo is once again in the hands of the Assad government. Aleppo had a prewar population of more than two million people; it was not only Syria’s largest city and its industrial powerhouse but had an iconic place as one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, with a history dating back some eight thousand years. Before the war, Aleppo’s wealth of ancient buildings and its cosmopolitan mix of sects and peoples—Sunni Arabs, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, Alawites, Circassians, Chechens, Greeks, Assyrian and Armenian Christians, and even a few Jews—made it a matchless place in the modern Middle East. It remains to be seen what, of all that, has survived.”
I’ve known Aleppo for a long time. Living in Alexandretta, in northwest Syria, in my early days, I remember how well-to-do Aleppo families, used to spend their summers at our resorts in the province.[iii]
I can add a few more details about Aleppo. Syrians claim that Abraham stopped at Aleppo, on his way from Ur of the Chaldees, to the Promised Land. Besides being a commercial and industrial city, Aleppo was known for its educational institutions. One was “Aleppo College,” an American institution that served as a preparatory school for Syrians who eventually completed their education, at the AUB (American University of Beirut.)
The Jewish presence in Aleppo was the largest in Syria. Most of the Jews ran businesses that supplied Syrian merchants with needed goods, imported from Europe and the USA. After the birth of the State of Israel in May, 1948, most of the Syrian Jews left Aleppo.
I applaud Mr. Anderson who braved many dangers, to give us eye-witness accounts of the battles. His description of the savagery of some of the combatants, is blood-curdling.
Much as I appreciated the essay, I was greatly disappointed with the last paragraph:
“Indeed, partly because of the Syrian conflict and its ongoing fallout, the future of the European Union itself is now in question. With the mass influx of refugees has come an upsurge in anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe that mirrors that of the American alt-right in its bigotry and sectarian hatred, especially toward Muslims. The killing of civilians—in Europe and elsewhere (Tunisia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey)—by Islamist terrorists has, at the same time, become a terrifyingly frequent occurrence. Throughout the West, a mood of ugly xenophobia is spreading. Thus far, it has given us Brexit and Trump. In the upcoming French elections, will Marine Le Pen be the victor? Will the next terrorist outrage in Germany be the end of Angela Merkel and usher in a mood of social intolerance?”
I’m mystified by Mr. Anderson’s outbursts and strong critique of Europeans and Americans and their anti-immigrant sentiments, their bigotry and hatred for Muslims, as he claimed.
Indeed, Europeans and Americans are scared for their lives. Air travel has become a burdensome adventure, since 9/11! Do I need to make a catalogue of all the Jihadist attacks in France, Belgium, Germany and the USA? As to, “Hatred for Muslims?” I would like to learn where have Muslims been attacked in Europe or in the Americas? It’s not “hatred,” it’s a genuine concern for one’s life and safety!
Ever since the end of WWII, when large Islamic communities have settled in the West, there is an indisputable proof that Muslims, far from assimilating, make demands on the societies that had welcomed them; demands if accepted, would alter the Western traditions of tolerance and pluralism, that have marked Western civilization for the last two centuries.
A liberal Kuwaiti columnist wrote on 9 July, 2010 (months before the Arab Spring,) a frank and thought-provoking article about the Muslim communities of Western Europe. He exhibited a very sympathetic understanding of the Europeans’ concerns about the Muslims’ unwillingness to assimilate. Rather, they form alternative communities that replicate the very culture of the lands they had fled from!
The article was published in the daily newspaper, al-Qabas, and entitled, “The Islamization of Europe.” It criticized those Europeans who defended the rights of the Muslim communities to live in harmony with their own traditions; even though Muslim countries do not accord religious minorities these same rights.
He continued, “some call Europe the ‘Aged Continent;’ however, Europe is the mother of modern civilization, the center of its culture, and its living conscience. Europe has always been willing to welcome refugees, and political dissidents who could no longer live freely in their homelands. Why should we Arabs, criticize Europeans, when they want to maintain their democratic identity and their freedoms, by protecting themselves against the inroads of the Islamic mind?
“We need a sense of impartiality and balance, to understand the reason for the reaction of Westerners, vis-à-vis the growing number of Muslims who have settled among them. It has become a veritable Islamic cultural and demographic invasion. At the same time, Europeans find themselves unable to deal with this situation, in a proper and democratic manner.
“The number of ‘Islamic Ghettos’ keeps increasing around European capitals. In some historic cities, these ghettos occupy around one fourth of Amsterdam, Marseille, and Malmo [Sweden]! The Hijab (head covering) and the Niqab (complete body covering) have become familiar sites. Mosques grow as mushroom on every corner; with the number of their attendees exceeding those worshipping at churches! The unemployed in the Muslim areas, keep increasing. Migrants are contributing nothing positive to the country’s economy; while at the same time, they’ve become a burden on the social services! I’m not writing these lines against anyone specifically; I simply question the wisdom of some Europeans who defend the rights of Muslims not to assimilate, and keep on living as if they were still in their former homelands.”
Having read these comments of the Kuwaiti columnist, I may add that had the author of “All Roads Lead to Aleppo” consulted some reformist/liberal Arab sources, he might not have made those wholesale accusations against Westerners in the concluding paragraph of the article. In fact, other Arab intellectuals have dealt with the incompatibility of Islam with Western civilization.
In the final analysis, to be concerned about one’s own life and security, ought not to be equated with xenophobia! No one in the West claims that all Muslims are terrorists; but most terrorists tend to be Muslims. Daily they murder fellow-Muslims, in Syria, Iraq, Yemen. One becomes numbed by the reports from Baghdad, or Sana’a, Yemen, of another car-bomb exploding in a crowded place, killing and maiming innocent by-standers. As I am about to conclude this article on Saturday, the 7th of January, the Associated Press reported about another tragedy in Syria:
“At least 43 people were killed Saturday when a car bomb went off in a busy market in a rebel-held Syrian town along the Turkish border, activists and rescue workers said.”
There is an urgent need to delve into Islamic history, to discover the root cause for the disorders and convulsions that have plagued the Arab world since 2011. The problem didn’t begin during in this century; it goes back to the 7th century.
Muhammad’s migration to Medina, in AD 622, changed Islam from a purely religious faith, into a political regime that claimed its governing principles came from God. That sanctioned the Prophet’s raids of the Meccan caravans. Ultimately, it enabled him to vanquish his opponents in Mecca in 630, two years before his death.
The history of the Caliphates in Medina, Damascus, Baghdad, and Istanbul, were marked by world conquests, intrigues and violence. Sacred texts from the Qur’an, glorify “Death in the Cause of Allah!”[iv] It is this ingrained motif, or impetus that motivates Jihadists in their senseless attacks against innocent Muslims and non-Muslims alike. To ignore these facts, doesn’t help our world to properly confront this “New World Disorder.”
The URL for the Kuwaiti article: http://aafaq.org/news.aspx?id_news=8549#
[i] Andrew J. Bacevich’s AMERICA’S WAR FOR THE GREATER MIDDLE EAST: A MILITARY HISTORY. New York: Random House, 2016
Marc Lynch’s THE NEW ARAB WARSS: UPRISINGS AND ANARCH IN THE MIDDLE EAST. New York: Public Affairs, 2016
[iii] Alexandretta Province was in northwest Syria during the early years of the French Mandate. Its main cities were Alexandretta, Antioch, and Seleucia. Turkey claimed that most of its inhabitants were Turks, an unsubstantiated claim. The majority were Arabic-speaking Christians and survivors of the Armenian Genocide of WWI. In 1938, France acceded to the demands of Ataturk, by allowing Turkish forces to invade the province. By June, 1939, most of the population left the province for other parts of Syria, while some settled in Lebanon. The Turks renamed the province, Hatay. Very few of the original inhabitants remained after the Turkish occupation.
Iv Indeed, Allah (has) purchased from the believers their lives and their wealth, because for them (is) Paradise. They fight in (the) way (of) Allah, they slay and they are slain. A promise upon Him true, in the Taurat and the Injeel and the Quran. And who (is) more faithful to his promise than Allah? So, rejoice in your transaction which you have contracted [with it]. And that it (is) the success the great.
Surat At-Tawba 9 (Repentance) Ayah:111