Over the weekend US President Obama’s decision to provide lethal aid to Syrian rebel forces has gained bipartisan support among American lawmakers. But will this move result in an escalation of the conflict or could be a way of bringing both sides to the negotiating table. Dr. Farouk Musa of the Islamic Renaissance Front questions popular explanations of the conflict in terms of a Sunni-Shite divide.
A Conversation with Sharaad Kuttan and Melissa Idris on BFM89.9
Q: Do you think the decision by the US to arm the Syrian opposition forces will help bring the conflict to a speedy conclusion?
A: I guess before looking at the latest development in Syria, it would be helpful if we generally have a bird’s eye view about what is actually happening since November 2011.
Those who planned and participated in the early demonstrations against the government of President Bashar al-Assad never thought that they were setting the stage for a civil war.
These people were inspired by the protests that toppled the regimes of Tunisia and Egypt and hoped that their President could be removed in weeks.
So what started as a series of peaceful protests against corruption with calls for political reform turned into an armed struggle as people took up weapons.
It's probably no longer a revolution. It's more of a civil war, fuelled by hatred, revenge and sectarianism, and by outside regional interests. I would say that It's a proxy war that consumes the lives of ordinary Syrians.
Now going back to the question on “whether the US decision to arm the rebels would bring the conflict to a speedy recovery”, I am of the opinion that such a decision would never have such an effect. Instead it would prolong the war.
The US realized that such military intervention in Syria is highly unpopular at home. So to support such an intervention, the White House claimed that the Assad regime had crossed a red line by using chemical weapons including sarin gas.
Now the US assertion that it must arm Assad’s enemies because the Damascus regime has used sarin gas against them – convinces no-one especially those in the Middle East. In fact the Centre for Strategic Studies in Washington, says the 'discovery' that Syria used chemical weapons may well be a political ploy.
Now this evidence smells very like that for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in 2003. It begs the question of why Assad should use small quantities of sarin gas knowing it would be used to justify Western military intervention.
And one curious aspect of the sarin gas story is that, at the end of May, the Turkish security forces said they had arrested in Turkey militants of the Syrian rebel al-Nusra Front, which is affiliated to al-Qaeda, who had in their possession a 2kg cylinder filled with sarin.
This I guess is far more substantial evidence for the possession of poison gas than anything alleged against Assad's forces. Unfortunately the US, Britain and France showed no interest.
Well, there is cynical disbelief at the American contention that it can distribute arms including anti-aircraft missiles only to secular Sunni rebel forces in Syria represented by the so-called Free Syria Army.
It is the more powerful al-Nusrah Front, allied to al-Qaeda, that dominates the battlefield on the rebel side and has been blamed for atrocities including the execution of Syrian government prisoners of war and the murder of a 14-year old boy for blasphemy recently.
Obviously they will be able to take new American weapons from their Free Syria Army comrades with little effort
After all, perhaps the ultimate aim is not to end the war or to execute a definite blow to Assad. It was perhaps for the benefit of the US greatest ally, Israel. I would say that Israel best hope in Syria is a weaker Assad.
A strong Assad means Syria continues to play an important role in the alliance opposed to Israeli regional hegemony, along with Iran and Hezbollah.
One thing for fact is very clear: Hezbollah's formidable prowess in guerrilla warfare is the main reason Israel no longer occupies south Lebanon.
Similarly, Hezbollah's arsenal of rockets pointed at Israel is a genuine deterrent, restraining greater Israeli aggression towards Lebanon, and also Syria and Iran.
Q: What do you think the underlying causes are for the conflict at the moment?
A: As I mentioned earlier on, the events in Syria started first as a peaceful demonstration for a greater democracy. Unfortunately it has turned ugly into a full-scale warfare. I would say that this is mainly due to the intervention by a few Arab regimes namely Saudi and Qatar.
Everybody knows that Qatar and Saudi Arabia arm and fund the rebels of Syria to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. And the US President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, kept saying that they want a democracy in Syria.
But Qatar is an autocracy and Saudi Arabia is among the most pernicious of caliphate-kingly-dictatorships in the Arab world. Rulers of both states inherit power from their families and Saudi Arabia is an ally of the Salafist-Wahabi rebels in Syria, just as it was the most fervent supporter of the medieval Taliban during Afghanistan's dark ages.
Remember that, 15 of the 19 hijacker-mass murderers of 911, came from Saudi Arabia. And the Saudis are repressing their own Shia minority just as they now wish to destroy the Shia of Syria.
And yet we believe Saudi Arabia wants to set up a democracy in Syria?
I would say that perhaps all the while, we forget the "big" truth; that the attempt to crush the Syrian dictatorship was not because of the love for Syrians and their quest for democracy.
I would say that this is all about Iran and the desire to crush the Islamic Republic and its nuclear plans – if they exist – and has nothing to do with human rights or the right to life or the death of Syrian babies.
Q: The media often invokes the labels Sunni and Shite to name the sectarian strife; is this adequate?
A: In my opinion, this is the shallowest appreciation of the Syrian conflict.
This is perhaps the best storyline that would invoke sectarian reaction among the predominantly sunni Malaysians. Of course, this narrative becomes more popular with the false news being spread by the many Saudi-funded scholars in our country.
And I guess this is probably the best achievement of the rebels: to portray this war as a sectarian war between Sunni and Shii.
The rebels and particularly the al-Qaeda-linked, an-Nusrah; have committed grave atrocities on the civilians and then filmed their vicious acts and showed it on the media and put the blame as atrocities committed by the Syrian army.
This has been systematically done and to a great success in gaining support for their cause.
I succinctly remember the case of Houla, where more than a hundred civilians were killed, with many of them children. The massacre was attributed to pro-government forces and used to step up the propaganda offensive for military intervention against the government.
However according to Germany’s leading daily newspaper, Frankfurter Zeitung, the Houla massacre was perpetrated by opposition forces aligned with the Free Syrian Army.
Similarly the killing of a prominent Sunni cleric aligned to the government, Syeikh Said Ramadan al-Bouti. The initial video being circulated was that the Syeikh was killed by the military since he had pronounced his intention to leave Asad and denounce the Shii government.
Of course it was not until the son of al-Bouti, Dr Tawfiq Ramadan al-Bouti who gave a press statement when the real story came up. He confirmed that al-Bouti was killed by a suicide bomber inside a mosque while giving a lecture.
So such a prominent Sunni scholar was in full support of the Shii government; then how convenient would it be for us to assume that this war was sectarian in nature?