Syria is about much more than Syria

Posted: August 11, 2012 in Oriental Morning Post
Tags: , , , , , ,

A new op-ed for the Chinese paper 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post) that I write an occasional column for. This one looks a bit at events in Syria and the growing jihadi presence and what it means. Doesn’t really focus on the Chinese lack of involvement there, but the idea is to try to explain something and its potential dangers to a Chinese audience. The published Chinese is above, with the English I submitted below.

叙利亚不仅仅是叙利亚
潘睿凡   发表于2012-08-10 04:12

叙利亚前总理里亚德·希贾卜出走转投反对派,让阿萨德政权又一次雪上加霜。

潘睿凡 英国伦敦国际激进主义化研究中心副研究员

叙利亚前总理里亚德·希贾卜出走转投反对派,让阿萨德政权又一次雪上加霜。由于国际社会对于这一危机依然采取了僵持态度,激进势力积聚力量,代理人暗战日益恶化。如果只是简单地让叙利亚战争顺势爆发,这将会带来诸多难以想象的负面影响。正如之前人们在“阿拉伯之春”运动中多次观察到的那样,乐观估计总是被现实击得粉碎。如果叙利亚因为派系之争而分崩离析,这会对中东乃至整个世界带来长期消极影响。

如今的事实是,我们正在看着叙利亚慢慢地变成一团纠缠不清的乱麻,被阿拉维少数派统治的逊尼多数派产生了强烈憎恨情绪,来自世界各地的激进组织极端分子人数在增加,逊尼派海湾国家和伊朗什叶派之间的代理人战争愈演愈烈。如果不对此加以控制影响,这样复杂的内战将会酿成全球恶果。

理解当今叙利亚混乱局势和其潜在危险的关键在于回溯到第二次海湾战争、伊朗战争和伊斯兰逊尼派与什叶派之间的长期纷争。逊尼派与什叶派是伊斯兰教派中主要的两支:从世界范围来看,逊尼派人数占多数,为全球穆斯林人口75%,什叶派占10%到20%。什叶派相信先知穆罕默德指派了自己的堂弟阿里为伊斯兰领袖。逊尼派则认为真正应该追随的是在先知逝世后获得领袖地位的穆罕默德岳父艾布·伯克尔。两派对于领袖的分裂看法自此成为全世界穆斯林信徒间最重要的派别之争。

伊拉克战争使得伊拉克变成了公开的什叶派国家,一个由什叶派占据主导的国家。萨达姆政权的倒台,意味着将国家领导权交给与伊朗关系亲密的什叶派。什叶派在伊拉克掌权也意味着什叶派(或者对于什叶派友好的领袖,比如阿萨德的阿拉维教派)如今掌控着中东的伊朗、伊拉克、叙利亚和黎巴嫩。

在“阿拉伯之春”中,这一动态在海湾国家愈发显现。在北非和埃及,权力从非宗教专制政权过渡到伊斯兰教徒手中;在海湾国家,什叶派愤怒地揭竿而起,对抗掌权的逊尼派。在沙特阿拉伯东部,什叶派开始抗议;在由逊尼派王室控制人数占国内多数的什叶派的巴林,反抗浪潮一波未平一波又起。也门也同样面临着各种危机,但目前看来,还未正面受到占据约40%人口的什叶派的公开起义威胁。

对逊尼派领导人来说,前景堪称相当险恶。约旦国王阿卜杜拉二世在提出“什叶派新月带”威胁的时候详尽地表达了他的担忧。我们在叙利亚战场上越来越多地看到,海湾地区(主要是沙特和卡塔尔)的资金和特种部队训练支持着逊尼派反对者与阿萨德政权斗争。伊朗也并没有闲着。除了利用它的代理人和全球情报服务来攻击以色列之外,伊朗也在继续为阿萨德政权提供支持。

除了这些之外,我们还能看到来自世界各地的激进组织分子越来越多地出现在叙利亚。过去这周,一位年轻的德国医学院学生在阿勒颇被杀,一对外国记者也在叙利亚被挟持为人质,据说挟持者分别来自车臣、巴基斯坦、沙特和英格兰。值得我们注意的是,在美国入侵伊拉克期间,大量曾经帮助战士进入伊拉克的激进组织经叙利亚而来。部分组织由此将注意力放回了本土,也有消息说伊拉克的“基地组织”正在重返叙利亚。与此同时,伊拉克“基地组织”也在发起一系列具有高度组织性的攻击,证明他们有能力继续在伊拉克造成更多伤亡和毁灭。这些激进组织是逊尼派,尽管外部支持者会尽其可能不直接为他们提供资金援助,但在这样复杂的内战中,要将他们与逊尼派自由叙利亚军分开,还是有相当难度。在这两派中间还有那些普通的叙利亚人,他们发现自己被卷入了一场日益残酷的内战之中,战争已经几乎延续了一年半,看不到任何停止的迹象。

这一切都已经发生,而世界却还在一旁争执着是否要制裁叙利亚。西方国家暗示他们将寻找某种途径来支援这个国家中可靠的代理人,这是一条危险道路,历史上不乏不良后果。如今是需要一个负责的领袖站出来解决问题的时候。

(李鸣燕 译)录入编辑:张珺

 

Syria is about much more than Syria

The defection of Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab to the rebel side is the latest in a growing number of losses that the Assad regime has suffered in the past few months. As the international community remains deadlocked in what to do about the ongoing crisis, radical forces gather strength and a proxy war being played out by others continues to get worse. Simply letting the war in Syria play itself naturally out is something with repercussions that will be hard to judge. As has been shown repeatedly before in the Arab Spring, optimistic expectations are often shattered by reality. Letting Syria tear itself apart in a sectarian struggle is something that will have longer-term repercussions across the Middle East and the world.

China’s current approach to the Syrian crisis is to take shade under its famous rubric of ‘non-interference.’ In a particularly angry statement after the latest western instigated round of discussions to bring UN condemnation against the Assad regime, Long Zhou, a counselor in the Foreign Ministry, stated ‘we are opposed to intervention in domestic affairs, imposition of regime change and support for military interference.’ Furthermore, ‘the countries with such acts and remarks should rethink what role they have played and who indeed has been the obstacle in resolving the Syrian crisis.’

Such strong words may illustrate Chinese anger at being repeatedly blamed for holding up any action on Syria, but they do not particularly offer a path forwards to try to resolve the current crisis. Nor do they take account of the reality already being played out on the ground. The reality is that we are slowly watching Syria become an ever more tangled mess of sectarian fighting between a Sunni majority who always resented being ruled by the minority Alawite community, the growing presence of jihadist extremists from around the world, and a growing proxy war between the Sunni Gulf states and Shia Iran. Just the sort of complicated civil war that ends up having global repercussions if it is allowed to fester indefinitely.

The key to understanding the current Syrian chaos and its potential danger going forwards goes right back to the second Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq and the long-standing Sunni-Shia divide in Islam. Sunni and Shia are the two main branches of Islam: Sunni are the global majority (around 75% of the global Muslim population – including China’s Muslim minorities), while Shia are a minority (around 10-20%) who differentiate themselves from Sunni’s believing that on his death the prophet Mohammed designated his cousin Ali as the leader of Islam. Sunni’s in contrast believe Abu Bakr, Mohammed’s father-in-law, was the correct follower who took the reins of power as the head of Islam after the prophet’s death. This early split in leadership has been the foundation of most major divisions in the Muslim world since.

Whilst the invasion of Iraq was positive in that it deposed one of the world’s cruelest dictators, it had the additional effect of turning Iraq into an openly Shia nation. A Shia majority country, it was always clear that the introduction of democracy to Iraq would turn the country’s leadership over to a Shia leadership with a close affinity to Iran. And the introduction of a Shia regime in Iraq meant that Shia leaders (or Shia friendly leaders like the Alawite Assad’s) now ruled a swathe of the Middle East from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

And as the Arab Spring gathered pace this dynamic was further exacerbated in the Gulf countries. While in North Africa and Egypt, power was passed from secular authoritarian regimes to political Islamists, in the Gulf countries, mostly angry and oppressed Shia minorities or in some cases, majorities, started to rise up against the deeply Sunni kings that ruled the kingdoms. In eastern Saudi Arabia, Shia protests started to take place, and in Bahrain, where a Shia majority is ruled by a Sunni king, repeated protests have taken place led mostly by Shia’s. Yemen has faced all manner of chaos, but thus far it seems to have been saved much of an open uprising by its 40% or more Shia minority.

For Sunni leaders, this is a menacing prospect. Jordanian King Abdulla II enunciated these concerns when he spoke of the danger of a ‘Shiite crescent’ across the Middle East. And there has been pushback, something we are increasingly seeing on the ground in Syria where stories of Gulf (primarily Saudi and Qatari) funding and Special Forces training supporting the mostly Sunni rebels fighting the Assad regime. Iran has not been idle. In addition to using its proxies and intelligence services globally to attack Israeli targets (and apparently plotting to kill the Saudi Ambassador to Washington), it has continued to provide support for the Assad regime. The two sides are supporting different factions in the civil war.

Beyond these networks, we have also seen growing numbers of jihadists from around the world showing up in Syria. This past week a young German medical student was killed fighting in Aleppo, while a pair of foreign journalists who were held captive in Syria reported being held by a group of fanatics that included Chechens, Pakistanis, Saudis and Britons. It is worth remembering that many of the jihadist networks that were helping fighters get into Iraq during the peak of the American invasion flowed through Syria. Some of these networks have now started to turn their eyes back home, and there are stories of al Qaeda in Iraq forces re-directing into Syria. At the same time al Qaeda in Iraq is proving itself increasingly able to sow death and destruction in Iraq itself – launching a series of highly coordinated attacks in the past weeks. These jihadist networks are Sunni, and while it is likely that outside supporters are doing their best to not provide funding directly to them, it may be hard to separate such groups out from the Sunni Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the chaos of a civil war. Caught in the middle of the misery are average Syrians who now find themselves in the midst of an increasingly brutal civil war that has stretched on for almost a year and a half with no prospects of conclusion in sight.

All of this is already happening. And while it does, the world is sitting by arguing about condemnation of a regime that has proven itself willing to kill its own people. The west has now started to hint that it might try to find ways of providing support for approved proxies in the country, a dangerous path that has led to problems in the past, but equally, sitting on the side letting things play themselves out is only going to let the current scenario get worse and become more bitter. The world is watching as the Middle Eastern cauldron stirs itself up, and it is only a matter of time before it spills over the side. The time has come for some responsible leadership to step forwards and find a way through the current impasse. Simply letting things play themselves out may take a long time and in period tensions will be stoked that will take decades to play themselves out with uncertain outcomes for everyone.

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Comments
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