A look into the published writings of Ahmed Mouaz al-Khatib who has emerged as the President of the newly formed ‘Syrian National Coalition of Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition,’ indicates the western powers might not have got quite what they were hoping for in setting up the new body.
As far as the western media are concerned, the main object of the new body formed in Doha was to put in place a structure which would allow for more open arming of the Syrian insurgency and the possible imposition of a no-fly zone in order to assist in the ‘overthrow of Assad’ (perhaps more honestly described as the destruction of the Syrian state).
The violent insurgency has become deeply unpopular with many Syrians as it appears to entail terrorism, car-bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and the destruction of Syria’s towns and cities. Uncontrolled militias of young men (using child soldiers), apparently addicted to violence and destruction seem hell-bent on killing everyone they perceive as an enemy – including prisoners and unarmed civilians (always called ‘shabbiha’).
There is no doubt that for the majority of the Syrian people sectarian violence and destruction is far from welcome and many supporters of the initial protests now feel safer supporting the secular regime and the Syrian Arab Army than the terrorist gangs which largely make up the Free Syrian Army.
It is against this background that al-Khatib, a charismatic former Iman of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus with supposedly anti-sectarian views, has emerged as president of the new opposition body. Although it is difficult to be optimistic about Syria’s future, and in the age of Obama and Clinton we are used to seeing a gulf between rhetoric and action as wide as the North Atlantic, examination of al-Khatib’s writings suggests his leadership may provide an opportunity for a negotiated and relatively non-violent end to the conflict and reconciliation between Syrians of different viewpoints.
Born in Damascus in 1960, al-Khatib is President of the Islamic Civilisation Society and a member of the Board of Trustees of Sheikh Badr al-Din al-Hassani Institute for Islamic Studies. He graduated from the Department of Applied Geophysics at Damascus University, and holds a Diploma in political science and international relations and a Diploma in the art of negotiation. Here is a video which was put together whilst he was recently held in detention:
Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful…
Back in April 2011 al-Khatib spoke to demonstrators in Douma in Damascus saying:
We call for freedom for every person. For every Sunni, Alawite, Esmailis and Christian, whether Arab or a member of the great Kurdish nation
Freedom is a birthright. No one can grant it. Not the state, nor the ruler. The great people went out in the streets to take their rights without carrying a gun,
They called, and we call with them: peaceful, peaceful, peaceful.
Al Khatib on the religious basis for opposing sectarianism
Al-Khatib has written a paper on the religious basis of opposing sectarianism – a paper which will be anathema to Islamophobes and Al Qaeda-type extremists. Here is an excerpt in which he quotes the Holy Quran:
Diversity is one of the signs of God as stated in the Holy Quran: And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Verily, in that are indeed signs of men of sound knowledge.
And he quotes another Quranic verse:
And if your Lord had so willed, He could surely have made mankind one nation
And he states:
In this earthly world we must do righteous good deeds and we should have mercy on one another and we should invite other people to do good deeds also but only by wisdom and fair preaching. Allah Says that there is no compulsion in religion and that He will judge between people in the day of Resurrection about that wherein they have been differing.
Al-Khatib outlines the long and nefarious history of colonial powers in inciting sectarian hatred in Syria and then states:
Appearances may differ but the core is similar, and whether that core is French, British, Russian or American, the ultimate goal is the same; intervention, domination and supremacy and all in the name of human rights.
The facts have proven beyond any doubt that the claws of international politics are tainted and that the world’s super powers are seeking, through the distribution of roles in the open and behind closed doors, to undermine the legitimate interests of the peoples of the world and trade in them by inciting sectarian sentiments, and the examples are plenty: from Syria and the Middle East, to Sudan and Rwanda, to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In his paper Al-Khatib also explores the history of what he calls “Islamic compassion” in Syria. He is an admirer of Badr Eddine Al-Hasani who:
succeeded in bringing all people together; old and young, educated and illiterates, emirs and commons.
He made the flags of love, mutual trust, respect of all religions and veneration of human beings fly high in the sky.
Nations are built on the pillars of unity, sacrifice, love and peace between individuals and Sheikh Al-Hasani deserves much of the credit for building our beloved Syria, the country that all Syrians are ready to die for.
Al Khatib on Israel and Zionism:
Al Khatib draws a clear distinction between what he calls ‘Zionism as a cancerous movement’ and ‘the Jews as the followers of a religion greatly respected in Islam.’ – however (Update 14/11 thanks to As’ad AbuKhalil), in his Arabic writings, he does list among Saddam Hussein’s virtues that he ‘built a gigantic army and frightened the Jews.’
Al Khatib on Iran:
Al Khatib’s words on Iran and nuclear weapons might not dovetail too closely with those of Secretary of State Clinton and are particularly worthy of quoting at length:
We should identify our own shortcomings and weaknesses that allowed Western powers to inject sectarian hatred in our societies in order to know why the talk about taking military action against Iran has become very normal.
The bitterness in the hearts of Sunnis caused by the alleged Iranian-sponsored Shiite invasion of the Arab World is not a sufficient reason to be silent in the face of a possible military strike on Iran. If we suppose that we have 50% doctrinal differences and 20% juristical differences with Iran, we all know that we have 90% doctrinal differences with the wicked West.
Iran’s possession of nuclear capabilities poses no threat to any Sunni but it will be a formidable deterrent to the evil powers that are rushing madly upon the Muslim World.
The aggression against Iran is an upsurge of Western domination to snap at the riches of this region and deepen the cultural and social invasion of our Muslim World. In all honesty, it is genuinely logical and Islamic to refuse any action against Iran and to consider such action an aggression against the whole Muslim World.
Our refusal to take military action against Iran is a rejection of aggression itself as a mean to implement hidden agendas.
However, there is another dangerous issue that we probably overlooked, which is the fact that nuclear arms are indeed a curse against humanity.
We should give this critical moment in our history the importance it deserves and refuse any type of aggression against any Muslim country and even against any tyrannized country in the world.
Israel for example has more than 100 nuclear warheads but it cannot use them, despite its aggressive nature, when the opposing weapon is a stone in the hand of a child. The Zionist state can only deter Arab regimes and cannot deter people, and the soldiers it will eventually face are people not regimes.
Al-Khatib on militarism
Al-Khatib’s views on militarism might not dovetail too closely with those of British Prime Minister David Cameron who has recently been on an arms dealing trip to the Gulf nations:
Our contemporary history recalls the enormous resources and human lives consumed by war and the terror, friction and destruction caused and this teaches us that stockpiling weapons is one of the most hateful sins.
The more the Muslim nation spends on weapons the more it will sink in benightedness and ignore education, health, knowledge, research, development and psychosocial stability of their people, and the underdeveloped Arab countries are a living example of such fate.
Al-Khatib on the current conflict in Syria
On 8 October 2012, Ahmad Moaz Al Khatib gave a speech during a seminar on the “Islamists and the Arab Revolutions” in Doha outlining his views in the current conflict in Syria. He holds that the Syrian Islamist movement is not fundamentalist despite ‘continuous attempts by some Islamic forces … backed by financial support, to dominate the scene.’
He complains of a ‘lack of awareness by many Islamic powers that Syria has become an arena for conflicts and settling international disputes, and thus the decision has almost slipped from the hands of both the regime and the Syrian revolutionary movement.’
It has become quite clear that it is planned for Syria to come out of its crisis with a devastated infrastructure, exhausted social forces, distorted Islamic image and incapacitated powers, which plays in favour of a known regional force [Israel]. Both sides of the crisis fall into the trap; the biggest trap the opposition has fallen into was militarising the revolution, while the biggest mistake the (Syrian) regime has committed was using excessive brutal violence against one of the world’s most civilised people.
On the nature of the Syrian revolutionary movement al-Khatib is hopeful:
Despite all the attempts to divert the events into a sectarian scene, the situation has yet been resilient to be dragged into sectarianism. The crisis is indeed between an authoritarian regime and people longing for freedom.
Al-Khatib on negotiations with the regime
We still look for a political solution to save the country more destruction. The dialogue time has expired due to the regime’s procrastination to open its doors to buy itself some time. However, negotiation is a logical, Islamic and political option which should not be overlooked.
Negotiation is not surrendering to the cruelty but it is choosing the lesser of two evils.
Negotiation is not a rescue to the regime but it is negotiation on its departure with least harm to the country that we love, under international guarantees shared by regional and international sides without patronage. I reiterate here that we do not want nor do we accept destruction or killings.
There are some who want the Syrians to exterminate each other so that they may intervene and force their predominance and patronage.
According to the BBC, shortly before he was elected head of the National Coalition, Mr Khatib’s tome changed quite fundamentally as he circulated an open letter in which he argued that the actions of rebel fighters, some of whom have been accused of atrocities, should not be equated with those of the security forces under President Assad and his father.
“We are required to act peacefully and justly. But… we cannot employ Platonic idealism to judge those who risk their lives against a barbaric campaign,” he warned.
In his first remarks as head of the new organization, al-Khatib said Syrians need humanitarian aid and to stop the bloodshed.
Ironically the previous opposition body – the Syrian National Council which Clinton disavowed – has a new leader in George Sabra who went further in calling for the international community to arm the rebels saying:
We need arms. We need arms. We need arms.
It is earnestly to be hoped that Ahmed Mouaz al-Khatib will truly help achieve a political settlement in Syria and the side-lining of violence and sectarianism, in line with his professed views, rather than serving as a figure-head, legitimising the intensification of violence and foreign intervention.
Update – According to AFP 12/11/2012:
“We signed a 12-point agreement to establish a coalition,” said leading dissident Riad Seif, who drew up the US-backed reform proposals on which Sunday’s agreement was based. In a copy of the document obtained by AFP, the parties “agree to work for the fall of the regime and of all its symbols and pillars,” and rule out any dialogue with the regime….
They agreed to unify the fighting forces under a supreme military council and to set up a national judicial commission for rebel-held areas….A provisional government would be formed after the coalition gains international recognition, and a transitional government formed after the regime has fallen.
SNC member Mahmoud al-Hamza has confirmed that the coalition agreement signed by al-Khatib stipulates that a peaceful settlement will not be pursued. This represents an unacceptable abrogation of the Geneva Communique of the Action Group (as well as a betrayal of al-Khatib’s previously expressed principles).
The primary task should be, as stipulated in the Action Plan, to ensure a cessation of violence in all its forms and to work for a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. That the formation of the National Coalition ‘rules out any talks with Mr. Assad and stipulates that his regime must be toppled’ is a victory for the war party and spells disaster for Syria and the region.