Syria intervention and the Muslim conundrum

The Syrian conflict has been taking place for over two years, and with no real sign of it ending Muslims are faced with a conundrum, writes Dr Ilyas Mohammed.

It’s an open secret that regional and international powers are having significant influence over what has happened, what is happening and what will happen in the future of Syria. It’s also clear that the conflict has three levels – sectarian, regional dominance and global dominance through an “East versus West” binary.

Until the world’s media reported that a chemical attack had taken place in Damascus, the conflict did not include possible direct Western intervention. The blame of the attack was placed at the feet of the Syrian regime, and although the regime has denied responsibility the drums of Western intervention have started to beat in the capitals of regional and international powers. It seems that this latest escalation of violence has greatly moved the international community and led to considerable pressure on regional and international powers, as well as the UN to take some form of action on moral grounds.

The possibility of Western intervention is yet another Muslim country’s emotional and political conundrum. Some Syrians (living in the refugee camps and outside Syria) want military action but others and most Muslims staunchly oppose it. This poses an important ethical question for Muslims – are the Syrian refugees and the diaspora correct in calling for intervention, or are non-Syrians and European Muslims right in their non-intervention stance?

Politics and morality  

Morality or morals are complicated and depend on one’s philosophy, religion, culture and politics. Politicians and international powers often present “morality” as being universal, suggesting that everyone agrees upon its meaning and use. However, morality like other concepts has a complex meaning and its use is dependent upon a number of factors. In the arena of geopolitics, political and economic interests determine the use of morality, regardless of extreme human suffering.

There are many examples of this, including Palestine and Israel, Bahrain and Congo. But the 1994 Rwandan genocide stands out because no international institution or power – even the former colonising powers – were willing to intervene. This has left a dark and deep scar on the collective psyche of the international community, including the UN. Until today the question of why there was no intervention to prevent the genocide has not been answered.

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Like other conflicts, the interventionist and non-interventionist positions in Syria are directed by “in-group” and “out-group” understanding of morality, which is conditioned by love for people one can identify with and hate for those that one considers to have brought suffering to one’s religious, ethnic and national group.

In Syria, this dichotomy is further fuelled by sectarianism among Muslims and the struggle over geopolitical interests between regional and international powers. These interests have overshadowed the suffering of Syrians and undermined any notion of morality that regards humanity as scared and worth preserving. It seems that humanity itself has lost its way and strayed away from its Creator.

British Muslim conundrum

Among Muslims in the UK there seems to be a lot of confusion over what to do about the Syrian conflict. It is understandable why Muslims fear Western intervention. One only needs to look at Iraq and Libya to understand their anxiety. But there are others who do want intervention because they feel that it is the only way to end the suffering. However, these are not the only views that Muslims hold but they seem to be the most visible on the mainstream media and social media platforms.

Nevertheless, Muslims seem to be trapped between being witnesses to the suffering of their brethren and the possible consequences of Western military intervention. This inability to move beyond the two positions leaves the option of a long protracted conflict and raises the question of where the Syrian refugees should be resettled.

Regardless of the causes, interests and solutions to the conflict, what is more important is ending the suffering and the conflict. It seems that Muslims in this regard only have two feasible options:

– Intervention by bombing Syria

– Let the conflict continue and play out

The question that Muslims need to be asking themselves is which of the two options will result in the least suffering and end the conflict? Whichever option Muslims decide to opt for, they must be prepared to help the Syrian refugees in a holistic way and on a long-term basis. At present we are seeing Syrians fleeing the conflict and either ending up in camps in bordering countries or seeking refuge in Europe. This begs two questions – why are the rich Gulf Arab states not taking in any refugees and what does this say about their understanding of “Muslimness”. After all they are bankrolling the conflict that has produced the refugees.

European Muslims, especially British Muslims in recent history have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Muslims that have endured suffering. They have organised events to raise money and donated from personal savings. But with the increasing number of Muslim refugees and camps, not only Syrian, there is also an urgent need of Muslim teachers, medical doctors, nurses, and psychiatrists to volunteer and help their brethren. It is of utmost importance that the long-term health and welfare of Muslim refugees is catered for because the impact of trauma can affect many generations.

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