Yalla Peace: Syrian regime has to go

Not even the Palestinian cause is enough to justify looking the other way with regard to Syria.

Syrian flag  311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Syrian flag 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Since the pro-democracy protests in Syria began on January 26, 2011, the Syrian government has been accused of massacring more than 3,000 civilians. Activists in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and even in Western nations have been targeted, some even kidnapped by the Syrian government.
While the fanatics are willing to close their eyes to this oppression, I cannot. Too many innocent people have been killed. Not even the Palestinian cause is enough to justify looking the other way. The Palestinian cause should not be advanced through supporting oppression.
When pro-democracy protesters started their campaign in Syria, many Arabs, myself among them, felt conflicted at first. After all, Syria has always spoken out forcefully in defense of the rights of Palestinians, and of its Christian minority.
Although Christian communities still exist in other Arab countries, they are protected and defended more aggressively in Syria than in places such as Jordan and Egypt, where Islamic extremism continues to grow.
ON THE other hand, Syria is plagued by a dark side. The mukhabarat (secret police) operate without restrictions. People just disappear in Syria. If you criticize the Syrian government, you might easily be jailed. If you criticize Hamas, which has been given safe haven in Syria for years, you could end up in jail, too.
Also, over the years, Syria has overplayed its hand in the region. It has done as much damage to Lebanon as the Israelis did in the 1980s.
Syria has always viewed Lebanon the same way Saddam Hussein’s Iraq viewed Kuwait – as a piece of their land that was taken away by the Allies after World War I.
Maybe that’s why Syria has always gone the extra mile to protect Christians in their country – to strengthen its argument that Lebanon should be “returned” to Syria.
One of the first signs of the dichotomy among American Arabs came in June when the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) was accused of censoring Syrian pianist Malke Jandali, who reportedly was to play a song supportive of the pro-democracy protesters.
I’ve been a member of ADC, which battles anti-Arab bigotry, since it was founded in 1980.
In 2010-11 I served as an ADC national board member. I didn’t like the way the Jandali issue was handled and I recognized that ADC was coming under the influence of the fanatics.
I wasn’t involved in the decision, but extremists were quick to use the controversy to attack moderates in the Arab community, accusing me and others of supporting the Assad regime.
Truth rarely matters as much as emotion in American Arab activism.
Although the fanatics were happy to use the ADC controversy to attack me, implying they supported Jandali and opposed the Syrian dictatorship, the truth is their focus had nothing to do with Syrian pro-democracy protests. As it turns out, it is they who support Syria’s dictatorship.
Why? Because Syria has served as the headquarters of Hamas, a religious terrorist organization bent on destroying both Israel and the secular Palestinian leadership.
Since then, more and more American Arab fanatics have come to the defense of the Syrian dictatorship. It’s troubling that these loudmouthed extremists, who scream about the injustices committed by Israel’s government against Palestinian civilians – and those injustices are serious and ongoing - can turn around in a blink of the eye and support Syrian oppression.
They close their eyes to Syrian abuses because in their eyes, Syria is pivotal in the political battle against Israel. I say political battle because the Syrian military is so pathetically incompetent and corrupt it couldn’t fight its way out of a paper bag. Against other militaries, that is.
Against unarmed civilians, it really shines.
In protecting Hamas, Syria also maintains close ties with the little megalomaniac in Tehran, Iran’s “president” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, another vicious tyrant who exploits Palestinian suffering for his own interests while oppressing his own people.
Palestinian rights are based on the principles of justice and the rule of law, not on the oppression and empty rhetoric of dictators like the one in Damascus. Syria is an oppressive regime. Whether it is or isn’t a worse evil than Israel is irrelevant.
If Bashar Assad really cared about Palestinian democracy and Palestinian rights, he would step down and embrace Syrian democracy and freedom first.
Watching Egypt’s velvet-hammer dictator Hosni Mubarak fall, and the murder of Libya’s tyrant Muammar Gaddafi, all in the wake of the Arab Spring, clearly Bashar Assad’s days are numbered.
The writer is an award winning Palestinian American columnist.