For as long as I remember, I lived in environments where a religion, a sect, a race, a color of skin, or a background mattered very little. Whether in Syria or Lebanon in the early seventies,Â it was always about the actions of people rather than their identity. In Lebanon where my family prospered living amongst the ChristianÂ MaroniteÂ community, attending Christian schools, and having friends from the Shia, Druze, and Christian faiths was an inspiring experience. One thatÂ solidifiesÂ your beliefs in humanity rather than the aspirations of one ideology or another, one religion or the next.
As the Syrian civil war unfolds, and the ugly face of sectarian violence turns quickly to ethnic cleansing, it’s hard not to question the origin of all of this. Lebanon has and will always be an example by which people from all beliefs co-existed. Syria is the mirror of Lebanon on a larger scale with demographics skewed in favor of the Muslim Sunni majority. This majority has been oppressed for 42 years by the Alawite minority. I know a little bit Â how minorities, like the Jews, feel as they face persecution and oppression of their own all over the world and I also know how the Kurds, the Ahwazis, the Shia in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the Alevis in Turkey, and the Berbers in Algeria feel. That regardless of the size of your community and irrespective of status, one group of people or a political system oppressing another is at the heart of why wars erupt in the first place, why countries split apart, and why one people determination not to see history repeat itself becomes the highest priority amongst them.
Today, Sunnis are the minorities in Syria, not the Alawites. Sunnis are being oppressed as if they were the minorities in other places. Now, consider the consequences of this statement within the notion that Sunnis are really a majority but are being treated and oppressed like a minority. How explosive this could be. When the minority Christian community in Iraq faced persecution, outright terror, and oppression in the pro-Iran, pro-Assad government of Iraq, it emigrated to other countries. Sunnis will not immigrate, they will fight back. For as long as it takes, no matter how many are killed. Unfortunately, Sunni life is cheap if fighting a Sunni cause but very expensive if fallen at the hands of non-Sunnis.
The fact Sunnis, across the Muslim world, are the clear majority and the fact that Sunnism has resisted reforms to choke off delinquent perceptions, inflexible Koranic interpretations, and deeply rooted biases against other Muslims and non-Muslims is helping fuel the lack of empathy for Syrian Sunnis. Taking into account this reality has to drive our motors towards reforms. Sunnis must never oppress others; let Syria and what the Alawites have done to Sunnis be our lesson.
I never think of myself as a Sunni; only as a Syrian with no choice who my parents were and born to a Sunni identity. But watching ethnic cleansing changes your perspective. Imagine then what is happening in Syria to men and women of less education who are witnessing the horrors of Assad first-hand. No one, on this side of the Atlantic or in Europe, should be concerned about Sunnis fighting back. If I, who never thought of religion, suddenly feels my religion because Assad is ethnically cleansing people who carry my identity, then we must conclude two things; Sunnis will fight back and the region is really in trouble. And since Arab and Muslim Sunnis are the clear majority, re-shuffling this deck of card must not split Syria. Sometimes, a one headed-monster splitting produces a multi-headed monsters, not a weaker one.