Genocide in Arabia
Well, you don’t have to wonder any more. Just look at Syria. Or look at what may be starting to happen, again, in Iraq.
In all the evil that lurks in us, there is little uglier than oppressing and slaughtering a weak internal minority. That’s what we Yanks once did with our native Americans but have long ago stopped doing. That’s what the Nazis did with Germany’s Jews, who were just as “German,” linguistically and culturally, as anyone else.
The Holocaust was a near-genocide of an oppressed minority (actually, several of them). The Allied victory in World War II stopped it before its completion. It was the primary reason for the Nuremburg trials: the world had to expose hidden crimes so beastly that some don’t even believe them today, notwithstanding a full “confession” from a horrified modern Germany.
But as horrible as oppressing and slaughtering a minority can be, there is one thing still worse: a minority using modern technology to oppress and slaughter the majority.
That’s what was happening in South Africa before Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. Wise policy and inspired leadership (albeit at the last possible minute) prevented it from continuing, let alone reaching its natural conclusion.
But there’s no similar wisdom in Syria or in Iraq today. And so we have a tiny Syrian Alawite minority systematically slaughtering the majority in a self-evidently futile attempt to maintain its brutal rule. And so we have a resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, seeking vainly to restore minority Sunni rule by re-igniting the sectarian civil war of 2006-2008, which American troops had arrested at a vast cost in lives and treasure.
The difference is not just a deficit of internal wisdom. External wisdom has failed, too. South Africa and its apartheid regime had borne well-coordinated external sanctions for decades before Mandela’s release from prison. Not so Syria or Iraq. The world stood idly by, hardly noticing the base ethnic and sectarian oppression, until Saddam took Kuwait’s oil fields in 1991, and until Assad began to push for sectarian genocide in earnest. We Yanks even let Saddam slaughter Iraq’s Shiite “Marsh Arabs” after our stunning victory in Gulf I.
Why the difference? Two factors stand out. First, it’s harder to see oppression and genocide based on religious sect or on ethnicity than on race. That’s partly why we let the Rwandan genocide happen. Second, oil—and the desire for political stability at any cost to extract it—clouded the West’s judgment.
How else can you explain France and Italy leading the charge to unseat Qaddafi while watching a sectarian genocide begin in Syria with apparent equanimity? How else can you explain our Yankee reluctance to provide more than communications gear to a struggling majority that, were it Christian and not Islamic, would have touched our hearts as much as did suffering blacks in South Africa?
There are other reasons for the difference, too. Israel has made a Faustian bargain with Assad, buying temporary stability at the cost of support for terrorism on its borders and vast human suffering inside Syria and Palestine.
Many Yankee Jews support Netanyahu’s self-evidently counterproductive policies as a necessary holding action in a losing war. They lack the imagination to conceive what might happen to Islam and to terrorism when ordinary Muslims can live, love and prosper as free men and women, just as Christians and Jews do nearly everywhere today.
They live in the past, re-enacting a bygone age of endless Biblical “smiting,” or re-imagining the Crusades. Many forget that it was Queen Isabella, not the Islamic Moors, who banished Jews from Spain.
Next there is Russia. No one wants to upset the West’s complicated relationship with Russia at a time when its cooperation in suppressing terrorism and supporting our war in Afghanistan is unprecedented [search for “paranoid”]. A renewal of the Cold War would do no one any good.
Last but not least, there’s a presidential election coming up. Have you noticed?
But it seems to me that the real source of the problem is a failure of humanity and imagination. Imagine the non-Alawite Muslims in Syria as majority blacks in South Africa or oppressed Jews or Gypsies in the Nazi Empire, and the world would leap to their defense.
That is precisely what the West should now do.
What good are the ideals of the Western Enlightenment if they apply only to Christians? Are we erecting barriers to global peace and stability that we have already struck down inside our own borders, with universal free exercise of religion, including Islam? Is our reluctance to aid the Syrian rebels—and our willingness to stand by and watch sectarian genocide—the last vestige of our own savage tribalism?
It should be obvious to all but Assad and his cronies that his acts and policies are unsustainable. The course he has chosen will result in his removal or death. The only questions are how long and how much bloodshed it will take.
So we can arm the rebels, lessen their suffering, curtail the sectarian genocide, and earn a bit of much-needed trust in the Islamic world. Or we can play the cautious bumbler and end up on the wrong side of history. Good intentions are not enough while the genocide rolls on.
I have no great love for John McCain, not after he squandered his Vietnam-era heroism on one of the filthiest, most racist campaigns after our own Civil War. But he’s right on this one. We should support and help arm the rebels, clandestinely (through Turkey) if we must, openly if we can.
I hope that we are doing so now, and that our help (like lend-lease before our entry into World War II) is secret. When America and France stop supporting liberty and fighting genocide, the world will be a much, much darker place.