The Syrian-Turkish conflict

The Syrian-Turkish conflict
from the perspective of the Islamic-Arab Civilization

The Old World was colored by religious beliefs and national allegiances then came the age of modernity accompanying the industrial revolution. The capitalist system, expanded to the extend that it looked as if its social class system, was going to dominate the whole world. However, from the womb of capitalism sprang the communist manifesto, which declared that the working class, the product of capitalism is actually the proletariat, which has no allegiance to religion or nationality. Its devotion is to the exploited working class and its inevitable role to rise against the capitalist system and establish the new communist system on an international scale.

The two systems, took two divergent and hostile ideological positions and fought the cold war, which has formally ended in 1991 to leave the world, free of ideological conflicts but characterized by emergence of civilization and cultural conflict, and looked as if the world has gone to a pre-modernity era.

Culture is values, creed, norms and traditions of societies. If a culture possesses the written word and arithmetic and has bypassed its locality to a wider domain it becomes a civilization. Our contemporary world, has ten thousands cultures and eight lively civilizations.

The relationship of consensus and discord between those civilizations and cultures, came to have more influence in international relations, to the extend that many intellectuals and writers like “Samuel Hintigton”, considered that present day international relations would be a relation between cultures and civilizations.

The Arab nation is an entity that incarnates in a unique way a relationship between Arabism and Islam. This unique relationship is clear in the text of the revelation and at the beginning of the Islamic era. However, the Omayad  reign celebrated the Arab identity more, and adopted a brand of Arabism to the extent of contradicting the globalty  of Islam. By adopting such extreme type of Arabism, the Omayads created a degree of antipathy with other nationalities. I call such pattern of Arabism the Omayad approach and consider it different from the dynamic concept of Arab nationalism.

The correct perception of Arabism, is based on the fact that Ismail PBUH (the son of the none Arab Abraham PBUH, and his non Arab mother Hajir) is the father for all the Arabised Arabs. It is the perception that made the saying of the prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him, prevailing, “The Arabic language is neither your mother nor father, whoever spoke Arabic, is an Arab.”

The Omayad concept of Arabism is narrow, while the other concept is all embracing. The Arab nation borders other nationalities, i.e. the Persian, the Turkish, The Hindu, the European and the African nationality.

The Omayad concept of Arab nationalism could create a contradiction between Arabism and Islam on one side and between Arabism and other nationalities on the other, as had happened historically between Omayad Arabism and non-Arab nationalities.

However, there is an idealist understanding of Islam, that considers that all the needs of man in guidance and knowledge have been brought by revelation and that mankind needs only to understand it well and submit. It is the understanding that abolishes the national and cultural reality of Man, so that he or she can only belong to the religions creed. It is an understanding that considers national allegiance a relic of the pre-Islamic past.

Parallel to this idealistic concept of Islam, there is a humane concept that considers the following:

  • Islam is the last part in the series of the Abrahimic unified religions with the most significant facts of the revelations.
  • The human reason is the recipient of the facts of revelations and its endeavor is necessary to interpret and be guided by them.
  • Human achievement has its positive role for man to utilize in the process of his development.

The idealistic understanding of Islam, is one that motivated by zeal and is lacking in consciousness. Historically the rebels (Khawarej) have rallied to this concept.

In modern times, the Muslim minority of the Indian Sub-continent felt extremely endangered in the surrounding of Hindu majority. The feeling of danger or threat produced the Moudodi School characterized by its zealousness, idealistic concept of Islam.

In Egypt of the twenties, as in many Muslim countries, prevailed a tremendous admiration to the achievements of European civilization; many Muslims were very concerned about the destiny of Islam after the abolishment of the Caliphate.

These concerns and fears, have produced a sect of Islamic revival movements, chief among them is the Muslim Brotherhood Movement (MBM). The MBM has played its role in promoting Islam in modern times especially in the face of the communist expansion and hegemony. The MBM was also involved in a radical struggle with other intellectual and political movements, especially the Nasserite movement. It is at the hands of Nasserism that the MBM has met its biggest predicament, and this has led the MBM to develop and adapt a counter radical thought drafted by the Islamic intellectual Sayed Qotb.

Ottoman Turkey experienced big failures. These failures were exploited by Mustafa Kamal Attatork in his radical movement to sweep the past away and join Europe in its good and evil.

The Shah’s policies in Iran, tried also to eradicate the past by the same Kamalist zeal (related to Moustafa Kamal), but the Iranian circumstances, different in two aspects:

  • The past has not been incorporated in the shape of an establishment like the Ottoman Caliphate to be denounced and bear the responsibility.
  • It has met a religious Shiite establishment, with a religious, reformative and national role; it was also united and effective.

One of the leaders of this Shiite establishment was able to confront the Shah’s radicalism with a counter zealotry and radical Islamic thesis formulated by Ayatollah Khomeini.

These three schools, the Moudodi, the Qotbi and the Khomeini schools are like the historical Khawarej (rebels) school, were governed by their own historical circumstances. They are schools that agree to abolish the role of man, in the interest of a theocratic understanding of Islam. They are united by their zeal, idealism and the radicalism that is intolerant of other Islamic views within the creed, they do not believe in religious co-existence or national allegiances or any allegiances outside their idealistic, zealotry Islamic conviction.

Modern Arab Baathist thought, is influenced by many factors, chief among them are three factors:

  • All modern national Arab thought has been influenced by the rejection of Ottoman claims that imposed a national Toranic domination in the name of Islam.
  • The need to find a common denomination between Arab Muslims and Arab Christians in the Middle East.
  • The echo of national European thought which links between nationalism and ethnic origin.

The Baathist concept of Arab nationalism has been influenced by these factors, and it represents the contemporary copy to the Omayad concept of Arab nationalism. It is a concept that does not allow for a positive relationship between religion and nationalism, and neither does it allow warm relationships of interaction between different nationalities.

The Baathist concept of Arabism and the Khomenist idealistic Islamic concept, are the most important factors behind the Iranian-Iraqi war (1980 – 1990). I was giving all my abilities to stop that war, I used to tell the late Ayatollah Khomeini, god bless his soul, that I consider the stoppage of this war, is a religious duty. I also told President Sadam Hussein that I consider stopping of the war, a national duty. In both cases, I was met with protest with regard to my position, as there is a contradiction between my Arab national concept, and that of the Iraqi leadership and my Islamic concept and that of the Iranian leadership. The two parties, did not respond to my call, I was realizing that they are both prisoners to a concept of religion and nationalism that is in conflict to my own concept.

That was a wasteful war, which destroyed a lot of souls -one million killed–, it has also wasted a lot of money -150 billion dollars- no strategic aim has been achieved to any party, in fact, the war ended and the situation remained the same as before it started. The war has weakened both countries, and made them to have wrong priorities and paved the way for foreign intervention. Former American president Richard Nixon in his book “Victory without war 1999” pointing to that war and its weakening impact on both parties “If one is to wish for a war, it is this war, and one hopes that neither side would achieve victory”

Our effort to stop that wasteful war has not been commendable; in fact we met blame and accusations from all sides. However, our position has been realized to be the correct one, but it was too late, we were commended for the far sight.

Today, what can be said of the Turkish-Syrian conflict and its potential to lead to war?

Arab-Turkish relations has a complex past. The first expression of modern Arab nationalism has been colored by confrontation with the Ottoman Sultan. Kamalist Turkey inherited the Turkish national position that accuses the Arabs of backstabbing Turkey by favoring and backing the allies in the First World War (1914 – 1918).

The Kamalist ideology that represents the driving force of the Turkish military establishment, has canned the following historical positions:

  • The Arab Ottoman hostility.
  • Emulating Europe, at the time of hostility between secularism and religion. It has a hostility that has been bypassed by modern Europe, as its various countries have found ways of achieving consensus between secularism and religion.

The contradiction between the Turkish ideology and the Baathist ideology prevalent in Syria causes no surprise. There are four factors that have escalated this contradiction and may bring it into another wasteful war, these factors are:

  • The Kurdish problem.
  • The water problem.
  • The Turkish identity problem.
  • The Israeli problem.

The Kurdish problem is one of the most significant geopolitical problems in the Middle East. However, it does not have the degree of importance or seriousness it deserves but is left to irresponsible opportunistic dealings. The Kurds have a deep-rooted cultural and national existence. As a people, the Kurds are scattered between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria and central Asia.

Leaving the Kurdish problem to Machiavellian attitudes, is a clear indication of regional and international weakness of responsibility.

The day will come, when the Kurdish problem is fully recognized to solve on the basis of recognizing Kurdish cultural identity and the decentralized powers that would satisfy them.

As for the Arab nation, they also have to deal with cultural and national minorities on the basis of recognition and extending to them autonomy and decentralized powers. They also have to accept non-Muslim national minorities and deal with them on the basis of tolerance and religious co-existence and by making citizenship, the source of rights and constitutional duties.

As for water problem, we have to realize that 70% of Arab water originates in non-Arab lands. We should also realize that water has become increasingly a diminishing commodity in relation to its needs.

These factors bring to surface geopolitical, economic and strategic factors related to water. They are factors that do not allow for obliterated or limited dealings. It is essential to have a serious regional and international research on the water problem in the Arab world and to deal with the problem in the valley of the two tributaries in a comprehensive manner.

The Kamalist ideology, which is dominant in some important Turkish circles especially the military establishment, represents a relic, in its way to extinction.  However, it is trying to give itself a new lease after the eclipse of its appeal by relying on the following hypothesis:

  • The assumption that extreme secularism represents the future of the world and that all identities should be dropped in favor of its progress.
  • The assumption that Turkey, is an integral part of Europe.

The first assumption has been defeated in Europe as secularism has found consensus with Christianity in all European countries. The same assumption has also been defeated in the Turkish society after seventy years of domination.

As for the second assumption, it has become clear, that Europe itself, is not keen for Turkey to become party of it, beside that significant parts of Turkish public opinion, assume that they have their own identity.

If a general election were to be held in Turkey today, it would make it clearer, and obvious that the Kamalist ideology has occupied a place in the museum of history. The Turkish military are fighting today, the battle of yesterday. The are encouraged by three factors:

  • The Baathist dealings with the Kurdish problem.
  • Israeli opportunist incitement.
  • The deferred water problem.

All are helping factors to beat the drums of the war of the past.

If a Turkish-Syrian war should break out, about the present issues of conflicts, it would be another wasteful war similar to the previous Iran-Iraq war. Such a war should be condemned, those who call for it should be deplored and it should be avoided by all means.

Arabism needs to be rescued from the old and neo Omayad national expression; the Arab nation has to realize the organic relation between Islam and Arabism. Islam as the humane mission and not the withdrawn Islam of protest.

The Arab nation needs to realize that it has geopolitical cultural and strategic relations with neighboring nationalities: Turkish, Iranian, Indian, African and European.

This Islamic and national enlightenment, is the way to adopt a national and cultural scheme that would unleash the potential of the Arab nation and enable it to achieve its aspirations and interest and deal with Israel as a foreign body attempting to abolish the Islamic and Arab cultural role by exploiting the deadly contradictions, pointed above.

The Israeli foreign body aims to abolish the Islamic-Arab cultural role and replace it.

Israel aims to turn the region into a western sphere of influence and is playing its role as an attorney of the west in the area.

The contemporary challenge, is to defeat this supremacist ambitions and establish the relation between the Arab-Islamic civilization and Western civilization on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation and the absorption of the Hebrew human content in a respectable religious and national existence that would contribute to civilizational achievement.

Al-Sadig Al-Mahdi

Cairo, 21st October, 1998.