, Salem, MA


March 21, 2013

Watson: Islam has a choice to make


With all of this in mind, we can understand why the Western World is struggling to figure out the best way to help the people of Syria. The civil war there is exactly 2 years old, more than 1 million refugees have fled the country, roughly 2.5 million are displaced within Syria, 75,000 people have been killed, towns and cities are being physically demolished, and the fighting is fiercer than ever.

President Assad, who inherited the dictatorship from his father in 2000, shows no signs of yielding, and he now baldly uses tanks, jets, cluster bombs, and other heavy weaponry against civilians and insurgents.

As in Egypt, and so many other nations that are long-tyrannized, motley collections of rich and poor, literate and illiterate, empowered and repressed, devout and infidel, tolerant and intolerant, and modern and backward, Syria’s insurgency can barely agree on anything beyond resistance to a dictator. When Assad falls, the opposition may divide into identity groups that are unable to compromise sufficiently to create a new democracy, or even a new nation.

It is a similar story across big parts of the Muslim world. Sunnis, Salafists, Shiites, Alawites, Kurds, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Taliban, jihadists and more — all carrying generational or ethnic or religious fears and grudges, and perhaps without the leadership, the institutions and the capabilities to marginalize the worst bigots and fanatics among them.

It is tempting for the West to walk away from this chaos. But that would be a mistake. We don’t know the futures of these peoples, but they surely will matter to us. Because the chaos increasingly looks like a battle to define how Muslims will make a way in this shrinking, modern world, the democratic West has an interest in seeing the triumph of enlightenment values.

For two years in Syria, the West has barely assisted the rebels. France and England are now recommending that Europe and the U.S. commit themselves to Assad’s defeat by sending heavy weaponry to the insurgents. Their argument is that the current stalemate only allows more physical destruction of Syria, increases the refugee problem, further destabilizes the region, and, most importantly, enlarges the likelihood that the various rebel groups will increasingly fight with each other for territory, power and post-war control.

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