Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Eclipse of the Sunnis or What About Sunnistan?

I'm reading the moving book The Eclipse of the Sunnis by Deborah Amos. She describes the difficult lives of almost two million Sunnis who have fled to Syria from Iraq during the past few years and feel they have no country to return to. Unfortunately they are probably correct; there is little place for them in the new Shia-controlled Iraq. There is little more likelihood of their returning to the homes they left in Baghdad than Palestinians have of returning to the homes their families inhabited 65 years ago in Jerusalem.

I recently watched an interview in which Jordan's King Abdallah was asked about the possibility of the West Bank becoming a part of Jordan. The king quickly dismissed the idea, contending that Palestinians were not Jordanians and that they deserved their own country.

I have the distinct impression that most Arab leaders (including the King of Jordan) tend to deny present realities and ignore possible long-term solutions because of short-term challenges and difficulties. Here's a radical proposal: what if King Abdallah announced his willingness to step down from his throne and throw his support behind establishing a truly democratic secular country that included western Iraq where most of the Sunnis live, the West Bank, and present-day Jordan?

Before dismissing this as the most ridiculous idea you have ever heard, think of its possibilities 20 years down the road in comparison to 20 more years of the present situation (which in all honesty is probably not going to get better). Here are some things to consider:

1. Palestinians and Iraqis were once known as the most educated and secular people in the Arab world, although both of their situations have greatly deteriorated in recent years. Many of the Iraqi refugees in Damascus are secular, professional people, and large numbers of them are extremely concerned about the lack of educational opportunities for their children. The new country could provide those opportunities.

2. The United States and the European Union would strongly support this secular and democratic country. The United States in particular learned in Iraq the hard way that it could not impose democracy, but a new country that chose democracy and freedom would receive full Western support.

3. The Christians and other non-Muslim minorities of Iraq, who enjoyed a message of protection under Saddam that has totally been lost since his overthow, could flourish in a secular Arab state.

4. With the Palestinians of the West Bank now part of a functioning country, they could turn their attention to a viable relationship with Israel as a partner, not as an enemy.

5. Those citizens of neighboring Arab countries that yearn for more freedom could see an example in the new country that would embolden them to push for those liberties in their own countries.

6. Islam would be viewed as no more than one of the religions practiced by the citizens of this new country. A constitution would be written granting equal rights and opportunities to the entire citizenship of the country, with freedom for each citizen to believe whatever they choose.

Granted, this sounds like a wild dream, but I think it could be a good one.

1 comment:

Cyril said...

An interesting idea, true, but I doubt a workable one. Islam always tends to religious totalitarianism, even in "secular" countries. As soon as some folks start to yearn for a deeper faith, they return to the example of Muhammed, a violent and repressive warlord.