Despite the protracted violence and all the frustration and pain involved, we need to begin thinking ahead to formulate a transitional plan and outreach strategies based on our practical observations and experiences over the last five months. The New Beginning is coming.
In bullet points
· Those who kill while feeling that they are the victims are the worst of all.
· Religiosity, extremism and prejudice are NOT an exclusively Sunni phenomenon.
· The climate of sectarian mobilization fostered by the Assad regime through its propagandists using state-run media precludes any possibility of rational debate. This is a time for confrontation, one which the Assads and their partners and supporters are intent on making as violent as possible, while the protesters remain for the most part peaceful.
· There are fanatics on both sides, but the protesters have so far managed to keep the fanatics in their midst at bay: standing on the margins of things, looking on, unable to dictate the nature and pace of events and the choice of tactics. On the other side, however, the fanatics are running the show with the tacit approval of their wider support base.
· There is a dimension of paranoia among Assad supporters that cannot be overcome with mere statements. Anti-Sunni prejudice, not only in the communal sense, but also, in the religious sense, is at work here. Albeit, some would like us to believe that religious extremism and sectarian prejudice are a somehow exclusively Sunni phenomenon.
· We cannot stamp out prejudice as precondition to anything. This is not a reasonable request. Prejudice can only be overcome through engagement, and engagement can only take place when both sides are willing to open their eyes to reality, not blind themselves to it. So far, only the protesters seem willing to make the required effort for that.
· We cannot abolish religious differences. On a religious level, none of the groups will ever accept the other. Sunnis will have to accept Alawites, and vice versa, but Sunni and Alawite doctrines don’t have to accommodate each other. On a religious level, each community has the right to denounce the beliefs of the others, but on the legal and constitutional level, they all have to accept each other’s basic rights.
· Sunnis cannot be expected to fight against prejudice in their own ranks under fire and while others refuse to acknowledge its existence, not to mention fight it, in theirs.
· Often, it seems, what religious minorities really want is preferential treatment rather than equality before the law. Preferential treatment is not always out of the question, especially when suggested or sought on a temporary basis, but then, people seeking such treatment need to formulate their arguments in this regard clearly and defend them rationally, not try to impose their will on the rest through blunt force.
· Protesters, especially Sunnis, are often asked to offer “guarantees” to the other side, but it might be more practical, by way of encouraging the other side to become part of the solution, to reverse the table, and ask members of the minority communities to tell us what specific guarantees they want to be given to ease their minds about the transition to a post-Assad future. Of course, adherence to the status quo, halting the revolution, or the wishful thought that Bashar should be allowed to lead the reform are not good starting point for any dialog. Asking us to respond to pure lies and fabrications is also not a good starting point. The international community has been monitoring developments on the ground since the beginning, and there are certain agreed facts that cannot be ignored, in order for talks to get anywhere real, we need to start somewhere real.