Only a Democracy Can Liberate the Golan

Sami Moubayed

The words "resistance nation" are often being heard in the Syrian media, in reference to Baathist Syria since March 1963. The West is targeting Syria, Syrian media is saying, because of its commitment to the resistance in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon.
Let us stop and think about that for a moment: Syria has always been a "resistance nation." The "culture of resistance" existed long before the Baath Party came to power in 1963. The Baathists did not introduce the word "resistance" to Syrian textbooks. What they did was build upon the deep-rooted culture of resistance in Syrian society, in order to blend in with the mass majority of Syrians who were non-Baathist. In fact, it was because of Syria's culture of resistance that the Baath Party was created in the first place, back in 1946. We should make that crystal clear to the entire world -- especially members of the Baath Party who need not overplay their role in the history of modern Syria.
Why did the French colonize Syria in 1920? Because they saw a lot of potential in this small Middle Eastern country that they wanted to exploit, and did, until evacuating in 1946. Why did the Americans launch the first coup d'etat of the Arab world in 1949 in Damascus? Because they realized that the Syrians, government and public alike, were a hard-headed and stubborn people who would not fulfill U.S. interests in the Middle East. Why did the Americans try to launch two coups in Syria in the 1950s? Again, because the Syrians were acting too independently from U.S. interests in the Arab world and cozying up to the Soviet Union.
Syrians went to war in Palestine in 1936 and 1948, long before the Baathists came to power in Damascus. Syrians are actually a proud people who never wanted their lives or actions to be dictated by a single party like the Baath or a Western power, be it London, Paris, Washington or Moscow. A strange combination of Syrian and Arab nationalism comes to a confluence in the Syrian street. This "culture of resistance," that is now heard from Hezbollah and the Baath, actually existed under Shukri al-Quwatli in the 1940s, and under Adib al-Shishakli and Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s. It was only natural for it to continue under the Baathists since 1963.
It is part of Syria's national identity and, because of that, Syrians have paid a high price over the past 100 years for their nationalism. Shukri al-Quwatli was defiant. That is why he was ejected by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1949. Adib al-Shishakli was defiant. That is why the U.S. did not lift a finger to defend him when his regime was toppled in 1954. So were Hashem al-Atasi, Nazim al-Qudsi, Amin al-Hafez, Nur al-Din al-Atasi and Hafez Assad. In fact, the only common denominator in every ruler in Syria was a strict commitment to Syrian nationalism and the Palestinian cause, which is part of a broader commitment to Arab nationalism.
The Syrians believe that Syria is a small country with a big brand, a brand that rejects Israel and which since March 2011, wants to live in a democracy. The democracy they aspire for is one where a state of law prevails, where there is no nepotism or corruption, and where the undeniable rights of every Syrian citizen are respected and upheld by the government. Democracy means freedom of speech, thought and conduct. Democracy will help strengthen the brand called Syria and will create a culture of resistance that is unprecedented in the Arab world. It is foolish to believe that if/when the Baath is no longer "leader of state and society," Syria would crumble before international pressure to sign peace with Israel or automatically transform into a Mubarak-like Egypt. On the contrary, the exact opposite will happen to Syria, because of the will and might of the Syrian people.
Having said that, two realities need to be settled as the crisis in Syria unfolds. One is that "resistance" is not exclusive to the Baathists, and should not be monopolized by them. Syria will continue to be a "resistance nation" long after the Baath Party is no longer mandated to lead Syria by the Syrian Constitution. Another reality that needs to be understood is that a people who are free and dignified are more likely to liberate the Golan -- and help bring statehood to the Palestinians -- than a people who are not. Sami Moubayed is a university professor, historian, and editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine. This article appeared in Asia Times on July 1 entitled, "Damascus Vibrations Ripple in Baghdad."