Revolutionaries are crazy, not wise

Interview with Khaled Khoja on democracy, Kurdish rights, regional balances – and how to avoid civil war in Syria
by Wilhelm Langthaler
Dr. Khaled Khoja is medical doctor and a vocal activist of the Syrian opposition based in Turkey. Belonging to the Islamic current he was a member of the “Damascus Declaration” in 2005 and today is part of the Syrian National Council (SNC).

Editorial comment: As Anti-imperialist Camp we absolutely refuse any foreign military intervention as an attempt to destroy the revolutionary popular movement in Syria. It is the Muslim Brotherhood which has asked for such an intervention by Turkey. Following interview does not express our opinion.

Q: What do you think of the recent agreement between Syria and the Arab League?

The Arab League’s initiative was born disabled. There is no mechanism to follow up. The Syrian regime accepted the agreement unconditionally but so far nothing changed. The massacre continues.

Our interest is not to punish Bashar and his regime. We do not want him to have the same dramatic end as Gaddafi or Saddam. What we want is that the killings end, that reforms are undertaken and that the Syrian people achieves the right to freely express itself.

Q: Will the Syrian people be able to liberate itself or will they ask for foreign help? What do you think about foreign intervention?

First of all you must take into account that we are diaspora. Many of us have been living abroad for decades. Sometimes we have even been called five star opposition while the people inside are facing death every day. Revolution is not made by the wise men but by the crazy ones. Only they are able to face the death machine.

So if they call from inside for no fly zones we cannot impose a no on them. They do not understand the meaning of such a demand. They are not aware that its enforcement could lead to the military intervention of foreign powers. And I want to add: if Bashar started mass killings against the civilians using the war planes, tanks and warships so this solution can be discussed.

You will have recognised that the Syrian National Council (SNC) does on his part not call for foreign intervention. We know the consequences and that it could lead to civil war. But as our legitimacy depends on the youth movement inside we cannot oppose them or let alone impose something on them.

Q: But as SNC you definitely refuse foreign intervention?

As SNC we have clearly declared that our aim is 1) to support the peaceful protesters 2) against any foreign military intervention 3) to call upon Bashar al Assad to step down. This is our common platform.

But this is not shared by all currents of the opposition. Some groups inside and also parts of the street movement think that if you exclude foreign intervention then you give up on a potential threat to Assad and thus help him to continue killing. But this is not my opinion.

Q: What opinion do you hold instead?

If you compare with Libya we see that the NATO military intervention claimed 60.000 lives and a far reaching destruction of the infrastructure. In Syria we are in the eighth month of the revolt and we have some 3.000 casualties and 15.000 arrested so far behind Libya. It is very important for us to keep the peaceful road and to avoid civil war. But at the same time you cannot impose on the youth in the streets risking their lives to refrain from self-defence. You only can voice your opinion and convince them by time.

For the time being we have not a single case of sectarian killing from the side of the youth movement. Especially in Homs and Hama Bashar and his brother Maher have committed tremendous crimes by way of the Allawi Shabiha militia. But the youth did not retaliate.

85% of the Syrian population is Sunni, some 7-10% Allawi. They can only loose in case of a civil war. But of cause this will affect all groups likes Druses or Kurds and generate deep hatred between them. We do not want the Iraqi case to be repeated in Syria.

We need to tell our people to be patient, to carry on in the peaceful manner.

Q: The request for foreign let alone western help could be interpreted as asking neo-colonial powers to come back. Would it be more appropriate to take more time…

My family was heavily punished while I managed to flee the country with the age of 15. Two uncles of mine were killed, one hanged. My parents lingered in prisons. My brother was released after 15 years. He still suffers from depressions. I know how deeps the wounds are and how much time they need to recover. We need to rebuild our culture and this is a long term task. We know that more than one million were killed in Iraq due to the US intervention and nobody in the Syrian opposition wants such thing to be repeated.

Q: If the opposition calls for foreign help Assad’s attempt to appear as the defender of national sovereignty will be facilitated…

Bashar himself stated that Israeli security depends on Syria. Baath never really fought Israel. A free Syria will not change its geo-strategic role and maintain its independence. We try to talk to all players including Russia and even Iran and keep balance.

Q: Will the Palestinian resistance groups be allowed to remain in Syria?

This will be up to the Syrian people but they are very sympathetic to the Palestinian resistance so they will remain. In 2006 the Syrian people welcomed even Hezbollah when they resisted the Israelis. A liberated Syria will be much more on the side of the resistance and will help to unite it.

Q: And what about Hezbollah?

We are disappointed and angry with Hezbollah as they side with the dictatorship. But that does not affect our relations to the legitimate Lebanese resistance and all the confessional groups including the Shiites. Lebanon will remain a brother country.

Q: The struggle for the constituent assembly was an important aspect of the movements in Tunisia and Egypt. It was also included in the Damascus declaration in 2005. Do you endorse this idea?

The new Syrian constitution will be based on individual rights – not on religion. The debate was whether it should be civil or secular. Actually there is no big difference. But in the region secularism got a bad taste. See here in Turkey in which way it was used against democracy not only in Syria. But the key are individual rights which all Syrians regardless of their confessional or national affiliation will enjoy. In this way you avoid sectarian strife.

Q: But more specifically on the constituent assembly which could be understood as a condensate of all those democratic and civil rights…

As the SNC we do agree on this.

Q: the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as well?

Yes, also the Brotherhood. It is all about tolerance we need to develop towards the other. But this is not enough. There can also be the tolerance of the master to the obedient. Tolerance must go hand in hand with equality. So we need a mechanism that protects minorities.

Q: Can you elaborate on the Free Syrian Army?

We do not have any relations with them. But we hear of a lot of defections from the army. Actually we rather should speak of escaping because even if the defectors take their guns with them they barely can use them as they do not have bullets. There is no space for re-organisation for them. They are not an army. But some of them along other young people buy guns and try to protect their cities and people. We cannot command them to remain peaceful.

Q: Subhi Hadidi’s thesis is that the Muslim Brotherhood’s uprising of 1982 cost them dear politically speaking. Not only for the harsh repression it meant for the people but mainly because it was imposed on them.

I totally agree. It was a very big mistake. At the time it was not the decision of the leading body of the MB to wage the insurrection. It was their youth to go ahead and the leadership only followed suit.

Now the MB as a movement is becoming more pragmatic and less ideological.

Q: What do you have to offer to the Kurdish people?

There is no problem between the SNC and the Kurdish. But the Kurdish people for the time being are not unified. There is a wide range of positions and parties among them regarding the form of representation they want. For example the PYD, the Syrian branch of the PKK, publicly announced that they would not join the opposition and even went against Kurdish pro-opposition protesters. They co-ordinate with Bashar al Assad.

The Kurds will get all the individual rights Bashar has been denying them.

Q: But they are a national minority so we speak about collective and not individual rights.

In the democratic Syria all the minorities will have their place. We need to discuss whether Arab should remain in the name of the state or whether Syrian Republic suffices. But Syrians are not as nationalist as Turks they are much more tolerant and accepting co-existence. Regarding autonomy, however, you have to take into account that there are not only Kurds but also Turkmens and others. If we grand autonomy to all of them we will end up like Lebanon. But we are ready for any discussion including on autonomy. But all the solutions must keep on the current geopolitical situation of Syria and keep Syrians united.

Q: Does the SNC include also Kurds?

We already have five representatives from different Kurdish groups and parties in the general secretariat of the SNC and their quota in the council is 13%. But out of more than 17 Kurdish parties or groups not all are agreeing with the SNC on it’s main objective which is calling upon the Syrian people to topple Assad’s regime with all it’s all figures and pillars. So we cannot expect the PYD, who attempts to rescue Assad, to deal with SNC. Burhan Ghalioun has, however, declared clearly that the stolen rights of the Kurdish people in Syria will be given back to them.

Istanbul, Nov 5, 2011

Additional question as of Nov 20, 2011 on the call by the head of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Riad Shakfeh, upon Turkey to intervene into Syria:

This has been an answer of Mr. Shaqfeh in his press conference but one day later the spokesman of MB declared that this is a personal opinion and the organization is against any foreign intervention. Actually Mr. Shaqfeh didn’t talk about military intervention at all. Furthermore he is not a member of SNC and as SNC we refuse any military intervention.