Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Syrian realpolitik

I've been thinking hard about that niqab ban that was put in place by the Syrian minister of education and the more I mulled it over, the more things began to make sense. My first impulse in an earlier blog post was to avoid both sides of this argument, but seeing some of the stupid arguments made by people in support of it drove me to criticise both the decision and its supporters very strongly. Still, something just didn't make sense about the whole business.

In a way this is typical for Syria - it is a byzantine maze of intrigue, strange decisions and alliances. Why would Syria ban the niqab when we are the strongest allies of Iran, Hezbullah, Hamas and a more Islamic Turkey? Not only that, but the number of women this would have actually affected was, to my knowledge, negligent and hardly worth the fuss. No, the timing which came with the French decision to do a ban was no coincidence. I think this whole exercise was a PR exercise which complements Syria's regional strategy of positioning itself as the one the West can talk to. Syria will be the conduit to Iran, to Lebanon and the Palestinians. From an economic perspective it gives Syria that air of being "moderate" and this isn't bad if it wants to do business with Europe or its Arab allies. Syria intends to become the gateway to the real Middle East.

Domestically it's perfect. Syrians aren't really niqab fans and it isn't as prevalent as some would like to think. Those affected by it are not important or influential enough to kick up a fuss. Religious people are safe in the knowledge that the niqab is not a religious obligation, Syrian secular people can rest assured the country is not becoming a Saudi Arabia and everybody can start to "debate" and feel clever with arguments for and against this wise decision made by the powers that be. A completely artificial debate is generated, which can be a good thing. It is good to distract stupid people with something, it lets decision makers focus on the real issues without interruption.

Politics is beautiful sometimes, and I do think that the Syrians are masters of it.


Anonymous said...

Good points. Now, would you say that it is more reasonable for Syria to ban the niqaab than France? There's a fun question...

Amira said...

I think you are probably right there, it just confirms how damned cynical these political players are though!
As to it being more reasonable....I think neither party is reasonable in banning it, how you dress should be a matter of choice and not dictated by the government.

Maysaloon said...

More or less reasonable? I have interesting views on that, but I'll save them till later ;)

Suffice it to say I think it is more reasonable for France to ban it than Syria purely out of political pragmatism than anything to do with rights and issues of choice.