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April 21, 2017

The Power of Non-Violence: an open letter to my fellow Muslim Canadians

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Many Muslim Canadians are against terrorist attacks that target the West (like the recent one against police in Paris), yet some believe they are justified in places like Syria, Iraq or Egypt (like the similar one against police in Sinai).

They are caught up in the irrational paradox of abhorring violence on their own soil while supporting it as a supposedly effective deterrent or “cure” for oppression elsewhere. The idea that non-violence could possibly result in more non-violence (i.e. lasting peace) seems completely alien to them. 

So, despite the U.S. having dropped a huge M.O.A.B. bomb in Afghanistan, they are still not satisfied and are asking for even more of the same applied to neighboring countries whose regimes do not meet Western expectations.

From the comfort and safety of their Canadian homes, this same vocal minority believes that engaging in violent armed struggle against Muslim rulers they dislike is an Islamic duty, a Jihad. Their hit-list includes more than 50 rulers of Muslim-majority states around the world (except, perhaps, Turkey).

It seems they have learned little from the scripture of the Holy Qur’an, especially the passage in which God told Moses and his brother Aaron to try and convince the Pharaoh of Egypt “in the most gentle way” to change his policy against their people, the Hebrew immigrants.

God did not tell Moses to go and arm his tribe for combat, or to rise up and kill the King who had taken good care of him. (Moses had been adopted as an infant by a princess of the royal family and had unrestricted access to the Egyptian court.)

The minority among my Canadian coreligionists would also do well to review global history for abundant proof that violent armed struggle against a ruler – any ruler, any time, for any reason – has never been successful in eliminating or solving persistent civil and social problems.

In Islamic history, you can go back as far as Ali versus Mo’wa 1400 years ago, right up to the prolonged conflicts of the present day – in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, etc. – which are no closer to resolution with each passing decade.

In the West, we can remember the long devastation of the IRA in Ireland and the UK, or the Basque separatist movement ETA for similar patterns of intransigence causing vast collateral damage to generations of innocent people.

As of today, more than six years of brutal civil strife in Syria have resulted in an estimated 10 million refugees (both internal and external) and nearly half-a-million recorded deaths; there are probably many more than official statistics reveal.

Anti-government rebels are armed with American weapons and technology, yet we don’t really know who all the factions and their leaders are. But when the U.S. decides to kill some of them, it does so, anytime and anywhere.

After all these years with no tangible progress toward peace, I believe Syria is doomed to be another failed state, with or without Bashar al-Assad as its leader. With continued Western suppliers, the conflict could go on for the foreseeable future.

I realize that in taking an unpopular stance against continued Western military engagement in Syria, I will be censured by some as a supporter of Assad and of the atrocities for which his government forces have been held responsible by the international community.

In reality, however, what is happening in Syria is following the same destructive and inconclusive pattern which decimated Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Afghanistan without resulting in sustainable peace or stability.

So, the sad truth is that unless the U.S. and Russia decide sooner rather than later to change their simplistic brute force approach for one of genuine diplomacy and non-violence, Syria is headed for exactly the same fate.

I hope and pray that my birth country Egypt does not suffer a similar catastrophe and grows to mature statehood through taking a just and non-violent path.

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