Habib Malik

Habib Malik

Habib C. Malik was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Lebanese philosopher and diplomat Charles Malik. He is currently an associate professor of history and cultural studies at the Lebanese American University (Byblos campus). He is the author of Between Damascus and Jerusalem: Lebanon and Middle East Peace; Receiving Soren Kierkegaard: The Early Impact and Transmission of His Thought and editor of The Challenge of Human Rights: Charles Malik and the Universal Declaration, along with many articles, essays, and book chapters in both Arabic and English on pluralism, Arab Christians, human rights, Political Islam, and the Arab reception of Kierkegaard. He is a contributor to Hoover’s Islamism and the International Order Task Force.

 

Dear President Obama,

During your second term as US President the Middle East will continue to occupy center stage in the domain of American foreign policy. Three key issues are certain to present you with particularly difficult challenges: the protection of native religious minority communities in the face of rising Islamist extremism; Syria’s civil war with the potential of spillover; and Iran’s nuclear program.

The Middle East today is going through an unprecedented period of turmoil that to some looks like a spring, but to others appears ominously as a looming winter. Included in the second anxious category are many from the indigenous non-Muslim communities rooted in their ancestral lands across the region. They fear the unleashing of a relentless region-wide slippery slope towards Salafism, Jihadism, and other forms of radical Islamism—violent ideologies that will continue targeting them as has already happened repeatedly in places like Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. Their apprehensions are not products of overactive imaginations or unfounded exaggerations. History in this part of the world has rarely been kind to vulnerable minorities, and this is a particularly delicate juncture for these exposed communities. The litmus-paper test for the success or failure of the Arab Spring to inaugurate an era of true democracy in the region is the treatment of religious minority communities, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Mounting abuses of these communities and attacks on their religious freedom will reflect badly on all those, including the United States, who have cheered on the popular uprisings against various repressive Arab regimes. In your third televised debate before the elections you referred to pressures you were putting on the government in Egypt to respect and protect religious minorities. New Arab governments should be made to feel they are under close scrutiny by your Administration and the international community on the question of minority rights, freedoms, and security. There needs to be an insistence that clear, forceful, and binding language safeguarding minority rights be incorporated in all the new constitutions of these emerging Arab states.

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Syria’s Future

The Assad regime is certainly a brutal and merciless regime when it comes to stifling any internal dissent or throwing its weight around neighboring countries.  Few have forgotten the multipronged misery caused to the Lebanese by Syria’s nearly three-decade long occupation of their country.  But today the larger and intricately nuanced picture needs to be kept in mind as one contemplates Syria’s future while the situation inside the country unravels with daily bloodshed and expanding violence.  By all indications, Assad’s demise does not seem imminent.  Sadly for the civilian population of Syria the internal strife there is most likely going to fester with a rise over time in innocent casualties.

On the plus side the eventual fall of this regime will weaken the emerging radical Shiite axis extending from Iran’s Qom to Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon and on the Mediterranean.  And as is the case with other Arab countries experiencing change the hope remains that some form of liberal democratic rule will eventually replace a homegrown despotism.  However, the dangers of things going horribly wrong remain very palpable and should not be brushed aside.  Bringing down a dictatorship may be measured in weeks, months, and in some cases years, but building a viable democracy is a generational project, especially in an environment like the Arab east that has been largely freedom-starved for most of its history and inhospitable to pluralist political self-fulfillment.

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