Secularism is the single most important feature to preserve in a future Syria. Syria has been a secular state since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The secularization process, which began during the French mandate, has served as a crucial guarantee for the country’s religious and ethnic minorities. Currently the bloody civil war is perhaps reaching its concluding chapter. The danger Syrians face at this stage, at a time when the world might otherwise be focused on beginning a period of genuine democratization, is the omnipresent extremism and religious intolerance which continues to hold sway, despite the decisive victories against ISIS on the battlefield.
ISIS may soon cease to exist as an armed force. But the ideology of Daesh, that of hatred and persecution of the infidel, remains deeply entrenched at the core of conservative Islamic communities, particularly in Idlib province, some rural areas surrounding Damascus, and to a lesser extent in the city of Hama.
Prior to the outbreak of the conflict in 2011, Syrians lived together in harmony. Syria set an example for neighbouring Arab states, especially Iraq and Lebanon. Syria was a functioning and economically prosperous state with peace, security and stability. But that sense of security stems from Syria’s internationally commended national unity in the absence of religious tensions.
Secularism is the only guarantee for women’s rights. Most in the liberal west would agree that it is a woman’s choice whether or not to wear the veil. This freedom of choice is removed by the tyranny of extremist theocracies. If we are truly committed to improving Syria as a country, rather than drowning in our obsession with regime change, all aspects of Syrian society must be taken into serious consideration.
A secular and civil state, with secular state institutions, a secular constitution, and secular laws, guarantees the rights of all religious minorities, at a time of unprecedented ambiguity regarding the country’s political future. Alawites, Christians, Druze, Ismailis, and the majority of Sunnis, particularly the new generation and the educated classes, grew increasingly suspicious of the western-sponsored non-ISIS opposition, amongst concerns that they were not, in substance, that different from Daesh. A secular Syrian democracy, which maintains the rule of law, and guarantees the rights of all sectors of society, would reassure those currently living in fear and panic.
Even under the current constitution, despite the secular nature of the Baathist state, it is mandatory that the president be Muslim-born. Further, the main source of legislation is the Quran. Such laws clearly contradict the very essence of secular governance.