Monday 12 March 2012

Syria and the tyranny of the Saudi Oil Barons

Life in a Dictatorship

On a visit to the World Social Forum in Mumbai I sat, on the plane, next to a man from Syria. I can't remember all that he said but he spent many hours with me unpacking what was happening in his homeland.

What stays with me the most is something he described as "a great joke in Syria" when I asked him about freedom of the press.  He said, "There are two channels on Syrian TV: on is state sponsored and just shows speeches from Bashar Al-Assad. The other channel is independent; if you turn to that channel it shows a sniper holding up a sign, 'Please change channel'."

At one point the BBC was reporting over a hundred civilian deaths daily in Syria as the government there pounds and punishes the people of Homs. Following his father's three decades of tyranny, Bashar Al-Assad has only notched up 12 years. But why is the uprising happening now?

Saudi Arabia and the Christians of Syria

The reasons are always complex but here's one fundamental reason why Syria is under attack: The Al-Sauds want him out. 

In the Church Times this week we hear reports of Christians who support Al-Assad's government because under his dictatorship their traditions and identities are 'safe' from a Saudi-style of Islam. All dictatorships work this way: they justify tyrrany through providing peace and security to the many at the expense of some.

But the bigger picture is not one we hear about often in our own 'free press': "Throughout the Middle East, there is a growing fear that heavy-handed Arab diplomacy, led by Qatar and other Gulf states, looking out for their own particular interests, is pushing Syria expeditiously into civil war."

Al-Saud: A Global Mafia

It is amazing that, despite the involvement of the Al-Sauds in so many of the violent contexts in modern history they rarely appear in our news agencies stories. Perhaps it's because they own most of one of the biggest (News International)? Perhaps it's because they have such huge influence of powerful families like that of George W. Bush?

Perhaps it's because they may have enough oil to hold the entire planet hostage? I suspect that is exactly what they do.

Powerdown as we Fast for Peace

I can't think of any conflict that isn't about mineral resources and/or food in some way. We can look at the complicated mechanics of global violence, and we should, but ultimately people want food, shelter, and autonomy. Most of Jesus' parables were about these things and yet much of Christian public talk ignores them.

The move to 'powerdown' our addiction to fossil fuels should be at the core of any anti-war movement. I have stood outside military bases and trespassed at a nuclear weapons factory, and supported others in the same.

But I am increasingly aware that the violence I see on my TV screen leads directly back to me: a minority world person of privilege.

The prophet Isaiah wrote,

"Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isa. 58: 6 - 7)

But Isaiah knew that we need both kinds of fasting if we are too see the connection between an emerging civil war in Syria and oil-dependent lives of rich and poor alike.

This Lent many Christians are finding ways to reduce their carbon footprints as well as focussing on issues of injustice. To me that's a sign of hope. We fast from our lifestyles because we see the 'bonds of injustice' fastened up to the lives we choose to live.