May 21, 2014

In the Arab world today, secularism, democracy and liberalism are the real minorities, writes Dr. Najib Awad, associate professor of Christian theology and the director of the International PhD Program at the Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut.

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In this article, originally published in Arabic in Lebanon’s Al-Mustaqbel daily, Awad makes the case for a new definition of minitory, “one that transcends religion, sect and ethnicity.” In Syria, he says, democrats, liberals and secularists are being “minoritized,” not due to religious affiliations or convictions, but because they are trying to develop a value system that differs from the prevalent norms.

Rooting his argument in French philosophy, Awad argues that “anyone who refused to shape their life and values according to the norms created and enforced by the Syrian regime was transformed into a ‘minority.’” 

Translation courtesy of Syria Direct’s Gavi Barnhard.


Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, both Syrians and international observers have been discussing the future of its minorities. Specifically, there is a new discourse among non-Sunni Muslims in Syria, primarily among Christians and Alawites, in which these groups do not identify with the Syrian people, but rather as minorities.

Syrian Christians have begun to reduce themselves to mere minorities in need of protection from the inevitable persecution that is to result if the regime falls. Even social media in these Syrian Christian communities indicate the prevalence of this minority discourse. Western and Arab countries that support the revolution see the Christians and the Alawites in Syria as “minorities” and reduce this complicated issue into a simple matter of “protection.”

From my observation, it doesn't seem that anyone can actually explain what they mean by “minorities” in the Syrian context. It seems to me that everyone is working with the assumption that there is a single, agreed-upon meaning, however, I’m not sure that they realize that the meaning varies depending on its political, sociological and philosophical connotations.

In sociology and anthropology, “minority” can be defined by ethnicity, race, gender, sex, or age. However, the term carries very different meanings in a philosophical context. In modern philosophy, French philosopher Gills Deleuze and French psychiatrist Felix Guattari suggest that the term ‘minority’ suggests a state of flux, a process of becoming or happening: something which people transform into, or become, due to specific social, intellectual and ethical factors that “minoritize” them.

The state of “minoritization” is a state that results when a person refuses to identify themselves with a specific, collectively acknowledged moral state. Some of the well-known definitions of ‘minority’ circulating in intellectual and academic circles are: “a subordinate group whose members have significantly less control or power over their lives than members of a dominant or majority group” and “a group that experiences a narrowing of opportunities (success, education, wealth, etc.) that is disproportionately low compared to their numbers in the society.”

In that vein, I ask Syrian Christians using the term “minority” in Syria: Do these definitions of “minority” resonate with you? Do the scientific and academic connotations of ‘minority’ that do not include “number” or “religious divisions” give you pause or or force you to reconsider who is a “minority” in the Syrian context?

Those who understand the different sociological and political variables in Syria over the past decades will agree that the term ‘minority’ actually applies to the majority of the Syrian population. Anyone who refused to shape their life and values according to the norms created and enforced by the regime was transformed into a “minority,” or, “minoritized.” 

Over the past four decades, anyone who did not fall in line with the regime’s norms or refused to glorify the regime and justify its tyranny, was systematically deprived of a dignified life. This minoritized population eventually found itself either living in the margins of society, deprived and suppressed, or permanently fleeing the country. 

In the context of the Syrian revolution, the notion of ‘minority’ does not take religious, sectarian or ethnic dimensions. Rather, it is a matter of discriminative authoritarianism that “minoritizes" all those who oppose the regime and “majoritizes" those who obediently support it.

In Syria, the notion of minority is neither numerical nor religious by nature. It is a societal concept imposed by the regime and the political establishment in which the definition of the “minority” has become a sociological game where groups are “minoritized” irrespective of religion, sect and ethnicity.

When Christians say they are ‘minority’ and they seek protection in Syria, what do they mean? Are they a minority because they have refused to bend to the regime’s rules and have been “minoritized”? If so, then they are effectively stating that they stand by the values of the revolution. On the other hand, what do Christians mean when they call for “protection of minorities,”? Protection from “minoritization”? If so, then they should ask for protection from the Assad regime or any other regime that systematically minoritizes its people.

In Syria, the minority is democrats and liberals. They are the ones who need protection. In the Arab world today, secularism, democracy and liberalism are the real minority. A minority that transcends religion, sect and ethnicity. Syria is no different, as democrats liberals and secularists are being “minoritized,” not due to religious affiliations or convictions, but because they are trying to develop a value system that differs from the prevalent norms.

So, to all the Christians and other groups in Syria who insist on viewing themselves as minority on the basis of a number or religion, I say: If there is a minority in Syria, then it is the majority of the Syrian public rebelling against the systematic suppression and criminality of the regime. And if there is minoritizing in Syria, it is against all those who dare to stand up and say, “no.”

Are you in this minority?   

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