PRESIDENT Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to the Czech paper Literarni Noviny. The following are extracts from the interview.
Question: Regarding ISIS, it looks like, at least from Europe, that radical Islam is gaining ground in the region, and it will be spreading and spreading. Do you think so, or is it just some kind of fad which will disappear in ten years’ time, or something like that?
President Assad: ‘This radical Islam, from our perspective as moderate Muslims, is not Islam. There is no extremism in any religion, whether it is Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. All religions are moderate; and when there is extremism, it is a deviation from religion.
‘If we want to use the term “radical Islam” as you said, I think it is true, because radical Islam has been instilled in the minds of the people of the region for more than four decades with the influence of Saudi money and the Wahabi interpretation of Islam, which is a very extreme interpretation, a deviation from true Islam, and constitutes the base of terrorism in this region.
‘So, as long as money continues to flow in the same direction and for the same reasons, through religious schools and religious TV channels, and similar things, it will become more widespread, not only in our region, but in Europe too.
‘What happened in France is a strong indication of that. I mean that this terrorist incident which happened in Paris did not happen in a vacuum. It did not happen because some people wanted to avenge that publication of some cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. In fact, this is the normal and natural result of the extremist, closed mind, and Dark Ages ideology which originates from Saudi Arabia.
‘So, there is no reason to say that this ideology will recede in the near future unless the world puts an end to the flow of money in the wrong direction and in support of this extremist ideology which leads to this kind of terrorism.’
Journalist: I can’t imagine reconciliation happening in Syria after four years of war. I believe it is a very difficult process to try to overcome the hostilities which grew during this period. Can you describe to us the efforts you are making in this direction?
President Assad: ‘Fortunately, you are raising this question at a time that reconciliation efforts have succeeded in many areas, and we are not talking about an imaginary thing or about wishful thinking. This has actually happened.
‘In the beginning, the question we put to ourselves was the same question you are raising now. Will we succeed? Can people forget the hostilities and the blood? This is not easy, and it wasn’t easy in the beginning, particularly if you are dealing with different groups, some of which are extremist groups and reject reconciliation, like Jabhet al-Nusra and ISIS in some regions.
‘These groups have actually succeeded in undermining these efforts. But in other regions, where the majority of the groups insisted on achieving reconciliation, reconciliation succeeded, and the groups involved in it were able to drive the groups opposed to it out of their areas.
‘If we want to talk about reality, the people who used to fight each other, on the side of the government or against it, have gone back to their normal life, rebuilt their friendships, and are dealing with each other on a daily basis because they were friends and neighbours before the crisis and before the events.
‘In fact, reconciliation efforts succeeded in most areas because the people who took part in them realized that before reconciliation they were moving in the wrong direction.
‘They also realized that they were used as tools in return for the money flowing from Qatar and Saudi Arabia and in the service of the closed-minded Muslim Brotherhood ideology of Erdogan in Turkey.
‘They realized that they have done harm to their country, so they turned in the right direction, and here reconciliation was successful.
‘So, my answer is that the process has succeeded, and that the doors are open now more than any time before for reconciliation.
‘By time, more Syrians will join the reconciliation and more Syrians will realize that they cannot go on in the same direction, unless we want to destroy our society, ourselves, and our country completely.’
Question: A kind of reconciliation might happen at the end of January in Moscow where your government will be discussing with at least some members of the exiled opposition. Do you expect some concrete results, and what do you think of this Russian initiative?
President Assad: ‘I think that the Russian position is that they support Syria in fighting terrorism, which is very important. At the same time, it paves the way before a political path. Our position is similar, for we do not want to miss any political opportunity, and this is what we are trying to do.
‘If we succeed, it’s a good thing. If we don’t, we will not lose anything. So, we are going to Russia not to start a dialogue, but to meet these different personalities to discuss the basis of dialogue when it starts: like the unity of Syria, containing terrorist organizations, supporting the army, fighting terrorism, and things like this.
‘As to what I expect from this meeting, I think we should be realistic, since we are dealing with personalities.
‘When we talk about opposition, we do not talk about someone opposing something. Anyone can oppose anything.
‘Opposition, in the political sense, is a party or an entity which has representatives in the local administration or in parliament who can influence their people and act in the best interest of their country, not in the best interest of foreign powers.
‘I believe this is a universal concept. Now, we are talking about different personalities, some of them are patriotic, some do not have any influence and do not represent an important part of the Syrian people, and some are puppets in the hands of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France, or the United States, and consequently they do not act in the best interest of their country.
‘There are other personalities which represent an extremist ideology. Consequently, it is too early to judge the potential for the success or failure of this step.
‘Nevertheless, we support this Russian initiative, and we believe that we should go as a government in order to listen to what they have to say. If they have something useful and is in the best interest of the Syrian people and the country, we will go forward, and if not, we will not deal with them seriously’.
Question: According to media reports, Russians are coordinating this process with the United States, and it means that these two superpowers, as it looks, can find a common ground, maybe for the first time, regarding Syria. Do you think this is the beginning of the end of the Syrian war?
President Assad: ‘You mean when they reach this common ground?’
Journalist: Yes, if they managed to agree on something, this will be positive.
President Assad: ‘Any good relation between Russia and the West, and especially the United States, will reflect positively on the region, particularly in this period, and especially concerning Syria.
‘But I would like to say that the solution should come first and foremost from within Syria.
‘Second, if we want to talk about international relations and their impact, they need to be serious. When we talk about a common ground, what is the nature of this common ground?
‘How serious is the United States in fighting ISIS? So far, what it is doing is cosmetic, while the Russians are very determined to fight terrorism.
‘In the same context, how serious is the United States in influencing Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia – and these countries are not allies of the United States, but puppets in its hands – to what extent the United States will influence them to stop the flow of money, weapons, and terrorists into Syria.
‘Unless these questions are answered, it is impossible to reach this common ground.
‘So far, the United States is playing games and playing for time. What the United States ultimately wants is to use Russia against Syria.
‘It wants Russia to exercise pressure on Syria. This is the common ground the Americans are looking for, and not the common ground necessary to fight terrorism, allow the Syrian people to determine their future, and respect the sovereignty of all countries including Syria.
‘So far, we do not see this common ground. The Russians are trying their best to find it, but I don’t believe that the Americans will respond to this effort positively.’
Journalist: Thank you very much, and I hope this year will be good for Syria.
President Assad: ‘Thank you.’