The on-going rebellion against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria seem to be supported by many around the world. The United States which supposedly helped "liberate" Iraq from Saddam Hussein seem not serious in wanting to end the blood bath there.
Objections from China and Russia has been cited for the lack of action by other nations. However the real reason for the United States and its allies' abstention from action on the Syrian regime is not China and Russia.
China and Russia both have their reasons for wanting keep the current regime in Syria in power. Russia is the biggest supplier of arms to Syria. China meanwhile shares many of its communist ideologies with socialist Syria.
But it is believed that what keeps Western powers from interfering in Syria is that Al-Qaeda also dreams of seeing the Assad regime toppled.
The West is in a catch-22 situation where it suddenly finds it has a common enemy with the Al-Qaeda.
It would be interesting to note that despite having a population with over 70% Sunni Muslims, the ruling family in Syria belong to a distinct heterodox branch of Islam-Alawiism. Until 1973, this sect was not even considered as part of Islam.
It was the Shiite cleric Musa al Sadr who issued a fatwa* declaring the Alawis to be Shiite Muslims. But this would not have been done if Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad had not been in power.
Some of the distinct features of Alawi beliefs from the rest of Islam is the drinking of wine as part of worship, the observance of Christian holidays such as Christmas,Easter, Epiphany and Pentecost. The Alawis do not perform the five-times-a-day prayer like the majority of Muslims and mosques are absent in many Alawi areas. Fasting in Ramadan is also not observed.
Now, Al-Qaeda and many orthodox Sunni Muslim individuals, organizations and nations would like to see the fall of Assad so that "true Muslims" could once again helm Syria. It is an irritant for some of them to see a large Sunni Muslim nation in the middle of the Middle East being ruled by what they consider nominal Muslims.
It is also no secret that many of those in Syria who want to topple Assad harbour dreams of creating an Islamic state.
The Assad regime is strongly backed by Alawis, Druze** and Christians who fear that a Sunni Muslim government would discriminate against minorities.
Arab nations with the exception of Iraq are already calling for the supply of arms to the rebellion in Syria. Even Turkey is calling for action on Syria. Understandably these are Sunni Muslim nations.
Iraq meanwhile has a Shiite majority. Iran too backs the Assad regime in Syria as it is also a Shiite nation. And it would not be surprising if Iran is hoping to maintain a Shiite corridor between the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Persia.
The fact that Alawis are not really Shiites does not seem to bother the orthodox Shiite government of Iran, as what matters is that the Alawis are not Sunnis.
As for the international community, the question that they should ask is whether they want to see the fall of a secular Syrian government and the rise of an Islamist government which might persecute against non-Sunnis in the country.
What would the future be for the Alawis and non-Muslims in Syria should a Sunni-majority government be installed. Christians especially do not want the same fate as their brethren in Egypt and Iraq, where attacks against Christians are becoming constant since the fall of Hosni Mubarak and Saddam Hussein respectively.
Would the Alawis too be persecuted like the Bahais, Ahmadiyas and Alevis in other predominantly Muslim countries?
As much as we would like to sympathise with the protestors and rebels in Syria, we must also not forget the fate that awaits Syria's religious minorities should the rebels gain the upper hand.
Already a prominent Syrian Sunni cleric, Adnan al-Arour has threatened the Alawi community should Assad be toppled. He said "we shall mince them in grinders and feed them to the dogs" on the Middle-Eastern television channel-MEMRI TV.
True, Assad's military has committed some despicable acts such as torture, executions, large scale killings, desecration of mosques. But are these done on Assad's orders or by some overzealous people in his regime?
The international community including Malaysia should be cautious by not supporting the rebels in Syria. But what they could do is to get Assad to relax military assault on civillian targets and also to get him to rid the Syrian military of generals who have ordered this.
It is important to note that Assad has promised reforms and a new constitution has been voted by referendum. The rebels who insist on toppling Assad through combat definitlely have a sinister agenda.
Slogans of "Christians to Beirut (capital of Lebanon) and Alawis to the coffin" are already resonating among those protesting in Syria. Surely, the international community would not want any hand in making this slogan a reality.
**a very distinctive Muslim sect whose holy book includes both the Quran and the Bible