Colonial Encounters and Divergent Development Trajectories in the Mediterranean Study Group
Mohamed Said Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace, American University
The arc of Syrian history in the 20th century was determined at Paris in 1919. Prince Faisal, leader of the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans, traveled to the peace conference at the end of World War I to make the claim for Syria’s right to independence. Inspired by Woodrow Wilson’s promise of autonomy for peoples liberated from the Ottoman Empire, the Arabs made the case that they were as worthy of self-rule as the Poles, Czechs, and Serbs liberated from the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. The Big Four at Paris — leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and the United States — deliberated on whether Arabs deserved full national rights or belonged to less civilized races who required European control. This paper reconsiders the Arab appeal at Paris within international frameworks of race and colonialism, and explores the effect of the Big Four’s decision on the future of human rights and liberal governance in Syria.