After almost two years of civil war, some Syrians have taken the law into their own hands—in a good way.
According to CNN, a “self-appointed council of judges, lawyers and clerics” in rebel-controlled parts of Aleppo formed the United Courts Council last fall, in “a desperate strategy…aimed at preventing Syria from descending further into chaos.”
One former government judge told journalists, “We came to work to stop people like the Free Syrian Army or others from taking advantage of the weak and to maintain law and order inside liberated areas.”
CNN said the values the rebel court is trying to uphold come from the Arab League’s unified criminal code, which is based on sharia. The court issues official documents, settles disputes, and even runs a makeshift jail, and council members have plans to set up similar courts in other parts of the country.
It’s impressive that local residents consider the “rebel court” at least somewhat legitimate, too. That must be because the alternative is anarchy.
In Leviathan, that’s what Thomas Hobbes called the state of nature, or “the war of all against all,” when there is no higher power to rule over a people. “Higher power” brings problems of its own, but it’s got to be better than a Lord of the Flies kind of existence. Hobbes could see this after his experience with the English civil wars.
I imagine there would be a period when at least some people reverted to a state of nature, applying the brute-force method to get what they needed to survive. Some opponents of gun-control say they need to be able to protect themselves from a tyrannical government, but we should also ask ourselves if we want our neighbors to have guns in the event they go feral.
In such a crisis, others would prefer to continue living by their (political, social, religious) values and would probably form small-scale makeshift governments based on the Constitution or a religious text.
I hope never to experience this, but the Syrian story is an impressive example of how people can maintain some aspects of civilized life when their government can’t, or won’t, do it for them.