Saturday, October 01, 2011

Building a Fractured Society

Robin Yassin-Kassab takes a look at religious minorities and Syria's uprising:
"Tragically, the propaganda is also taken seriously by members of Syria's minority sects -- not by all of them by any stretch, but perhaps by a majority. It's tragic because perceived minority support for this sadistic regime will inevitably tarnish intersectarian relations in Syria in the future.

"Those Sunni Syrians who are (understandably) enraged by the minorities' siding with the dictatorship should remember first that many Alawis and Christians, as well as many more Druze and Ismailis, have joined the revolution and that many have paid the price. Second, Sunnis should remember that Alawis and Christians have good reason to fear change, if not to believe the propaganda...

"The one thing the regime has done intelligently in the last six months is to play on minorities' fears. I know that prominent Alawis have been receiving threatening phone calls from unknown numbers, ostensibly from "Sunnis" but almost certainly from the mukhabarat. (How would street-level Sunnis get hold of the phone numbers, and why would they want to make such threats when the committees coordinating the protests are stressing the importance of avoiding sectarianism?)..

"The minorities -- and not only the minorities -- also fear the fate of Iraq and Lebanon. When Saddam Hussein fell in Iraq, the Sunni community as a whole was blamed for the crimes of the whiskey-quaffing dictator. The Sunnis then gave shelter to Wahhabi nihilists who bombed Shiite civilians and drove a large chunk of the Christian community into Syria. So will all Alawis be blamed for the Assads? Will they be returned to their pre-1920s status? Will Christians lose Syria, the one place in the Arab world where they have prospered and practiced their faith unmolested?

"The two scenarios that most terrify the minorities (and almost everyone else) are, first, the rise of intolerant Islamism, and, second, sectarian civil war. Unfortunately, both scenarios become more likely with every moment the regime remains in power. The experience of being shot at, besieged, and tortured will inevitably drive some toward more extreme views. In addition, the military units slaughtering the people are overwhelmingly Alawi and commanded by Alawis. The regime's shabiha militias in Hama, Homs, and Latakia are Alawis recruited from the surrounding villages. These are the people torturing Sunni women and children to death, burning shops and cars, beating and humiliating old men. Their actions will have consequences. If the regime falls soon, the consequences will be legal and targeted solely at the guilty. If the regime doesn't fall soon, the consequences may be violent, generalized vigilante 'justice.' Then Iraq and Lebanon will become Syria's models."

A point to take out of this is that religious and ethnic enmities are not natural. They emerge over time based on differential interests and political mobilization and manipulation. In times of turbulence, it's important to recognize this to try and prevent them from hardening, as difficult as that is.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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