On September 29, Marcell Shehwaro, Thomas Pierret and Bjørn Olav Utvik will speak on a panel titled “Misreading Syria: Sectarian Secularism”. We have collected a few articles which are relevant to the topic of this panel. We do recommend these articles to better understand the nature of the Assad state and the Syrian conflict today.
The manipulation of sectarianism was one of the methods used by the Syrian regime to preserve its control over the decades. The interdiction against sectarian discourses, under the guise of nationalism and secularism, was but a cover for the authoritarian and sectarian practices of its security establishment.
Looking at the turmoil in Syria today it is easy to conclude that one of the few virtues of the Baathist dictatorship was its opposition to sectarianism. Since the Syrian conflict began, President Bashar al-Assad has sought to portray his struggle for survival as an heroic effort to quell religious strife, but this strife is also partly a result of the regime’s own religious policies.
The dictatorships of the Arab world — whether they claim to be religious or secular — don’t genuinely care about ideology. What they care about is staying in power, and their cack-handed efforts to do so have caused the multi-decade governance catastrophe that has allowed sectarianism to flourish.
War of the Rocks published two revisionist articles by an author writing under a pseudonym that brought back to mind all these conversations and many more since the uprising-cum-civil war engulfed Syria and civil war recurred in Iraq. Here, I respond to the author’s account of Syria. I am not qualified to discuss Iraq, so I will refrain from addressing this angle.
The Syrian regime manipulated sectarian divides from day one. Does Rosen remember the first days of April 2011, when the Minister of Interior was branding the peaceful sit-in in Homs as a “Salafi Emirate”? Wasn’t that a not-so-subtle way to raise sectarian fears among minorities? Or was the Minister speaking so “out of fear of Sunni sectarianism”? Does Rosen remember that a couple of days later, Alawite auxiliaries were sent to kill protesters on Homs’ Clock Square? Did that also happen “out of fear of Sunni sectarianism”?