Syria, Syrian Civil War

THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, USA

An Online Journal of Political Commentary & Analysis
Volume XIV, Issue # 151, September 18, 2012
Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr., Editor
Government Committed to & Acting in Accord with Conservative Principles
Ensures a Nation's Strength, Progress, & Prosperity
Home Page   Main Menu   Recent Articles   Site Map   Website Index   Issues & Controversies
  Cyberland University   Political Science, Philosophy, & History: Lectures   U.S. Constitution
  American Constitutional Law   American Constitutional System   American Political System
  Conservatism, Liberalism, & Radicalism   How America Goes to War
  World War IV: Islamist Terror War Against the U.S.A. & the West

THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

THE INCREASINGLY SECTARIAN DIMENSION OF THE CIVIL WAR IN SYRIA:  WHY ANALYSTS & COMMENTATORS SHOULD NOT FOCUS TOO MUCH ON ON THE SECTARIAN PARADIGM -- THE BEST POLICY FOR THE U.S.A. TO PURSUE, IN THE EVENT OF THE DOWNFALL OF THE BASHAR ASSAD REGIME
FULL STORY:   That the conflict in Syria has taken on an increasingly sectarian dimension over time is undeniable. For example, the New York Times recently interviewed children of Sunni Syrian refugees in a camp in Jordan, expressing their desire to exact revenge on the Alawite community (to which Bashar Assad belongs). On YouTube, one can find numerous videos uploaded by opponents of the regime, in which suspected operatives and supporters of the Assad government have been tortured into confessing that they are Shiite, whether they are or not. (Strictly, the Alawites are not Shiites, but there are Shiite communities in Syria, like the Ismailis.)

In May, a particularly gruesome video emerged in which some Syrian rebels beheaded a captive suspected of backing the regime, denouncing him as a rafidi (a derogatory term for a Shiite). The video did not garner any real mainstream coverage because it was falsely presented in an online article as showing the killing of a convert to Christianity in Tunisia, even though it was apparent that the speaker's accent did not suggest any kind of Maghrebi origin (or even Iraqi, as some speculated; on the contrary, the accent is distinctly Syrian). Further, nowhere in the video was the victim denounced as a Christian.

Outside of Syria, perceptions of a Sunni-Shiite conflict have long been in evidence in the wider Middle East, notably in Turkey and Iraq.

For example, on September 7, during a conference in Istanbul on the Arab Spring, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, likened the violence in Syria to the Battle of Karbala in 680. That battle resulted in the massacre of Hussein ibn Ali a grandson of Mohammed and his supporters (the Shiites) at the hands of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I.

The Turkish Premier further elaborated: "I know it very well that killing is religiously forbidden for Shiites as it is forbidden by religion for Sunnis. I know very well that killing is forbidden in Christianity and Judaism, as it is forbidden in Islam."

While one adviser to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, told Reuters that the Assad regime is guilty of playing the sectarian card in order to mask its growing weakness (hardly an unjustified allegation), the fact is that Erdogan's rhetoric is similarly playing on a Sunni-Shiite dichotomy, which has alienated minority Alawites and Alevis in Turkey.

The stance of the Iraqi government toward the conflict is similarly based on perceptions of a Sunni-Shiite civil war. To be sure, there is resentment in many quarters toward Assad himself, as someone who has Iraqi blood on his hands through his support for the Sunni insurgency in the country over many years.

However, the presence of foreign, al-Qa'ida-aligned jihadists many of whom fought in Iraq in areas like Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor, the backing of rebel fighters by Saudi Arabia and Qatar (both still widely suspected in Iraq of supporting the remaining Sunni insurgency), and the evidence from Syria itself of a Sunni-Shiite element to the conflict only fuel the concern of many Iraqis that hardline Sunni Islamists could come to power in the absence of a peaceful transition away from Assad's rule: a development they fear could spread renewed sectarian conflict over the border. This anxiety is aggravated by reports of sectarian clashes between Alawites and Sunnis in the town of Tripoli in Lebanon.

In fact, for a long time there has been evidence that some Iraqi Shiite militiamen have been heading toward Syria to push back against the rebels. In January, the Iraqi newspaper al-Mada reported that an official in the (Shiite) Badr Brigade, Sheikh Hassan Rasheed, called for men affiliated with the brigade and with the Sadrist Mahdi Army to organize in Basra and head to Syria in order to support the regime's attempt to crush the rebellion and thus prevent the rise of Sunni Islamist rule there.

In April, Balad News released a video of a man who, captured by rebel fighters, said that he was a Sadrist from Iraq's Diyala province and that he was assisting the Assad regime. Though it is easy to dismiss this clip as rebel propaganda, the man's accent is very distinctly Iraqi. Moreover, it should be noted that Diyala province was an active hotspot for militiamen in the Mahdi Army above all during the U.S. surge and many of them subsequently demobilized there.

Nevertheless, it is important not to focus too much on the sectarian paradigm. In Syria itself, the regime still maintains a sizable Sunni support base. In truth, the regime would not have been able to survive so long without a considerable degree of support from the Sunni population.

Indeed, the pace of defections of Sunni soldiers and officers from the army has been greatly exaggerated. Yes, the very best of the elite divisions namely, the Republican Guard and the Fourth Armored Division are dominated by Alawites, but one cannot agree with Joshua Landis, a scholar of Syria quoted by the New York Times, when he describes the current Syrian security forces as an "Alawite army."

In Aleppo, where it has often been noted that the regime enjoys the support of much of the Sunni urban middle class, the battle between rebel fighters and the Syrian army has only stirred up local resentment against the former, such that even pro-revolution activists like Edward Dark have become disillusioned.

Likewise, in the wider Muslim world, it would be wrong to generalize about attitudes toward the Syrian civil war on a sectarian basis. Pakistan, a predominantly Sunni country, is a case in point. According to a contact in Peshawar with whom I spoke, there is at the popular level sympathy for Assad as the victim of a foreign conspiracy, just as there was sympathy for Qaddafi during the Libyan civil war. This should not come as a surprise. After all, the Pakistani population (unlike the Arab world) is not exposed to the intense coverage of the conflict by al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, and given the West's current stance against Assad it will have only a vague perception of Syria as just another Muslim country under threat from foreigners. Indeed, the only evidence of protests in Pakistan against Assad's rule has been video footage of Syrian exiles in Pakistan holding their own demonstrations; this contrasts strongly with the solidarity with the Syrian opposition shown by many Egyptians, for example.

At the level of government, it is worth noting that, while Pakistan, out of deference to the Gulf Arab states, voted in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution back in February condemning the Syrian regime, it chose to abstain from a similar Saudi-sponsored resolution this Summer condemning the regime and deploring the lack of action on the part of the UN Security Council, even as Afghanistan and Bangladesh voted in favor of the resolution.

While one can rightly draw attention to Pakistan's economic ties to Iran and China as reasons for abstention, it is also worth noting what government sources told the Pakistani newspaper The Nation at the time: namely, that the efforts to oust Assad and install a new government in Syria would lead to "further instability in the entire region," in which other Muslim countries "might face the same fate." This illustrates that sympathy with Assad as the victim of a foreign conspiracy permeates the Pakistani government, as well as the general population.

In short, the sectarian paradigm does have its role in assessing the nature of the conflict in Syria and determining how outsiders view the civil war, but one should also recognize that other interests and considerations are in play here, including friendly relations with countries either actively supporting the regime (e.g., Iran) or opposed to any outside interference (e.g., China), along with general anti-American sentiments.

For the U.S.A., the best policy to pursue in the event of the downfall of the Assad regime and the establishment of some kind of stable transitional government (NB: I am skeptical of the possibility of the latter development) is to emphasize national unity rather than notions of sectarian quotas and identity politics, as happened in Iraq post-2003. This may help to counter the influence of foreign powers like Qatar, which has an interest in promoting the Muslim Brotherhood and, by implication, a sectarian outlook.


LINKS TO RELATED TOPICS:

The Middle East & the Problem of Syria

American Foreign Policy -- The Middle East

Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors

Islamism & Jihadism -- The Threat of Radical Islam
Page Three    Page Two    Page One

International Politics & World Disorder:
War, Peace, & Geopolitics in the Real World:
Foreign Affairs & U.S. National Security

   Page Two    Page One

Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.

Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization

Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies

U.S. National Security Strategy



Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University, United Kingdom, and a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


The foregoing article by Jawad Al-Tamimi was originally published in National Review Online, September 17, 2012, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis--vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (URL: http://www.meforum.org/3340/syrian-civil-war)


Republished with Permission of the Middle East Forum
Reprinted from the Middle East Forum News
mefnews@meforum.org (MEF NEWS)
September 18, 2012




Return to Top of Page

Go to the WEBSITE INDEX

Return to Beginning of
THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, USA,
Public Issues & Political Controversies


Return to Beginning of
THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, USA
Most Recent Articles


Return to Beginning of
THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, USA,
Volume XIV, 2011


Return to Beginning of
THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, USA,
Subject Matter Highlights


Return to POLITICAL EDUCATION Homepage

CONTACT & ACCESS INFORMATION




LINKS TO PARTICULAR ISSUES & SUBJECT MATTER CATEGORIES
TREATED IN THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, U.S.A.:

Africa: Black Africa * Africa: North Africa * American Government 1
American Government 2 * American Government 3 * American Government 4
American Government 5 * American Politics * Anglosphere * Arabs
Arms Control & WMD * Aztlan Separatists * Big Government
Black Africa * Bureaucracy * Canada * China * Civil Liberties * Communism
Congress, U.S. * Conservative Groups * Conservative vs. Liberal
Constitutional Law * Counterterrorism * Criminal Justice * Disloyalty * Economy
Education * Elections, U.S. * Eminent Domain * Energy & Environment
English-Speaking World * Ethnicity & Race * Europe * Europe: Jews
Family Values * Far East * Fiscal Policy, U.S. * Foreign Aid, U.S. * Foreign Policy, U.S.
France * Germany * Hispanic Separatism * Hispanic Treason * Human Health * Immigration
Infrastructure, U.S. * Intelligence, U.S. * Iran * Iraq * Islamic North Africa
Islamic Threat * Islamism * Israeli vs. Arabs * Jews & Anti-Semitism
Jihad & Jihadism * Jihad Manifesto I * Jihad Manifesto II * Judges, U.S. Federal
Judicial Appointments * Judiciary, American * Latin America * Latino Separatism
Latino Treason * Lebanon * Leftists/Liberals * Legal Issues
Local Government, U.S. * Marriage & Family * Media Political Bias
Middle East: Arabs * Middle East: Iran * Middle East: Iraq * Middle East: Israel
Middle East: Lebanon * Middle East: Syria * Middle East: Tunisia
Middle East: Turkey * Militant Islam * Military Defense * Military Justice
Military Weaponry * Modern Welfare State * Morality & Decency
National Identity * National Security * Natural Resources * News Media Bias
North Africa * Patriot Act, USA * Patriotism * Political Culture * Political Ideologies
Political Parties * Political Philosophy * Politics, American * Presidency, U.S.
Private Property * Property Rights * Public Assistance * Radical Islam
Religion & America * Rogue States & WMD * Russia * Science & Ethics
Sedition & Treason * Senate, U.S. * Social Welfare Policy * South Africa
State Government, U.S. * Subsaharan Africa * Subversion * Syria * Terrorism 1
Terrorism 2 * Treason & Sedition * Tunisia * Turkey * Ukraine
UnAmerican Activity * UN & Its Agencies * USA Patriot Act * U.S. Foreign Aid
U.S. Infrastructure * U.S. Intelligence * U.S. Senate * War & Peace
Welfare Policy * WMD & Arms Control


This is not a commercial website. The sole purpose of the website is to share with interested persons information regarding civics, civic and social education, political science, government, politics, law, constitutional law and history, public policy and political philosophy and history, as well as current and recent political developments, public issues, and political controversies.



POLITICAL EDUCATION, CONSERVATIVE ANALYSIS

POLITICS, SOCIETY, & THE SOVEREIGN STATE

Website of Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr.

Government, Politics, Public Policy, Legal Issues, Constitutional Law, Government & the Economy, Cultural Values, Foreign Affairs, International Relations, Military Defense & National Security, Geopolitics, Terrorism & Homeland Security, American National Interests, Political Systems & Processes, Political Institutions, Political Ideologies, & Political Philosophy

INDEX FOR THE ENTIRE WEBSITE

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z




THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, USA

An Online Journal of Political Commentary & Analysis

Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr., Editor

Conservative & Free-Market Analysis of Government, Politics & Public Policy, Covering Political, Legal, Constitutional, Economic, Cultural, Military, International, Strategic, & Geopolitical Issues


Conservative Government Ensures a Nation's Strength, Progress, & Prosperity