Syria, the end of Assad, and Alawites

27 Jul

The New York Times recently published a piece in its “Opinionator” blog section by Frank Jacobs, ” A Syrian Stalemate,” which makes the very interesting, but highly improbable, if not probably completely implausible, suggestion that one answer to the Syrian civil war is for Assad to retreat to his Alawite mountain homeland on the Mediterranean coast and form an independent statelet there:

Ah, a Lebanon, you mean?  What an unparalleled success story that was — let’s try that again.  At least he accepts the comparison.  Oh, and I see his got a little Hawran homeland for Druze too.

The breath-taking stupidity of this argument is not all that stupid really as it is completely a-historical and uninformed.  The victorious Free Syrian Army — whose victory this layman thinks is only a matter of when, not if — will never accept the secession or loss of the last piece of Syria’s coastline (Lebanon; then Alexandretta), and the only thing something like that might lead to is an exponential escalation of violence and a massacre of Alawites, not to mention other minorities, of a scale that’ll take us back to the ugliest events of the early twentieth century.

But if that’s ancient history for any of us, let’s just go back to the 90s and Yugoslavia.  Aside from the cynical geopolitical interests that were the catalyst for that nightmare (you know; I never thought I’d catch myself saying what I had previously considered a dumb cliche, like that the current Eurozone crisis is the third time in less than a century that Germany has destroyed Europe — Germany and Draghi — but actually this may be the fourth time; Yugoslavia was the third), there were two basic populist “reasons” that explained the support in the West given to the unnecessary, vicious dissection of that country: a confused muddle of remnant eighteenth-and-nineteenth century romantic ideas about the “self-determination of peoples” mixed up with the whole deluded late twentieth-century ideology which we’ll just put under the umbrella of “multiculturalism” for now.  “Why don’t Bosnians deserve their own country (the former)?”, Upper West Side Sontagians cried and wrang their hands, and “Why can’t everyone in that most fascinating, multicultural part of Europe get along (the latter)?”

Cutting places up into little countries doesn’t work; there’ll always be some bunch that want their own littler country.  Hopefully, nobody will ever, ever take this proposal seriously, though Jacobs says that there’s an actual escape plan for just that in Assad vaults somewhere.

But this is the point that Jacobs gets around to that I found almost as upsetting:

“Although officially a Shiite sect, with reputed syncretist elements borrowed from Christianity and other confessions, persecution by mainstream Islam as heretical has made Alawis wary of declaring their innermost beliefs. Ironically, decades of dominance may have further weakened the communal identity; Assad père et fils have always striven to narrow the perceived difference between Alawism and mainstream Islam as a way of legitimizing their regime. This enforced “Sunnification” may have effectively erased much of the theological differences with other Syrians.”

My Muslim inclinations are generally Shi’ia — forgive me the presumption of having any Muslim inclinations at all, obviously.  But I love the blood and the mystery; the Persian lack of, or better, resistance to, Arab image-phobia; ta’ziyeh; the Christ-like martyrdom of Hussein and the Virgin-like laments of Zeynep; Asure is my favorite holiday; and generally I think faith should be about passion and emotion and sacrifice and not moralism or the Law.  So anything that chips away at the monolith of any of our Great Abrahamic Religions of Peace, I’m for.

Like I’ve said before here and here.   The Donmeh-like “Sunnification” of Alawites in Syria; Alevis in Turkey, whom centuries of violence and Sunni persecution (centuries? like until the late twentieth…) have made such staunch secularists that one doesn’t even know what they practice anymore if anything; it’d be a shame to lose such fascinating, heterodox groups and their rites and cosmologies out of indifference or because hiding has had to become such second-nature for them.

And also like I said before, I don’t know how “officially a Shiite sect” either consider themselves.  In the Syrian case, at least, Iran could just be cynically using the Alawites as a Levantine power-base and vice-versa.

As for the Bektashis, who were once a Sufi order, they got tired of the Turkish Republic’s hospitality and moved their headquarters to Tirane at some point and recently, I think the 1990s, declared themselves a branch of Islam separate from both Sunnism and Shi’ism.



One Response to “Syria, the end of Assad, and Alawites”

  1. Anonymous July 28, 2012 at 9:56 am #


    Baz from Monrovia

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