Arabism, Islamic history

Syria and the rise of Islamism, since 2006

Weak leaders

Is the current mahem and Islamisation in the Levant a result of weak leadership? or are some countries just not cut out for electoral ”democracy”? as appears to be the case in Lebanon. Was Syrian president, Dr Bashar al Assad too trusting of the Syrian people? or simply naive in relation to Britain and western intentions, in general. I’ve touched on these points more than once and will explore a little further.

The Habermas perspective

I’ve taken the account from a book called ‘Islamic Revivalism in Syria: The Rise and Fall of Ba’thist Secularism’, by Line Khatib, which is underpinned by the theories of philosopher and critical thinker Jurgen Habermas. Habermas is a protege of the Frankfurt School and a rationalist. One of his main tenets is the importance of communication and the way it can empower or distort, through speech.

Habermas believes agreement can be reached by concensus as the ability to reach agreement is built into the communication process. He does stipulate, that everyone has to be party to the debate, in order to achieve a concensus. His theories do not seem to have worked in Arabic countries as Islamism and Arabism become more polarised, even though their differences are exacerbated by outside intervention.

Ms. Khatib, in her book, bears out some of my guesswork and scant knowledge of the events leading to the mayhem in Syria. For instance he describes how, despite committing to a secular ideology, which resembled that of his father, President al-Assad attempted to make concessions to the Islamists. For instance, he lifted the ban on the hijab and in 2001, allowed Islamic exiles to return to Syria and freed 800 prisoners. In 2005, the year of my long visit, President al Assad, addressing the Ba’ath party conference, asserted, that ”shying away” from the subject of Islamisation only led to fanaticism and that moderate Islam should be encouraged.

The author differentiates between Islamisation and Islamic fundamentalism as the former works towards their political or religious goals, through the state and the latter works on a more individual programme of Islamising people. I’m not keen on the differentiation partly because I don’t like the term fundamentalist and partly because it complicates the issue. Accepting the premise I can only guess, that the mercenaries in Syria fall into the second category, while the ‘Syrian Brotherhood’ fall into the first. It is conjecture but I guess there is little love lost between the two, no-one likes an invader and now there is little chance of a ”true” Islamic state emerging.

How did it all go wrong?

According to Ms. Khatib, things began to go wrong immediately and many people from the various sects and secular society were apprehensive about the changes as Islamisation entered the public sphere. They were not wrong of course as current events show and no matter, what the philosophers say, secularism and state Islamisation are incompatible for the obvious reason, that their ideas of freedom differ.

For instance the author cites instances of pubs being forced to close near mosques and women being attacked for wearing short skirts though denies, that the secularists were against people upholding their faith. Despite all the debate around Islamisation, my impression of Syria was, that it was incredibly religious, even secular society held God in high esteem. It just seemed to be a natural state of being, among Muslims and Christians. As a communist I didn’t find it uncomfortable as no-one was pushy or preaching.

Is it that president Bashar was wrong and the ability to reach a consensus, with the ‘Syrian Brothers’ was not the overriding issue? Was Syria boiling over, with resentment against a family, which had governed it oppressively for decades? The regime’s attempt to capitalise had left people poorer. Many Syrian Sunnis had left the country in earlier decades and many were ready to rise up against the regime. It is possible, that these people underestimated the nature of the uprising and the intent of the Islamists.

The Kurds

Then, as usual, there is the Kurdish question, apparently a prominent Kurdish Islamist was murdered after speaking out against the regime in 2005. As blame was banded about, tensions in the region rose and there were demonstrations, allegedly against the government, in 2006. These certainly coincided, with the war between Lebanon and Palestine and I read a report stating the demonstrators favoured the the Israelis but who knows?

Interestingly Qamishli didn’t get invoved in the civil strife until a year ago and the latest media accounts portray the Syrian Kurds as raging communists. This appears to delight some of the anarchists I know, though I cannot fathom why, when they reject President Assad’s leadership. Perhaps it’s built into the psyche of the British people as the government here historically favoured the Kurds over the Arabs. Or it could be due to the pro Kurdish indoctrination British people have received since 1990.

The book contains lots more interesting theories, including one, which suits the anarchist movement, Syria was ready for change. Its a shame, that change is inhibited as the old adversaries, Britain and Russia are even more powerful, due of the accumulation of capital, through a monopoly game, which could continue until all the world’s resources run out.

I leave for Lebanon tomorrow, so will continue, when I return.







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