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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘ba’ath party’

The War of Ideologies in the Arab World

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

If one were to ask an Arab what has happened to the Arab countries, and why the terrorism and extremism we see today did not exist in the 1950s and 1960s, the answer would probably point to the frustrations and struggles of dual identities: Arab nationalism and Islamism. After the collapse of Arab nationalism, Islamist movements and ideologies emerged to fill the void. The two developments that exposed the dangerous turn to extremism the Islamist movements had taken were the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the recent Arab uprisings, called the “Arab Spring.”

From the events of 2001 until the latest Arab upheavals, the West has pursued support for a moderate Islam in the region, to eliminate terrorism. Concepts such as a “new Middle East” and support for democracies rather than tyrants became prominent rhetorically. But do leaders in the West realize how rivalries and distrust persist among Muslims, between Muslims, and against other, non-Muslim minorities? Do the values of a moderate and pluralist Islam exist today or have they disappeared completely? If they exist, how can the West support such examples of moderate Islam?

Suspicion among Muslims and toward non-Muslim minorities has a long history, but has become aggravated especially now. Sunnis do not trust Shias and Islamists are suspicious of liberals, and tension is mutual, as each group reacts to the other. Many who do not belong to Islamist parties and who represent minority groups in Egypt and Tunisia are terrified of the Muslim Brotherhood and their more extreme counterparts, the so-called “Salafis” (imitators of the Saudi Wahhabis). An Islamist state could not be expected to guarantee liberty for everyone. Shias, for their part, are anxious about the power of political Sunnism and its impact on them.

Extremist and terrorist ideological networks are present throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The recent terrorist attack on Algeria, in which foreign hostages from Japan, Philippines, Romania, Britain and the United States were killed, is connected to the terrorist invasion of nearby northern Mali. Absence of security, arms smuggling from a collapsed Libya, and rising instability are aggravated, not resolved, by Islamists in power around the region. The horrible situation in Syria, with continued fighting between the regime and armed groups, is a breeding ground for terrorism. Lack of security and stability have spread in Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon no less than Tunisia and Egypt.

This shift to extremism in the Arab world did not happen overnight. After the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire beginning in the nineteenth century, Pan-Arabism came forward with a vision of resistance to outside rule through a “new” social order, conceived along Islamic lines. Some Egyptian and the Syrian representatives of pan-Arab nationalism believed in an authoritarian state that would unify the heterogeneous Arabs into a single nation and creed. Pan-Arab nationalism was secular, and was crystallised as a political movement in the 20th century by a Syrian Christian, Michel Aflaq, who founded the Ba’ath (“Renaissance”) Party in Damascus in 1940. Aflaq, a Christian, said that Islam could not be dissociated from an Arab nationalist identity, but that the state must be separate from religious institutions. As cited by Kanan Makiya in his 1998 book Republic of Fear, Aflaq wrote, “We wish that a full awakening of Arab Christians takes place, so that they can see in Islam a nationalist education for themselves.”

When Gamal Abd Al-Nasser took power in Egypt in 1952, the country became the spiritual home of Arab nationalism. But enthusiasm for this identity did not liberate the Arab nation from foreign hegemony; nor did it generate the freedom, development and democracy that the people and especially the youth desired. Arab leaders in Egypt, Syria and Iraq, as extreme ultranationalists, disregarded the principles of freedom and democracy. One of the main causes of the decline of nationalist ideology seems to have been the 1967 Arab defeat in the Egyptian-led war against Israel.

The failure of, and disappointment in, nationalism allowed Islamists to gain new ground. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Muslim thought was occupied by the critical, philosophical views of reformers such as the Iranian Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1839-97), the Egyptians Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) and Ali Abderraziq (1888-1966) as well as others who favored adoption of Western cultural achievements while preserving Islamic belief.

What is Really ‘Broken’ In Syria?

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Among the many noteworthy aspects of President Barack Obama’s recent tour of the Middle East was a comment on March 22, during a press conference with Jordanian King Abdullah II. Obama said, “Something has been broken in Syria, and it’s not going to be put back together perfectly, immediately, anytime soon – even after Assad leaves.”

Although the characterization of Syria’s condition was accurate, Syria has been “broken” for a longer time than most Weste­rners seem to think. A religious fissure in Syrian society – a tear that has now widened into a civil war and filled up with blood, bodies, and ruins – dates at least to 1970. That was the year Hafez Al-Assad (1930-2000), father of the current dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, who are both members of the Alawite religious minority, seized power within the Syrian wing of the Ba’ath party, which had ruled the country since a coup in 1963.

Supporting both Al-Assads, and serving as their main subordinates and followers, were – and are – other members of the Alawite denomination, which some consider Muslim and others do not. The world was slow to recognize in the Syrian civil conflict, commencing in 2011, a sectarian confrontation. The Syrian war pits the Alawites, who are typically counted as about 11% of the country’s population of 22.5 million, against the Sunni Muslims, who total around 75%. There is also a small Alawite presence in Lebanon, which is vulnerable to involvement in the Syrian contest.

When Hafez Al-Assad became dictator of Syria, Alawites had already infiltrated the Syrian army on a wide scale, a pattern that began under the French mandate controlling Syria from 1920 to 1946. Hafez Al-Assad installed still more Alawites as Ba’athist leaders, at the summits of military elite and state administration in Syria – an Alawite ascendancy maintained by Bashar Al-Assad. Between the Alawites and the Sunni Arabs stand small communities of Sunni Kurds and Turkmens, Christians, Druze (an esoteric faith derived from Shia Islam), other variants of traditional Shi’ism, and even a microscopic Jewish contingent. While favoring the Alawite minority, the Al-Assad regime pursued, under both father and son, a policy of public secularism. This included protection of the marginal creeds, as a bulwark against the overwhelming Sunni multitude.

Even though the Alawites are typically described as an “offshoot of Shia Islam,” from their emergence in the 9th century until the 20th century, their identification with an Islam of any kind has been denied by Muslim rulers and theologians.

Rejection of their claim as Muslims was, and is, based above all on their worship, as God, of Ali Ibn Abi Talib – the fourth caliph who succeeded Muhammad (and three others from among Muhammad’s companions). Ali, assassinated in 661 CE, was a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and is considered by Shias to have possessed divine knowledge – one of the core differences between Shias and Sunnis, who refuse any such an assumption about Ali.

All Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, accept Ali as a righteous leader of the Muslims. The Alawites, however, have taken their devotion to Ali so far as to believe that Ali was the creator of the world, of humanity, of Muhammad of a third member of the “Alawite trinity,” Salman Al-Farsi, a companion of Muhammad and the first translator of the Koran out of Arabic, into his native Persian. Ali, as the Alawites conceive him, was the final manifestation of God.

The notion that Ali was God and created Muhammad, has been treated by Sunnis and, until the late 20th century, conventional Shia Muslims, as a departure from Islam, if not a tradition with which Islam was never directly involved. The Alawite sect has been said by foreign scholars to have roots in, and reflections of, ancient Phoenician practices, Persian religious movements derived from Zoroastrianism, and even Christianity.

Through the centuries, several important Sunni fatwas [Islamic clerical judgments] proclaimed that the Alawites were not Muslim. These fatwas include three issued by Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), an ultra-fundamentalist Sunni, considered the leading forerunner of Wahhabism, the state religion in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda frequently praises Ibn Taymiyya a a source of inspiration. Ibn Taymiyya’s knowledge of the Alawites, however, was imperfect, according to Yvette Talhamy of the University of Haifa, who summarized 650 years of fatwas made against Alawaites in a 2010 article in Middle East Studies, “The Fatwas and the Nusayri/Alawits of Syria.” In 1516 and in the 1820s, high Ottoman Sunni clerics issued even more fatwas against the Alawites which justified repression of the minority.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/what-is-really-broken-in-syria/2013/04/04/

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