07/23/2012 03:58 pm ET | Updated Sep 22, 2012

As Syria Teeters, So Do Decades-Old Assumptions About the Middle East

The Italian leftist Antonio Gramsci may have been writing from inside Mussolini's prisons in the 1930s, but he could have been describing today's Syria when he noted that revolutionary crises are moments in which "the old is dying, and the new cannot be born" and are characterized by a "great variety of morbid symptoms." Among Syria's morbid symptoms, on Sunday, an eighth consecutive day of open warfare on the streets of Damascus and Aleppo. With border crossings into neighboring Turkey and Iraq frequently changing hands between rebel and loyalist forces, Syria's very functioning as a nation-state has begun to unravel -- and with it, potentially, the brittle bonds of a national identity of comparatively recent vintage.

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