Syria -- Some Thoughts Three Years Later

03/14/2014 09:40 am ET | Updated May 14, 2014
AFP via Getty Images

Three years later and the numbers are staggering, though figures published by the various Syrian opposition sources seem to be exaggerated. Still, the truth is that Syria of old is no more and will not be restored. Gone are the high slogans of "Heart of Arabism," Unity, Freedom and Socialism," and any other Arab Nationalist, Ba'athi myth which proved imaginary.

The bottom line is that Syria is yet another failed state in the Middle East, a political entity which has proved unable to function as the combined total of its various religious/ethnic/linguistic groups. Instead, Syria is the embodiment of the reality, that primordial, tribal, sectarian loyalties by far outweigh and supersede the notion of a modern state, united by one joint vision.

This is the sad truth not just about Syria, but also about other countries in the region, so any meaningful and honest analysis of the crisis -- its deep sources and likely repercussions -- should involve a sincere discussion about what the great Fouad Ajami termed "The Arab predicament," "The dream palace of the Arabs": the failure to create a stable state with legitimacy in an environment so heavily affected by such forceful divisive influences and with it the consequent inevitable violent conflicts which have been such a formidable feature of the entire Arab region.

In fact, Syria's malfunction is doubly significant exactly because of the pretension of the House of Assad to have overcome all the above, and be the model of a new Arab state based on a party ideology of joint national identity, social transformation and progress which transcends traditional cleavages.

The Ba'ath regime was all the above rhetorically and nothing of the above practically. It has been a modern state ONLY insofar as adopting techniques of a modern police state -- the application of effective methods of mass repression -- but not beyond that.

Its REAL genuine basis of support has always been the Alawite community and with it other smaller communities, among them Christians, who have good reasons to fear a Sunni Muslim-dominated Syria.

Here it is the time and place to do some justice to the Alawites -- not by any stretch of the imagination to try and justify the unspeakable horrors inflicted by them today upon so many Sunni Muslims, but simply an attempt to wear "Alawite" shoes for the sake of a balanced discussion...

The Alawites are the historic "Others" of the entire Syrian mosaic, the one sect which by long-standing religious bigotry and a sense of superiority over the Sunnis was doomed to be the pariahs of Syria. Well, they refuse to fulfill the script written for them by the majority, and they showed it by their cooperation with the hated French colonial administration, and they show it by their being the mainstay of the Ba'ath dictatorship. In the process, the once rural, placid community of mountaineers became a mobilized society, a community in arms, basically a praetorian guard numbering over three million people.

All those who predict that the regime somehow is "winning," will survive and possibly restore Syria, should bear this very basic fact in mind: the Alawites do not fight to restore Syria, they fight to survive as a community.

The barbarity that so many of them show in this fight is no different than that shown by their adversaries. The Sunni rebels are a mixed lot of moderate and radical Islamists, and they are also driven by a sense that their very survival in a country they consider to be the home of Sunni Islam is threatened.

So, both parties are having the same vision, though diametrically opposed to each other. They want to survive as communities, but they act as if their particular survival cannot happen by having a co-existence of equals.

The ferocity of the fight, the hatred and the levels of violence are not a proof that this is something which is characteristic of ALL Arabs and Muslims. It is characteristic of those among them who came to the conclusion based on history, bitter memories and a lot of bloodshed that communal survival can be achieved through struggle, rather than dialogue.

That said, the future looks bleak. Usual Western-oriented conflict-resolution models are not applicable in this case. It is not inconceivable that a semblance of a state will exist for years to come, but a society united by common values will not, and that means that Syria will, for all intents and purposes, be broken up to its communal components. The fighting now is NOT about Syria, it is about solidifying control over the various communal enclaves.

Let us talk about Sunnistan [in itself divided between various factions], Alawistan, Kurdistan and Druzistan, with only the Christians without having their own communal-territorial base, being out of the game. Consequently, there will be a massive wave of Christian emigration.

The tragedy is that this process is still not nearing its end, and that is why the human calamity will continue to exact such a terrible price. There will be more sad anniversaries to the people there.