Sunday, March 04, 2012

Tim Arango on sectarianism in the Syrian conflict

So Tim Arango wrote this in the New York Times days ago:  " Syria is drawing in sectarian forces from its neighbors, and threatening to spill its conflict into a wider conflagration."  It is the season.  Correspondents and columnists have a free hand: they can write the most unsubstantiated materials without having to provide evidence or proof or even one source, as long as the venom is directed at the side that is not on the side of the US camp in the region.  Here, above was the example.  Mr. Arango is arguing that Syria is behind the increasingly sectarian tones and substance of the conflict.  For that, unsurprisingly, he blames the Syrian regime.  He says that Syria is the one "drawing in sectarian forces".  I don't know what that means, of course, as Syria is also drawing most of its support from Russia (did Russia convert to Shi`ite Islam and we were not told?) and China (is China Sunni or Shi`ite?)  And Syria has for years relied on Hamas support and the movement is rather split between those who want to support the regime and those who want to stay neutral and the one lone sentence uttered by Isma`il Haniyyah in which he saluted the Syrian people.  It is indubitable that the sectarian language and tone in this conflict in Syria is a feature of the Ikhwan and Ikhwan-affiliated segments of the Syrian opposition and of the Saudi and Qatari Arab media.  I have been watching and reading the media of both side for months: the words Sunni and Shi`ite and `Alawite never ever appear in the Syrian regime media, but is a constant theme in Saudi and Qatari media.  Saudi-sponsored religious channels regularly vomit bigotry against Shi`ites and `Alawites and many clerics (and even "liberal" pro-Saudi or pro-Hariri propagandists like Ma'mun Humsi) threaten extermination of `Alawites.  The sentence by Arango leads me to assume safely that he knows not one word of Arabic.  Now don't get me wrong: the sectarian question in Syria is also due to the sectarian bases of the Syrian regime.  The Syrian regime officially advocates a mild form of secularism (perhaps more secular than all other Arab regimes although it is not secular enough by my standards because the regime also exploits religion when it suits its own purposes and promotes clerics who parrot the propaganda line of the regime), while the ruling elite is sectarian in composition--not as purely sectarian in composition as in the times of Hafidh Al-Asad but still drawn from `Alawites.  But to deny the sectarian contributions of the Syrian opposition (not all of it of course), is to basically deny what one sees and hears daily.  The Ikhwan in Syria has a long record of sectarianism and bigotry.  Finally, let us not kid ourselves: the word Shabbihah (armed goons) is now used synonymously with `Alawite, and many sectarian killings in Homs were justified as targeting of shabbihah.