We present this new essay reprinted by permission of Paul and from The Bayview Review. This essay provides the historical background for the modern state of Syria and its recent history in the context of Islam. See the links at the end for direct access to the rest of Paul’s work.

Just a few days ago, the United Nations appealed for an immediate cease-fire in Syria. This occurs as the people of Syria face a humanitarian crisis on the scale of that which now besets Yemen. In both places, the rattle of death is pervasive.  No-one anywhere in the land his head, for fear of having it shot off.

Paradoxically, this latest round of violence has been made possible as government forces, assisted by the Russians, have finally managed to degrade the ISIS forces in eastern Syrian, freeing up thousands of Syrian government forces to take on the much-reduced enclaves held so far by the various other rebel forces. The UN estimates that as many as 750,000 more could become internal refugees over the next few months.Incidentally, this means that Western countries like Canada are soon going to have to decide the terms on which they might welcome back some of their own deranged young people who are being rounded up with other captured ISIS heroes.

The Promise of Syria’s Independence and What Happened To It (1945-1971.)

Needless  to say, this is not how the world  pictured Syria’s future back in 1946, when it received its independence from France.

Among a cluster of starry-eye generalizations that governed political discussion in the years immediately following World War II none has done more damage than the one that went like this: European Empire has prevented self-realization everywhere and must be removed in order to allow colonized people to enter upon the path of peace and progress. This generalization proved simply wrong almost everywhere.

In most places where Britain or France governed in the 1920s and 1930s, noisy ceremonies were held to accompany the handing over of the keys to local leadership.  Iraq and Syria which were both League of Nations Mandates (colonies in reality) ruled by Britain and France respectively) became independent in October 1932  and April, 1946 respectively. Previous to their adoption as Mandates, both Iraq and Syria had been governed within the Ottoman Empire, whose leaders had made the mistake of choosing the German-Austrian side in the early days of the Great War. The price it paid for this miscalculation was the breaking-up by the victorious Allied nations of its Empire into independent Republics or Kingdoms.

 Post Independence in Syria.

As proof of our own leaders’ confidence of good things to come under independence and self-rule, Syria was invited into the newly-founded United Nations. Accordingly, Syria was present and accounted for as one of the bloc of Arab and Muslim nations who tried (and nearly succeeded) in preventing the Palestine Mandate from being re-organized by the United Nations into “an Arab State and a Jewish State” on November 29, 1947. Undying hostility to Israel has ever since been an eminent feature of Syria’s foreign policy. Syria has been at the forefront of all the efforts made by Arab and Muslim armies, not to mention all those Islamist-terrorist movements, that have come into the world since 1948, to drive the Jews (“the sons of pigs and monkeys,”  to use Muhammad’s endearing description) back into the sea.

For twenty years following the year of its birth Syria was governed by military tyrants, who succeeded one another by military coup, after ruling for about eighteen months on average down to 1971, when Hafez al-Assad and his Baath Party supporters swiftly and brutally cleared the decks  in order to make Syria the one-party state that it is today.

Syria Under the Assads, 1971-2018.

Along with  the other Arab nations,  Syria briefly experienced the Arab Spring in early 201l. There were  mass demonstrations, pathetically demanding food and release of the regime’s multitudes of political prisoners. At the time the consensus  among Middle East commentators was that, of all the regimes that then governed Israel’s immediate neighbours, the one most likely to stay intact was that of Bashir al-Assad  of Syria. The thinking here was that Syria had the most professional armed forces and that these were bound in extraordinary loyalty to their President by the fact that  they were mainly recruited from  a closely-bound sectarian minority called the Alawites, to which belong only about 12% of the population of Syria. Historically, the Alawites derive from a branch of Shia Islam but are regarded by both the Shia and Sunnis as defectors from true Islam – the worst kind of heretics. The Alawites  know that they will face the long pent-up rage of  both Sunnis and Shias should they ever relax their grip on power. This is sufficient explanation for the astonishing ruthlessness of Assad’s Army  and of the Shabiha, Assad’s all-Alawite version of Hitler’s Waffen-SDS.

When, a few months into the Arab Spring discontent in Syria reached proportions   that suggested a real possibility of the overthrow of its regime, journalists looked up an incident that had gone by without attracting international notice in February, 1982. This was the two-week campaign of massacre, mainly by means of  chemical weapons, by  Hafez al-Assad’s military of at least 20,000 mainly Sunni citizens in the city of Hama who had dared to go into the streets to protest the conditions of their daily lives. If noted at all, the story was buried deep inside the pages of major newspapers.  [See Kanan  Makiya, Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising  and the Arab World  (New York: Norton, 1993, pp. 286, & 300-303.]

When I read of that  original Hama massacre of 1982 there came into my own mind a passage in Isaiah  where the Assyrian conqueror tyrant-king brags: By the strength of my hand …. I have removed the bonds of the people and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man … and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth … and there was none that moved the wing or opened the mouth or peeped  (Isaiah  10: 13-14.)

When the year 2011 dawned, the expert wisdom was that the memory of the Hama massacre twenty-nine years  earlier was strong enough that no one in Syria would ever peep again. Thus, as public protest against the tyrant Assad spread throughout the land during 2012, it had to be significant that Hama was again in the front ranks of this dangerous resistance.

Recent Events.

Here is the fact that sums up everything that you need to know about Syria today:  Syria is ranked last on the  Global Peace Index, making it the most violent country in the world.  It has no friends anywhere – except Iran and Russia, neither of these intending to stick longer than necessary to  secure limited assets.  Syria  has been  suspended from the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Its civil war has caused the deaths of  470,000. Seven and one-half million of its people have become internally displaced and there are several millions – nobody knows the exact number — who have fled across its borders.  The standard almanac sources have given up on estimating the current population.

According to Save the Children, many young Syrians have been out of school since shortly after the beginning of the uprising. Enrolment rates in Syria have fallen to an average of 50%, down from the prewar levels in which nearly all Syrian children went to school. In Aleppo, enrolment is down to 6%. At least a quarter of schools in Syria have been damaged or destroyed. Something bound to cheer us all up is the fact that Human Rights Watch is now reporting that governments and aid agencies have been unable to account for  millions of dollars earmarked for school aid for  Syrian refugees.

All proposals for solving the crisis at the ballot box have been stymied by the generally-recognized fact that none of the principal actors is committed to basic freedoms, including religious freedom and freedom of expression. The loonyness that governs everywhere in the Middle East has overtaken Syria as well: all  of the parties blame Syria’s troubles on Israel, which has played no role whatever – despite frequent opportunities to do so. Assad’s regime has always been loudly committed to the liquidation of the Jews and deeply invested in terrorist organizations that are dedicated to the same goal.

The recent history of Syria has to be understood in light of the larger story of Islam and its intellectual legacy. Insofar as politics is inspired by Islam, it is bound to be intolerant and ignorant of the possibilities of free inquiry. Arab tyrants govern people whose critical powers –both of the literate and the illiterate —  were long ago blunted and benumbed by the teachings of Islam. In Islam there are simply no resources that prepare the mind for critical examination of anything. This is the full and sufficient explanation for the failure of Islamic peoples to participate in the intellectual revolution that brought in the scientific method in our part of the World. And it  explains the continuing failure of Islam to this day to provide inspiration for a wholesome political life founded upon the spirit of free inquiry and respect for differences of opinion.

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