Hands off Syria rally, Sydney by Tim Anderson
Attacks on the Syrian Arab Army have come from all sides, most western media claiming it has been 'brutal', defends a 'dictatorship', or represents an 'Alawite regime'. While the army has confronted violence with violence, a series of 'false flag' accusations have been leveled at it, the most recent over the use of sarin gas.
However, in defence of this army, I ask two questions: one, after
two years of foreign-backed attacks, mostly from religious fanatics, how would
To properly understand the gravity of the attacks on the
secular Syrian state we have to appreciate that all violent insurrections in
Indeed, the major regional competition has been between
secular nationalism and political Islam. When
In Daraa in March 2011, just as in
A 28 March 2011 statement by Muhammad Riyad Al-Shaqfa, Syrian Muslim Brotherhood boss, leaves no doubt that their aim is sectarian, the enemy is 'the secular regime' and that 'we have to make sure that the revolution will be pure Islamic, and with that no other sect would have a share of the credit after its success'.
Amongst current western media cliches is one that the Syrian conflict is becoming 'increasingly sectarian'. This is linked to simple characterisations of the conflict as one 'between Sunni and Shia', or 'between the majority Sunni community and the Alawite regime'. These cliches are quite misleading.
The Muslim Brotherhood, for historical reasons (mainly its
competition with secular Arab nationalism and dependence on Saudi sponsorship), has long represented a particular extremist sect within Sunni Islam. In
doctrinal terms this is a salafism, which makes use of 'takfiri' ideas, by which
all other sects can be considered apostates or unbelievers (infidels, kafir)
and, for that reason, open to attack. This is an extreme sectarianism, which in
Yet this is not a 'Sunni' view. Opinion polls in
This is a great problem for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has relied on 'takfiri' ideas to advance its political cause. The Brotherhood dominates both the exile 'opposition' and the armed groups that make up the 'Free Syrian Army', and does have some support amongst the Sunni merchant classes. But it relies on sectarianism. It is the Brotherhood, along with its foreign- and Al Qaeda-linked allies, that has promoted the idea of the Assad government as 'an Alawite regime', murdering Alawi and Shiia civilians, in attempts to incite wider community conflict.
The Brotherhood pretends to represent all Sunnis, or at
least 'real Sunnis'. In practice most Sunnis reject them. The western media
reported a series of FSA commanders in
The Syrian state, whatever its other flaws, has certainly represented a strong secular tradition. There are many signs of this. President Bashar al Assad himself is married to a Sunni woman. The Grand Mufti of Syria, Sheikh Ahmad Hassoun, is a strong Sunni supporter of the secular state. Sheikh Mohamad Al Bouti, murdered along with 42 others by an FSA suicide bomber in March 2013, was a senior Sunni Koranic scholar who backed the secular state. The western media tag on these men as being 'pro-Assad' rather misses the point.
A key objective of the Brotherhood's insurrection was always to split the Syrian Arab Army along sectarian lines. Indeed, a number of army officers did defect, mostly those with family links to the Brotherhood. FSA atrocities against Alawis and Christians (most of which were blamed on the government) must have raised community feelings. However, towards the end of 2011 the FSA-aligned spokesperson in England, Rami Abdel Rahman, who calls himself the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said less than 1000 soldiers had deserted.