Syria: The strong risk of fitna, and how to prevent it

Josh Landis has a truly excellent piece on his blog today. It is a lengthy account that he’s publishing there, that was written by someone identified only as “An American in Syria.” Whoever the writer is, the writing shows the closeness of her/his own connectedness to Syrians in Damascus of a variety of views and backgrounds, the acuity of his/her ability to understand the dangerous social fragmentation that seems to be ripping through the heart of Syrian society right now, and her/his own deep humanity.
The writer– or Landis?– identifies the following eleven themes in the essay:

    – the new phenomenon of Dera’an separateness
    – the challenging experience of Shia minority in the Dera’a muhafiza
    – effects of the suppression on the entire muhafiza, not just the city
    – identity as geographical, not only tribal/sectarian
    – new Damascene attitudes toward Dera’ans
    – Christian passivity and approval for the suppression
    – conservative trends in Sunni society vs. denial of Salafist presence
    – Alawi movement from prior measured criticism of the regime to a new, fanatical patriotism
    – reaction of Lebanese Shia, effect on large, extended family groups that span the Lebanon-Syria border
    – Hizbullah’s rapidly declining popularity among opposition Syrians
    – experience of opposition-oriented Syrian AUB students in Lebanon, threats

This piece is part of a fine tradition of great descriptions of how it feels to be inside a country that is undergoing a social fragmentation that is speedy, deep, and often comes as a huge surprise to the people who are undergoing/participating in the process, themselves… In Spring 1994, I published a review of two great books that explored the process from the inside, in both Lebanon and former Yugoslavia… I already archived the text of that review on JWN, several years ago. You can find it here.
One key lesson from both books is just how fast the ruptures, fissures, fears, scars, and worldview of fitna can spread through a whole society.
Since Spring 1994, of course, we have seen many other instances of seemingly stable societies splintering in a shockingly speedy and violent way. Right then, in April 1994, there was Rwanda… Since then, the first big examples that come to mind are post-invasion Iraq and Kenya.
There are many, many things that a responsible national government, responsible opposition politicians, and deeply engaged outsiders can do to arrest and even reverse this process of social breakdown (fitna.) Thus far, neither the Syrian government nor– as far as I can see– the opposition leaders, nor any outsiders have done anything effective in this regard.
The time to act is now (or yesterday.) The tools are widely available in all the annals of diplomacy and negotiation. Various governments (Norway, Qatar, Turkey, Switzerland) and non-governmental organizations like the Sant’ Egidio group in Rome have a lot of experience in figuring out how to stop and reverse the process of iftitan.
A basic agreement not to demonize or diminish any “other” group of human beings, just for being members of that group, is key. So is a commitment to always be conservative in the way people report atrocities, tragedies, or other harms, as opposed to allowing exaggeration, fearmongering, and warmongering to enter into and take over the discourse. Finally, focusing on a strong concept of equal co-citizenship in the one country is an excellent way to restore respect among all the co-citizens, to underline their joint commitment to the wellbeing of their one country, and to pave the way for establishment of a democratic and accountable political system going forward.
But as I said, the time to act is now. Otherwise, Rwanda beckons.

12 thoughts on “Syria: The strong risk of fitna, and how to prevent it

  1. Jack

    The basic problem in Syria now seems to be tha Assad regime’s unwillingness to see, let alone accept, the inevitability of change. Assad either will not or cannot stop the murderous overreaction of the security forces. Assad had a chance to actually lead and control the change a couple of months ago, but has now lost legitimacy, so he must now go. It seems that the regime’s goal at present is simply self preservation at any cost. In so doing, they have raised the ultimate price they will have to pay and so increased their own urges to self preservation. There has now been too many deaths and imprisonments and mistreatment to have any real possibility of a “soft landing” to therevolt now.

  2. Henry James

    Actually, I don’t think that preventing Syrian fitna is a good discussion issue outside of Syria.
    First, it suggests that maybe US, Israel and EU need to get more involved in Syria. This certainly looks like a bad idea.
    Second, now it appears that civil wars in Libya, Yemen and possibly Syria are all parts of so called “Arab Spring”. But if it is basically about afghanization of the Arab world, then why neoprogressive hawks are so enthusiastic about it?
    Now I am really terrified when I read once venerable Informed Comment by Dr.Cole. No trace of a doubt that “Arab Spring” is the best thing that ever happened to the Arabs in the last century or so.
    Where is the source of such certainty, maybe just in the Obama Administraion, in blind selling its policies no matter what?

  3. David

    I don’t see how it’s even a matter of debate “that ‘Arab Spring’ is the best thing that ever happened to the Arabs in the last century or so”.
    I think we can all agree that there are better things that could happen, real democracy for example, but as an alternative to continuing with the Arab governments as they were, yes the Arab Spring is the best thing to have happened.

  4. epppie

    You know, to discuss the opposition in places like Syria, Iran and Libya, without discussing in a very serious way US/Israel involvement and subversion is not just naive. I consider it to be evil. If you’ve been paying any attention at all to US foreign policy, then you KNOW that the US most certainly does heavily fund and otherwise support oppositions in countries it designates as ‘enemies’, and you know that part of the reason for this, or most of the reason, is to force the government that is under pressure to crack down much harder than it might otherwise do, or at least to provide and excuse for such a crackdown.
    Do a little thought experiment. If you are the leader of Cuba, or Venezuela, or Libya, or Iran, or Syria, and you KNOW that the opposition in your country is, to an extent that you can never really know for sure, funded and backed by foreign powers, how would you react to it?
    Come on, this is elementary US policy 101, but you act like it doesn’t even exist, like it’s not part of the equation. The real point of US subversion is, if an actual takeover by a US-friendly faction can’t be arranged, to force the ruling government to crack down harshly, which in turn provides an excuse for US/Nato intervention. And remember too that most reports of how severe the crackdown is and how widespread the uprising is are likely to be coming from the same folks that have US backing, and in many cases may even be US trained, or even may be US or Israeli agents in some sense, or contacts at least.
    I don’t have high regard for the government of Syria. From what I hear, it is a very oppressive government. But if you want to prevent civil war there, and push forward reconciliation, in Syria and throughout the world, the best first step would be to acknowledge the problem of US/USallied subversion and to demand that it stop.
    Or, alternatively, that we support ‘democracy’ across the board, and not just in selected countries that we have designated ‘enemies’.

  5. bb

    Some very interesting posts from Helena on the South African model. And as she has also pointed out there is the Turkish democratic model which has now also been established in Iraq. With result that Syria now shares borders with two countries where more than 100 million people stretching from the north of Turkey to the southern tip of Iraq live in parliamentary democracies that have eschewed the “strong man” presidential system. Government by consent of the people, in fact.
    This is the future for Syria too. It is the way history is going. The resilience of the Syrian opposition movement against the once tried and true totalitarian Baath remedy of brutality and torture has been quite extraordinary. With Gaddafi on his last legs, I am thinking that Bashar will not be able to hold out and that old remedies like paying impoverished farmers to provoke IDF perfidies are not going to work this time.

  6. Salah

    A basic agreement not to demonize or diminish any “other” group of human beings, just for being members of that group, is key.
    Whatever name you giving to ME going on Today from Arab Spring, to revolutions, Fitnna, Al-Qaeda, and so on and soforth , let not forgot to re-read again and again two very articuate writting bey very famous folks:
    First One- The Clash of Civilizations
    The Second One:Blood Borders
    How a better Middle East would look
    So no wonder the neoprogressive hawks are so enthusiastic about it, in the end marginalizing Arab societies, demolishing Arab states which was created by British empire by drawing Lines on The Sand….

  7. bb

    Salah … now that Assad regime is turning helicopter gunships on its people, doesn’t this remind you of Iraq in 1991?

  8. Salah

    I did not said or in anyway in support of all these B# regimes.
    I Hope all Arabs free from all what Brits did in early 1900 by drawing the line on the sand which made them suffering till now when the wealth of their land cover all of them .

  9. Salah

    Looks your friend Not just stealing Iraqi oil for the last 10 years which till now no Meters instead to count how much oil loaded to those Tankers filled with iraqi oil (of course OZI got some of it) they come no with new demand from Iraq!

    a visiting U.S. Congress delegation was “not welcome” in the country, citing reports its leader called on Baghdad to pay compensation to Washington for years of war since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Iraqi officials said Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher told reporters during a visit on Friday that Baghdad should repay billions of dollars Washington had spent on the Iraq war.

    Btw. the 100 US Dollar NOTEs cost US to print 6-cents… so the ONE Barrel of OIL coast US SIX sent

Comments are closed.