WILL SYRIA’S CIVIL WAR TURN INTO
ANOTHER WAR ABOUT GOD?
Everyone in the world knows there is a civil war going on in Syria. But not everyone knows what is going on behind the scenes in that struggle.
At its root, much of the animosity between the people in Syria is fueled by ancient disagreements about humanity’s Deity — called in Arabic “Allah”, or literally, “the God.”
Yes, once again we are killing each other in a rage expanded by differences over the Source of All Love.
Officially, the revolution is said to be about too many years of minority rule, oppressive government, and economic disparity, those fighting in the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) will say. The FSA is a rebel group that has been struggling for just over two years, asserting that what they—and the majority of the Syrian people—want is a free and democratic country.
There is no doubt that these matters carry huge weight in the struggle, as the government of Syrian President Bashad al-Assad has — like his father’s government before him — strictly prohibited most forms of political dissent in the country, and outlawed all political parties except one—the Ba-‘ath Party that has ruled the nation since the early Sixties.
But underneath the political-social issues is a raging underground stream of religious turmoil, those familiar with the Syrian situation say. President al-Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, which is a non-conformist branch of Shia Islam.
The Religious Divide
The vast majority of Syria’s people are Sunni, not Shia — which accounts for less than 20 per cent of Muslims worldwide — and even fewer belong to the Alawite faction (only about 12 per cent of Syrians, by most accounts).
Even as in Christianity there are numerous sects or belief systems (Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, etc.), so, too, is it within the Islamic faith tradition. Sunni Islam is the largest branch of that tradition, and is considered to be the orthodox version of the religion. The smaller, separatist groups in the religion emerged as a result of historical and doctrinal differences.
In Syria — as in many other nations in the Arab world — Sunnis are in the vast majority, but have been ruled for decades by Shi’ites, and in Syria in particular, its Alawite faction. Since ruling parties generally look after their own, the result is that throughout much of the Arab world Shi’ites have favored far better economically and politically (more power over their own affairs and future) than Sunni’s, who tend to be at the lower end of the scale in terms of economic and political power and influence.
News Analysis — Part Two
Throughout the region, Sunnis have been saying “enough is enough.” This is what created what has been called the Arab Spring, a region-wide uprising begun in December 201 in which, to date, “rulers have been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, civil uprisings have erupted in Bahrain, and Syria, major protests have broken out in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan, and minor protests have occurred in Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, and Western Sahara,” according to the free-source online reference Wikipedia.
The Syrian revolt has been the most violent, with estimates that over 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting—with the number increasing daily. As recently as May 3 it was alleged by the government’s opposition that more than 40 people had been executed in al-Bayda, a village near the port of Baniyas in northwestern Syria, by forces loyal to the Assad regime. The government says the incident was caused by what it labels “terrorists” in the village.
Where Ideas About God Come In
The religious “angle” is not insignificant in all this. Members of the Alawite sect were long persecuted for their beliefs by the various rulers of Syria, until Hafez al-Assad took power there in 1970, a Wikipedia article asserts. When Hafez al-Assad died in 2000, his son Bashad al-Assad assumed the presidency much as a king’s son would assume the throne in a typical monarchy. Any opposition to this maneuver was systematically squelched. And so, for the past 50 years the political system has been dominated by an elite led by the Alawite Assad family.
Now the Free Syrian Army says al-Assad must go. It wants democratic free elections. But now, into the country are coming radical Islamic jihadists. They are flooding the towns and villages, entering by the thousands from elsewhere in the region, well financed by the broader Islamic jihadist movement.
These incoming revolutionaries are not nearly as concerned with the economic, social, and political issues in Syria as they are with the religious aspect of daily life there. They see the Syrian conflict as a battle for the survival of traditional, conservative Islam. Because bitterness has long simmered between Sunnis and Alawites, it is not difficult to find on-the-ground support in the poorer villages and towns of Syria as radical Islamists from other countries seek to turn the civil war in that nation into a religious jihad.
Interviewed by international media outlets, some of these mostly youthful jihadists are not reluctant to make it clear that their desire is to create an Islamic nation regionally — and that they are prepared to die in that effort. They see this as dying for Allah, whose traditional followers have been downtrodden and marginalized and warred against for decades, in their view.
A relatively new group of such jihadists has formed, calling itself Jabhat al-Nusra (“Support Front for the People”). It is said to be officially allied with al Qaeda in Iraq. A second group, the Syrian Islamic Front, is described by media outlets as an overarching body of divergent groups with an extremely conservative religious philosophy, not unlike the ideology of the Taliban.
Can outside radical Muslims turn Syria’s civil war — a battle for economic, social, and political equality — into a religious war, leading to the creation by fiat of a regional “Nation of Islam”?
So long as human beings insist on arguing about God, and about whose teachings with regard to God are the most “valid” and the most “sacred,” battles ignited by religion will continue to be waged across the Earth.
Might it be time for a New Spirituality to be explored across our planet? Might it be time for us to inspire such an exploration? Is it time for an Evolution Revolution?