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The Times They Are Unchanging
This is how today's Times report on the bombing in Damascus begins:
Car Bomb Kills 17 in Syria Near Intelligence Office
BEIRUT, Lebanon — A powerful car bomb exploded near a Syrian intelligence agency office Saturday morning in Damascus, the Syrian capital, killing 17 people and wounding at least 14 in the worst attack the country has seen since the 1980s.
The bomb, which the authorities said included more than 400 pounds of explosives, detonated at 8:45 a.m. near an intersection crowded with pedestrians and close to a major Shiite shrine. All of the dead and wounded were civilians, the Syrian state news agency reported.
The bombing followed two unusual political assassinations this year in Syria, a police state that generally maintains a tight grip on security, and it contributed to a growing sense of alarm about the possibility of internal subversion or foreign interference.
The bombing also occurred less than three months after Islamist inmates rioted at a prison outside the capital, taking hostages and engaging in gun battles with the authorities, in a confrontation that dragged on for weeks.
In the 1980s, the Syrian state, which is secular, battled hard-line Sunni Islamist rebels for years in a struggle that left tens of thousands dead. "
Let's stop right there.
What does it mean when a report in The Times blandly tells us that "the Syrian state....is secular"? It means that you, dear reader, have been misinformed. What the reporter is attempting to suggest, or what perhaps he is deliberately avoiding suggesting (on the orders of higher-ups), is that in Syria an Alawite despotism prevails, and Alawites, because of their cult of Mary and other syncretistic features, are not regarded by the regular, orthodox, Sunni Muslims who constitute 70% of the population of Syria, as real Muslims. Indeed, it was only a few years ago that the Alawites, by becoming close to Syria, managed to obtain a fatwa from a high Shi'a cleric in Iran that Alawites were indeed real (and Shi'a) Muslims. That was important, because the Alawites, who rule Syria through their control of the officers corps, must worry constantly about those Sunni Muslims who have rebelled inthe past and who are always quick to denounce the Syrian despotism, but who might do somehing far more dangerous: that is, to succeed in making the Sunni Muslims of Iraq come to openly regard the Alawites as "Infidels," in which case challenge to their rule would become much more violent and unyielding.
Apparently Robert Worth, the reporter, or perhaps Worth's editors back in New York, did not see fit to spend the time explaining this business of the Alawites, and explaining that the word "secular" is a misnomer, and misleadingly applied just as it was to another Ba'athist state, Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In truth, both Ba'athist regimes -- theoretically open equally to all ethnic and sectarian groups, and even open to Christians as well -- are merely disguises for despotisms. In the case of Iraq, the despotism was that of a Sunni ruler, who allowed some Shi'a, and some Christians, and even Kurds and Turcomans, to join the Ba'athist Party, but rule was of, by, and for Sunni Arabs. In Syria, the Ba'athist rule is, similarly, ostensibly open to all, but in fact the Alawites control the army and, therefore, the government. The reason that Islam is not emphasized by the Syrian regime is not because, pace Worth and The Times, Syria is a "secular state" but because the Alawites know that their most dangerous opponents are centered in the Sunni mosques, and out of self-interest, the Alawite regime protects the Christians, and even closes down government offices at Christmas, and permits Good Friday observances in public. This is not a sign of splendid tolerance. It is a sign of political calculation.
The main thing to keep in mind, when reporting on, or talking about, or fashioning policies suitable for dealing with, Syria, is that this Alawite dictatorship necessarily must keep protecting the Christians, and must necessarily do what it can to reassure Muslims that the regime's heart is in the right place, and that means continuing to support the Jihad against Israel, while within the country, no quarter is shown enemies in the Muslim Brotherhood and its sympathizers.
That single sentence describing Syria as a "secular state" does not help readers, rather, it is mere reporting, telling them that a bomb has gone off and 17 peopl e killed in Damascus. It does nothing to enhance understanding but, rather, retards it.
There's a lot of this going around.