In some very inspiring news, opposition activists from Syrian President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect publicly broke ranks with the regime at a meeting in Cairo March 31, and urged their fellow Alawites in the army to rebel, Reuters reports. "We call on our brothers in the Syrian army, specifically members of our sect, not to take up arms against their people and to refuse to join the army," the delegates said in a statement. "[T]he Alawite sect was and is being held hostage by the regime," stated the communique, which was read out by Alawite activist Tawfiq Dunia. "One of the goals of the Syrian revolution is to restore the national identity and free the Alawite sect from the family of the ruling regime."
This development comes none too soon, as Syria is in a race between secular revolution and sectarian war, with the latter rapidly gaining on the former. AFP reports that unknown assailants kidnapped at least eight members of Syria's Alawite community, including women and children, after they crossed into Lebanon by bus April 1. This comes on the heels of new sectarian clashes in Lebanon's northern port of Tripoli, pitting Shi'ites and Alawites against Sunni militants.
But the perennially predictable Robert Fisk, continuing his vile game of shilling for Assad, has reported nothing about the Cairo meet. (Will he?) However, last month he had a typically high-handed piece in the Independent ("The West has never understood Syria so we're unlikely to start now") dismissing the sectarian divide as a figment of the "racist" and "Orientalist" imaginations of imperialists. First of all, what is with this use of the first-person plural pronoun to refer to the supposed clueless imperialists that Fisk and his readers feel so superior to? But that's a side point. If Assad's Syria was "as secular and assimilated as any Arab nation before its current tragedy," where did all the rage now exploding there come from? Scheming imperialists were able to summon a Sunni jihad magically, like a genie from a lamp? (Oops, Orientalist metaphor!) Or maybe it has a little something to do with the privileged position of Alawites in the bureaucracy and economic-political elite of Assad's order? Fisk goes one better, recommending the work of a French scholar on the Alawites, Sabrina Mervin, who he tells us finds that "the people who used to call themselves 'Nusayris'—after the founder of their faith, Muhammad Ibn Nusayr—…are victims of a long history of religious dissidents [sic], persecution and repression."
Yes, undoutedly so—before Hafez Assad took power in his 1970 coup and turned the tables on the Sunnis! This is conceded at the end, but downplayed—we are only told that "Alawites ascended," not that anyone else was excluded. We wonder how Mervin feels about being invoked in this manner.
The secular elements in the Syrian revolution (Sunni and Alawite alike) are trying to break this cycle of sectarian supremacy and exclusion. We have decried before that they are receiving shamefully little solidarity from progressives in the West. But Fisk's propaganda is really special. Invoking anti-racist principles to betray those who are standing up to ethno-sectarian hatred. Beneath contempt.