-by Tim Anderson, Jun 29, 2013
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 levelled 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 secular Syria have survived without its national army? and two, what legitimate function does any army have, if not to defend a nation from foreign backed attempts to violently dismantle the state and constitution or, alternatively, to partition the country?
To properly understand the gravity of the attacks on the secular Syrian state we have to appreciate that all violent insurrections in Syria in the post-colonial period have come from the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to impose a form of political Islam, dismantling a secular Arab nationalism established by the Baathist system. The idea of a ‘secular’ uprising is simply a convenient western myth.
Indeed, the major regional competition has been between secular nationalism and political Islam. When Egypt’s Gamel Abdul Nasser was the great hero of the former, the big powers promoted the Saudi monarchy as the Islamic alternative.
In Daraa in March 2011, just as in Hama in February 1982, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood seized its opportunity for violent insurrection. Their opening gambit was the same: rooftop snipers killed police and civilians, the army was drawn in and then blamed for ‘killing civilians’, leading to cries for foreign assistance. In the recent conflict, thousand of foreign fundamentalists have been flocking to Syria (mostly paid by the Saudis and Qatar) precisely because it is seen as a religious, and not a national, conflict.
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 clichés 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 clichés are quite misleading.