Michael Totten

The Sectarian Monster

Sectarian violence in Syria between Sunnis and Alawites is worsening by the week. Now that a non-violent movement for reform and change has molted into an armed insurrection, Bashar al-Assad’s Shabiha militia is shooting and hacking even children to death.

Syria is part of a pan-Arab nation, according to the Assad family’s cynically adopted Baath ideology, but the truth is that Syria is hardly even a stand-alone nation. Like Lebanon and Iraq, it’s a disastrous mess of a place riven by sect and ethnicity. With its fractious collection of Sunnis, Alawites, Christians, Kurds, and Druze, it’s more of a geographic abstraction than a coherent nation-state. It’s very unlike Egypt and Tunisia that way, both of which have coherent identities transcending sect, region, and tribe.

Until recently, the sectarian monster has spared Syrians the grisly communal bloodletting Lebanon and Iraq know only too well. That’s not because Syrians are inherently more tolerant or enlightened, but because the monster was locked in the basement by a total surveillance police state. It’s out now and running loose in the streets.