During our talk, the soldier complained about the poor situation they had been in, the poor salary, and his being homesick for his village. He said that he keeps wondering when he could be able to return to live there, and why his village provides no services that may secure a job and an income for him. He said that the point behind his joining the army was to secure sufficient salary income to enable him build a small house in his village after retirement? At this point, my companion sly as a fox replied: "If you may have had jobs in your villages and lived in peace and prosperity, then who is going to protect those you are serving as guards for?! Laughing I said to my companion: "Something of the past, we've become now, pal. Missing too much the orders to visit the security service are we!" The soldier then swore that he was not an informant and kept silent until he dropped off at the Al-Baramkeh area!
In light of the evolving disunions and the taking of extreme attitudes, we must drive home emphasis that much as we are talking about sectarianism by way of explanation and shedding lights on the issue, we are equally seeking to create a concrete awareness of the sectarian reality that Syria has all along been experiencing, since the middle of the last century. We hence strive to bring to mind the value of coexistence, justice, and true citizenship for all Syrian citizens. Our talk about sectarianism is an attempt to bring to light its effects on how it had broken up the Syrian society and state to pieces. Accordingly, we must differentiate between the one who puts sectarianism under diagnoses and someone who is a sectarian: a case in which it means a behavior or a statement that alienates the other and does not accept its presence and activities in a society due to exciting sectarian differences with the other.
On July 14, 1963, the news of volunteering in the National Guard was the top heading in the (Al-Thawra) newspaper in Damascus, announcing that they had received 30,000 applications to join in. This was in reference to the formation of the first sectarian Baathist militia that terrorized the Syrians and paved the way to an inherited mission that the so-called (Al-Wahdat AL-Khasah) Special Units, then (Saraya Eldefa’) Defense Brigades founded by Rif’at al-Assad (an Alawi), the (Saraya Elsiraa’) Conflict Brigades, was founded by Adnan Makhlouf (an Alawi) on the ruins of its predecessor. Then came the formation of the Shabbiha militias in the hands of those close to the Al-Assad family, such as Rami Makhlouf (an Alawite). In fact, after the escape of the Tunisian President Ben Ali, Rami Makhlouf established the (Kata’eb Al-Bustan Al-Mukatileh) Al Bustan Fighting Brigades in Damascus and armed them in a warning to the Syrians should they think of making a revolution. Of course, all of these and on top of which the Presidential Guard Brigades are at large sectarian militias affiliated with the Alawite sect. Squads far beyond the army’s authority, which have been taking part in suppressing the Syrian revolutions against sectarianism since the 1964 Hama revolution until today.
Syrians from all walks of life stood against the transfer of the sectarian conflict in Lebanon to Syria. At one time, Prince Abdul Qader Al-Jazaery intervened and resolved a situation with the Christians in Damascus, affected by the sectarian conflict raging at the time in Lebanon. The sectarian undertones, however, began to grow louder and build up until they revealed themselves aggressively after the coup of March 1963. In his memoirs, Akram al-Hourani said that a group of the National Guard surrounded his house in Damascus, headed by the so-called "literary writer" Haider Haider, who along with shooting bullets was foul-mouthed firing sectarian insults against the Sunnis of Syria and the Sunnis of Damascus in particular!
Intensive sectarianization of the Syrian army since the beginning of last century’s sixties
As we pointed out in a previous article, social fragmentation was brought and forced into the heart of the state. Thus, instead of the army being an impartial instrument in its leadership of a civilian community and a protector of the homeland in the face of external threats, this army encouraged and supported disunion, isolation, and separatist ideas. The army put the civil rules and practices in the swing of security and its demanding priorities, so much so that it deprived the society of its politics and prohibited any forms of expression an opposition may express. A situation that led to the Syrian elites of all diversity running away, for fear of oppression, marginalization, impoverishment, and humiliation. That Syrian sectarian army, just as it was the sword that Hafez Al-Assad drew and used in the face of the Syrians at home to continue his rule and keep it up for his family to inherit, it was equally the same sword with which he hit on regional stability. Plenty of evidence can be cited, his wreaking havoc in Lebanon, his thrashing the Palestinian factions, as well as his plotting against Iraq and Egypt. Even though, by using the power of media and security, he blew his horn as being the only patronage of national unity and nationalism in the region.
Hafez Al-Assad thrust the sectarian scourge to encircle all aspects of social, political, and economic life. He capitalized on the awakening of the sectarian identity to hold out his ruling. Of course, the history of this capitalization tells us that Hafez Al-Assad had not been the stir behind that mission, not even his fiercest the then sectarian rival competing to rule Syria alike, Salah Jdeed. Many evidence stands witness to tell that the scheme had been taking shape since the French mandate over Syria.
Neither Al-Assad the father nor the son offered anything to the Alawite sect, even if few officers of them could wind up in and turned into businessmen; most of whom are engaging in prohibited activities or invest in the corruption of the state's military and civil institutions. Notwithstanding the fact that the Alawites areas are destitute, short of development, and most of their inhabitants live in extreme poverty. Al-Assad turned them into protectors of his rule; this is while swelling in them an instinct that is difficult for a person to resist, unless one may have obtained a degree of civilized human behavior. The Al-Assad regime implanted in them an instinct of despotism towards others, to feel being better and best and taking pride in a hollowed identity with no civilized values, such as education, production, and development. Instead, he gave them temporary privileges, such as multiple salaries from certain official institutions any could have provided, as it happened in the Military Housing Corporation. For example, the number of those who received salaries from the Military Housing Establishment without actually working in was estimated at 12 thousand. In addition to that, after Al-Assad's forces were kicked out from Ar-Raqqa, it was found that 65,000 Alawites had been receiving salaries without actually doing any work. Although the salary for each was about $80, however, the total sum of those salaries could hardly fend of starving much as hardly could they keep poverty at pay! Furthermore, the Al-Assad regime pumped up personal interests for the middle and small ranks of the army within the circle of the institutionalized corruption meant to pollute society with. This clique acquired the rights to smuggling and doing other prohibited activities, such as the cultivation and manufacture of drugs, which is now widely spread in Syria.
Just as the revolution started off, sectarian death squads that called themselves "Shabbiha" set out to kill the protesters. The first sectarian outcry against Al-Assad's regime was voiced by Al-Qaradawi from Doha (!?) in several Friday sermons. His speeches were the first radical extremist expression that would, later on, evolve within the Syrian revolution, inspired by these speeches. This was in addition to the extremist course of action it turned out to take as a result of the conspiracies being hatched locally by Al-Assad's forces, besides those regionally blotted by all countries, including those phony attitudes taken up at the international level, to the west and east. This situation deep-rooted the importance of the Al-Assad regime in as far as the global security system was concerned!
As Al-Qaradawi's calls for jihad in Syria were launched, the demonstrations had still been fresh in their early days. Those calls provided the Al-Assad regime, who was oppressing his people with the state's arsenal and mobilizing about half a million state army soldiers along with the same number of security corps, with an excuse. The regime had also recruited the state organizations and institutions, with the support of a large number of the Alawite sect, which was estimated at 8-7% of the Syrian people in its oppression. It further had the support of the other sects that feared an Islamic project in the region in general and in Syria in particular. All of those had an erupted hostility against the Arab Sunnis. We will dwell further on this issue in our next article. Those calls offered them a license to act as though victimized and another license to kill under the pretext of defending themselves against an invented enemy!? Moreover, the Syrian people were accordingly divided to death between supporters and opponents! Al-Qaradawi, hence, whether he may have realized or not, was part of a major shame to breathe life into the Syrian regime and put an end to Syria!
Al-Qaradawi's sermons were followed by sermons from Salafi jihadism in a number of Gulf countries and from Egypt, which considered jihad against Bashar Al-Assad a religious duuty. We started to learn about sectarian rhetoric against the Alawites and calls for jihad issued by Salafis and jihadists in Europe as well. No longer, with the defection of the Al-Assad army and the withdrawal of the Sunnis, they formed the Free Army groups, varied as they were among themselves. The Islamists soon took control of some of the factions and eliminated others. That was after having defeated the sectarian army and its militias, whereby 80% of the Syrian lands were liberated.
During the fights, the Al-Assad regime was keen on keeping the majority of the military units killing and slaughtering the Sunnis Alawites, with Alawites commanding heads. The same had been the case for those torturing women and children to death, burning shops and cars, and insulting women and the elderly. Some of the Alawite officers' names who committed atrocities against the Sunni villages became notorious. For example, an officer with the rank of a captain hailing from the Makhlouf family used to take the arrested civilians in the village of Abilene in Jabal al-Zawiya and put them in the firehouse of a bakery and roast them until their skins were cooked. Afterward, he threw them just outside the village at its uncultivated borders, turned into a makeshift military camp. So, when people out of compassion try to come near to their relatives’ body, ravished by insects and rodents, he would snipe them one by one!
These massacres put an end to the peaceful stance of the revolution, and some Sunnis called to take up arms to defend themselves. This is while the Islamists took up words as an arm to speak in sectarian terms through the media: such as Nusasiri*, Rafidah, Majus, and Safawis. As for their opponents from the Alawite and Shiite militias, they had undertaken to defend the Al-Assad family and hence considered the conflict as if it were a Shiite-Sunni fight. Similarly, they coined their sectarian terms: Nasabi, Takfiri, Umayyad, and Wahhabi. The aim of the two sides in using these terms was to portray their enemies as infidels, and be sentenced to death as a penalty. Both of them agreed that Syria would be the battlefield, however,! Thus turning the revolution of the Syrian people from demonstrations demanding freedom and justice into a dirty battlefield that civilized people detested.
The coverage of Al-Jazeera, especially Al-Jazeera Mubasher, supported by the Qatari government, was centered on sectarian political grounds and was clearly inclined to Salafist Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood, and sometimes presented personalities who spoke for jihadists. Al-Jazeera's coverage contributed to supporting jihadism, its topics, and its personalities in Syria. Its coverage created topics for social media, which in turn encouraged the formation of like-minded bubbles, helping them find each other and reinforce their biased attitudes. Several Shiite and Sunni sectarian channels also mobilized to reinforce the clash on the Syrian soil.
In Syria, after its independence and perhaps well into the period of the beginning of the eighties of the last century, it was shameful to talk about sectarianism. This was because the identity of the Syrian state had started to take shape in the minds of the Syrians, and the dream of patriotism and the search for national unity has been reinforced from the ocean to the Gulf. Syrians began to shift from the mentality of locality, sectarian states, tribes, religious and ethnic minorities, over to a community that believes in statehood. In contrast, the reinforcement of the discriminatory sectarian policy and its use in all aspects of life in Syria since the rule of Al-Assad the father in 1970 eliminated that emerging identity, thus each group began to reconfigure itself and search for its way through to win favors and interests. This is one of the flagrant example reflecting the regime’s role in the historical decline of the Syrian nation, right from its beginning to take the steps up the ladder and rise like the developed nations, after the colonial era; instead of sending the country to the bottom of barbarism and savagery.
The West was aware of how minorities’ psychological thinking work; it knew about their fears as well as their fate amid the majority. The West realized that no matter how strong they may have in possession, they would never be able to recover from that fear. Therefore, they will remain in need and always dependent on external support. This position will lead to the absence of national decision-making and the vulnerability dependence of the state, its poverty, and its downfall. Therefore, the West has always sought to enrich the continuation of their fear about their fate (1) in order to always keep them a docile tool in its hand.
The issue of sectarianism can be resolved by forming constitutional institutions that may never make sectarianism one of its conditions. Institutions that can deliver Syrians to a fair electoral process. The fake elections carried out by the sectarian gang and facilitating the accession of the sectarian lunatic Bashar Al-Assad to power are aimed at putting salt on and strengthening the sectarian wound, while making an impression of the sectarian battle outcomes, in an attempt to defeat the revolution and the demands for justice.
Finally, perhaps whoever may have been tracking the criminal atrocities of Al-Assad the father, such as the destruction of the city of Hama and a number of Aleppo and Jisr al-Shughour neighborhoods between 1978 and 1982, the killing of about 40,000 lives, the displacement of like number of them, and the disappearance of the like of them in prisons, (with a total number of 120,000 persons), in addition to the Al-Assad son destroying more than 70% of Syria since the outbreak of the revolution, a mission which he is still carrying out, not to mention the killing of 2 million Syrians and displacement of 16 million, half of whom have been internally displaced and the other half externally, one may come to the conclusion that the sectarians’ goal had never been to defeat a fighting force. In the first encounter, the number of fighters was 225, from the Muslim Brotherhood's Vanguard Fighting Brigade. We also did notice during the revolution that the regime was pushing to expand the protests circle. For that reason, the aim categorically has never been to defeat a fighting force; it was rather to destroy the Sunni communities, and to crush the Syrian nation. It is further one way of destroying the evidence of their war crimes. I would like to take the opportunity here and talk about an incident. It is well known that Muhammad Hamsho stands out one of the regime's backbone. He once told me in a private meeting in March 2013 that Bashar Al-Assad's advisor, Luna al-Shibl, had told him something that Bashar had told her in early 2013: he reported that "Bashar has no problem with the Sunnis who stood against him. His problem is with the Sunnis who stood with him; what would he do with them after his victory"!?
* For years, the global jihadists' use of the term Nusayris is meant as a derogatory term indicating the Al-Assad regime and the Alawites in general. The majority of Syrians, including Sunnis, reject the use of this term out of respect for the Alawite sect.