Sober-minded history of a nation that has existed in its present form for less than a century, one “predestined to descend into chaos and civil war.”
What is Syria? Like so many political entities in the Middle East, it is the product of lines on colonial maps drawn according to the tenets of division and conquest. However, warns London-based Arabist and attorney McHugo (A Concise History of the Arabs, 2013), it would be a mistake to think that simply redrawing the map could redress that country’s terrible problems, one of them being the fact that some 40 percent of the population has been displaced to some degree or another in the last three years of civil war. Repartitioning the country, he warns, carries numerous drawbacks: “This is an outbreak of the old Western disease of drawing pretty lines on maps and then expecting the peoples of Greater Syria to step neatly into the zones marked with the particular color chosen for them.” Those colors are widely varied, for Syria contains numerous kinds of people: Christians and Muslims in various strains, Jews and Zoroastrians, Kurds and Palestinians, and many more. McHugo charts the slowly building tragedy that has set these peoples far apart, beginning when the country’s first ruler “recognized no distinctions between the three monotheistic religions, and that all were equal and entitled to the same rights and subject to the same duties.” Sadly, that ecumenical view disappeared with the rise of Ba’ath party nationalism, which blended elements of Arab revanchism and Western socialism in an uneasy alliance that would yield the likes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, both of which played proxy roles in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and continue to play roles in the struggle between the West and Russia today.
Scholarly but accessible and of much interest to those with an eye on geopolitical matters.