As the city of Homs in Syria and other places in that miserable country are pounded to dust and children are murdered in a raw instance of ethnic cleansing, this orgy of bloodletting should remind us that in Syria as in Iraq what we are witnessing is what can happen in a multi-ethnic, multiracial, religiously divided society of the kind that Britain is becoming.
It is too often forgotten by our self-righteous leadership and media that the political arrangements in Syria bear more than a passing resemblance to the political – class regime in power in Britain. Both regimes monopolise power in political systems which suit them and which they are therefore reluctant to democratise. (It is true that the monopoly of power in Syria is much more blatant than it is Britain where it is better concealed under the forms of a democracy.)
The Ba’ath party of Syria is leftist, as is the political class in Britain, although there is less cultural and more economic Marxism in Syria. Although Arab socialism is spiritual rather than atheistic, the Syrian regime is secular, as it is in Britain. Britain is turning to a kind of watered-down civic /cultural nationalism, and rather similarly the ideology of Syrian Ba’athism is arab civic /cultural nationalism dedicated to ‘Unity, Liberty, Socialism’ (cf ‘Liberty Equality Fraternity’).
The Origins of Civic Nationalism
Ba’athist ideology was influenced by the German philosopher Fichte whose 1808 ‘Reden an die deutsche Nation (Addresses to the German Nation) defined nationality in terms of language and culture. The ideology also draws on the ideas of the later German thinkers Johann Gottfreid Herder and the Brothers Grimm. These latter conceived of nationality as defined not by national, religious or political boundaries but by common cultural traditions and folklore.
Syrian Ba’athism set out with good Intentions as does Left-liberalism in Britain. The Ba’ath Party in Syria, as in Iraq, set out to be secular, non-sectarian and unifying within the bounds of Arab culture and tradition. It proved attractive to minority islamic sects and ethnic minorities - the population is 9% Kurdish-speaking Kurds and there are Turkish, Armenian, Turkmen, Assyrian, Shia, Druze and Alawite minorities.
Arab cultures and traditions of course inevitably lean towards Islam but the regime’s supporters also include Christians from varied communities in the region with roots stretching back to the very origins of the faith. (St Paul was journeying to Damascus to persecute the Christian community there when he was converted). 10% of the population is Christian. Christianity was of course all but expunged in the region through Islamic invasion.
Civic Nationalism is doomed to Failure
However, the dream of non-partisan Arab unity was quickly dashed. The party has been dominated by one minority islamic sect, the Alawites, who it is suspected, deliberately infiltrated the Ba’ath Party apparatus and in particular the Party Military Committee and took over power in much the same way as the cultural marxists took over power in Britain by taking over the institutions. As a result the Alawites, once the poorest and most backward people in Syria are now powerful and rich.
The Net Result
The net result is that in a country with a nominally non-partisan government, the reality is that a minority interest group, the Shia–offshoot Alawite moslems rule over a population which is 74% Sunni. Now, the Sunni majority is at last grabbing for power.
The Lesson for Britain
The lesson for Britain is that Civic Nationalism doesn’t work, even when it has racial overtones as in Syria. It is likely to become corrupted by interest groups who set out to control it. And majorities will in the end never be satisfied with sharing power with, or being ruled by, anti-democratic minorities. Sooner or later they will want to assert their majoritarian rights.