Syria’s Urban Warfare

A few weeks ago I noticed an odd trope turning up in discussion of the Syrian Civil War: an assertion, without much context, that the country is highly urbanised.  I’ve certainly come across this idea before, and given the imbalance between the virtually uninhabited badiya (the Syrian desert out towards Iraq) and the Aleppo-Hama-Homs-Damascus line of cities in the country’s greener portions, it seems plausible.  But if you examine the facts, it turns out that Syria’s rural-urban split is remarkably tilted towards the rural side. (All of these data come from before the civil war, of course; I’m not even … Continue reading Syria’s Urban Warfare

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Syria?

(This week’s post is a day late, for which I apologise.  It will unfortunately also be shorter than usual as the work builds to a screaming fury.  Normal service resumes next week.) I’ve been taking a class in Conflict Resolution (as an academic discipline rather than from a practical perspective as a mediator), and rather foolishly chose Syria as the subject for my various papers.  I say this was foolish because our final paper assignment is essentially to solve the conflict, and if I managed to achieve that within a 10-page paper I would send it to the United Nations … Continue reading How Do You Solve A Problem Like Syria?

Too Many Syrias – Why You Should Be More Confused

If anyone tells you that they understand Syria, don’t listen to them.  Actually, no, that isn’t strong enough – hit them.  People who claim to understand what’s going on with piercing clarity usually look at Syria through one of a limited number of binary paradigms, all of them hopelessly inadequate for a situation as complex as Syria’s.  Almost without exception, their relevance to Syria is the result of pre-packaged opinions being applied to the country rather than an honest look at what’s going on – people who look at the facts in Syria tend to be thoroughly perplexed (and more … Continue reading Too Many Syrias – Why You Should Be More Confused

Last Week In Syria

This week two particularly disheartening things happened in relation to Syria which don’t give me very much hope for the future. The first is, of course, the bomb in central Damascus at a checkpoint between the Russian embassy and the Ba’th Party headquarters. Over 50 people were killed, most of them civilians. The SNC, in a refreshing advance in their discourse, condemned the attack rather than claiming it was a government false-flag operation. SANA (Syrian official media) described it as a terrorist attack, which is technically true except that by ‘terrorists’, they mean the SNC, which is probably too disorganised … Continue reading Last Week In Syria

Meta-Domination

As you may know, I find the psychology of autocracy totally fascinating.  Last week, I spoke about Lisa Wedeen’s book The Ambiguities of Domination, which raised the question: “What is the point of a cult of personality which nobody believes?” In other words, how is it that a government with an ideology that most people know is false can use that same ideology to control people? Here are four explorations of what that sort of situation does to someone and why that makes it effective. (1) It makes people very aware of their own situation and their role.  For a … Continue reading Meta-Domination

Hafez al-Asad and the Propaganda of Guilt

This week we’re back to my favourite subject: dictatorship, and more specifically, how does it work? I’ve started reading Lisa Wedeen’s excellent book The Ambiguities of Domination, which is based on fieldwork she did during the 80s and 90s in Syria concerning the cult of Hafez al-Asad.  I am about halfway through and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  It is well-written, intelligent, and casually readable as well as academic.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in dictatorship or Syria. Wedeen’s extensive interviews and conversations with Syrians form the basis for her argument, which is that although it would seem … Continue reading Hafez al-Asad and the Propaganda of Guilt

Syria’s Chemical Weapons Programme Doesn’t Matter

…and we’re back, only two months later than I expected.  I hate winter. (This is really more a collection of thoughts in some vague order than a coherent argument.  If a coherent argument is made, it is accidental.) I’ve seen quite a lot of low-level panic recently about the Syrian chemical weapons programme.  Since the foreign ministry announced in July that the would only use chemical weapons against foreign forces, the topic has come up regularly.  The US even sent teams to Jordan to prepare to seize whatever distasteful materials they could find whenever the government collapses.  Now that five … Continue reading Syria’s Chemical Weapons Programme Doesn’t Matter