Bashar al-Assad’s Not-So-Secular Regime

Some defenders of the Syrian dictator have argued that, as secular ruler, he is an important bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism, and that support for his ouster amounts to support for the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, or even Islamic State. But even setting aside its close alliance with Islamist Iran, or its own role in Islamic State’s rise to power, the Syrian regime is in many ways anything but secular. Explaining why this is so, Asser Khattab first notes that official propaganda never mentions secularism:

The country long dwelled in a gray area because the regime does not correct anyone who dubs it as secular, even though it never calls itself that and never ceases to court conservative Sunni currents at the same time. The Syrian regime’s claim that it is a force against terrorism and extremism in the region hardly suffices for Syria to be regarded as a secular country.

Books coming from abroad have long needed to get the approval of the Ministry of Religious Endowments before reaching Syria’s bookstores. TV shows . . . also require the approval of religious authorities. . . . More generally, . . . Article III of the Syrian Constitution states that the president of Syria must be Muslim and that Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) is a principal source of legislation.

During the five decades of the Assad clan’s reign, conservative Islamism never ceased to be useful to the regime. . . . [I]n Damascus in 2006 . . . the Danish embassy [was] burned down by angry Syrians (who also attacked the Norwegian embassy) after cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad were published in the two countries. The regime stood aside and allowed that to happen.

Control over the Christian clergy is important to the regime, too. Protestant pastors often complain in private about the persecution and shutdown of their churches in Syria over the decades as a gift that the regime gives to the incomparably larger Catholic and Orthodox churches, the heads of which are key allies of the Assad regime.

Read more at Newlines

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Middle East Christianity, Secularism, Syria

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy