The Islamic revolution of Syria (1979-1982) : class relations, sectarianism, and socio-political culture in a national progressive state
Abstract (Summary)This work was initially begun with the purpose of surveying Syria's civil upheaval of 1979-1982, the fundamentalist rebellion of the Muslim Brethren against the professedly progressive regime of 'Alawi president Hafez Assad, an episode which exploded in the aftermath of a decade of uncustomary stability in that turbulent country. It was to be a simple case study in comparative development, an example of the dialectic dichotomy between tradition and change using religion and sectarianism as the variables and focusing on the organizational level of rebels and incumbants. Four years and several changes of heart later, the study has taken on a different character. As the work progressed I grew wary of the notion of Islam as an integral part of tradition, a carry-over from a struggling past and an obstructive wall before the diffusion of modernization. The popularity of Islamic fundamentalism (political, redemptionist, or absolutistist Islam, however one might wish to identify it, as distinguished from moral guidelines and values) since the late sixties has posed critical questions concerning the process of modernization and concerning the sanctity of the theoretical models relating to it. On one hand it has indicated a "possible" reversal in the mechamics of development, if one accepts the premise that Islam – as tradition – is the anti- thesis of modernity. On the other hand, it has indicated a radical disenchantment on the part of a relevant social bloc, with the concepts, values, and processes involved in modernization. I have therefore decided to investigate the relevance of Islamic fundamentalism in terms of the country's socio- political culture. As it stands, this thesis argues that fundamental is a voluntary inovation and a cultural response to the process of socio-political development in Syria (and Middle East in general) over the past century, and not a mere carry over from bygone traditional era nor a parochial political phenomenon by fringe group in an otherwise conventional world. The two principle concepts here are dominant culture and alienation. By dominant culture, I mean that continuum of life styles, values, moral codes, attitudes, perceptions, and motivations that delineate the common social makeup of a particular community. As a continuum, dominant culture is the development and assimilation of contemporary and millenuum themes, indigenous and extragenous to any society put into contact with another. In other words, I am implicitly rejecting the notion of a "modern" (rational society following the model of the West) and "traditional" (metaphysical society as it still struggles to stand in the East) dichotomy. As for alienation, the concept has originated in Europe, notably in Germany with the Frankfurt school, to address the social mood of post-industrial societies since the 70's. The argument advanced by Jurgen Habermas and others is that the economic and political organization of post-industrial society has penetrated into the minute details of personal and informal social life. The restructuring of social relations in accordance with ever- expanding economic, technocratic, regulative, and juristical modes of organization has resulted in alienation that expresses itself in the cultural sphere. The symptoms of this alienation are depoliticization, withdrawal, ruthlessness, and disorientation, and general break down in the legitimacy of the social order. This is reflected in the disarray of the established forms of social and political expression and participation, and in the proliferation – and disarray – of "new" groups and forms of expression (e. g. the counter-culture, the Greens, etc.). Though far from advanced capitalism, fundamentals in the Middle East represents a similar alienation. It expresses societies frustration and disenchantment with its elites, with its organization, with its development over the course of the past century, and with its place in the world and its place in time. This is reflected in the theoretical tennants of fundamentalism which completely negate the legitimacy of the social order and not only the legitimacy of its elites, and in the movements success – irrespective of merit – in moblizing and dominating all forms of social and political expression outside officially sanctioned structures since the late sixties. In a nutshell, what this thesis stands for is an investigation into a particular society's "state of mind", so to speak, an analysis of its collective ambitions and designs, of the pressures imposed upon it by the implementation or the misimplementation of those designs, and of its reaction and response to its own performance through it all. The body of this work is divided into three parts. Part I, titled, "Socio-Politics of Syria," describes the social platform on which Syrian politics since independence have been staged. Part II, "Social Development under the Ba'ath," is devided into two chapters. The first elucidates the evolution and ascendency of the contemporary Syrian political elites. The second analyzes the impact of the Ba'ath's intervention into the country's socio-economic infrastructure and its political performance, which I shall be arguing had a regressive retraditionalizing and alienating effect upon the dominant Syrian culture. The expression of this alienation is to be found in the surge of Islamic fundamentalism, the subject matter of the Part III, in turn divided into three chapters. The first traces the ideological development of Syria's dominant Islamic movement (the Muslim Brethren) from a literal socialist orientation not radically different from the Ba'ath before 1967, to an autonomist and absolutist demagoguery that became the dominant mode of political expression and opposition to the status quo after 1967. The second chapter is an historical narrative of the events that culminated in the armed confrontation between the Ba'ath regime and its Islamic antagonists since the late seventies, the most vocal expression of .social dissaffection and social alienation known to Syrian society since the fifties. The third and final chapter adresses the social significance of Islamic fundamentalism and its implications with respect to Syrian (and Middle Eastern) socio-political development.
School:The Ohio State University
School Location:USA - Ohio
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Date of Publication:01/01/1987