Indeed, in the struggle between Sunnis and Alawites no one has been a saint. Still, the Ottomans did not oppress the Alawites (and we are not talking here about the Alevi-Bectachis who formed the cornerstone of the Janissary regiments of the Ottoman army) and failed to recognize them as a separate millet on account of their “unorthodox” faith, but because of their ways as mountain peoples who jealously guarded their independence and their ways refusing to come under the strict and clear arrangements proposed by their self-imposed Ottoman rulers. Their struggle, therefore, is akin to the struggle mounted by many mountain peoples all over the world, including the famed Scottish Highlanders. – Albeit Hafiz al-Assad as a Braveheart figure is a bit too much for me. But then, I am not an Alawite.
Indeed, let’s not forget here that the Ottomans were quite willing to recognize the Druze faith. But then, the Druzes, for a variety of reasons, posited a radically different brand of highlanders. Still, they, too, gave the Ottomans a run for their money in their attempt to protect of their ways and procure a certain measure of autonomy, administrative (on and off) as well as religious. Indeed, the Druzes had often resorted to open rebellion to snatch that recognition for their faith as an official protected millet, despite its glaring “unorthodoxy,” from the Ottoman Sunni Hanafi point of view.
This success of the Druzes might be, in part at least, premised on the existence of a centralized decision-making religious hierarchy that might have been responsible, in times of crises at least, for uniting most of the Druzes feudal lord in the face of Ottoman designs. The Alawites have always lacked such a hierarchy. There was nothing to unite them, not even temporarily. Their rebellions have, therefore, tended to be rather sporadic and fractious. Certain tribes and/or clans rebelled, but not the entire “community.” There was no Alawite community in any practical sense. It was only with the emergence of the military elite among their ranks that gave the Alawite a certain sense of strong communal belonging, for the first time in their history, and moved the Alawite towards establishing some form of unity, but on the basis of a secular national belonging rather than a religious one. (Albeit, this fact is currently being challenged as the Alawite villages seem to be undergoing a revival of traditional faith.)
For this reason, and due to the “elitist” nature of Alawite faith itself, the Sunnis, and other religious groups in the country, will always appear simply too attached to their religious values for the average Alawite tastes. This seems to be one of the main reasons why the current Alawite leadership seems too preoccupied with making overtures to religious Sunni currents than they are interested in making a deal with secular-minded Sunnis.
The foolishness of this venture is that traditional Sunni currents on which they are betting are not progressive enough, if at all, to actually challenge the fatwas issued by the likes of Ibn Taymiyyah or to provide an alternative interpretation of the Sunni faith that can create some room for recognizing unorthodox interpretation, unorthodox from their point of view of course. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot, again and again and again.
But then, aren’t we secular Sunnis making the same mistake?
Tyranny and fear are giving us no choice but to bet on tried and true devils. Yes, I believe that Islamic current need to be given the chance to participate in the political game, demography is giving us no choice here either. And the commitment of some of us to democratic principles is also at play here. Still, I don’t think very highly of the Islamists (and I know it is a mutual feeling of course) and I don’t want them to be my allies – the situation is too simply unnatural to last for long.
Indeed, and if real stability, real security as well as progress and modernization are what’s really on our mind, then, there is no substitute for a rapprochement between the secular minded people in all sects and communities, that is, if we desire to remain relevant on the political, social and economic scene. We need to build bridges of trust between us to take this game away from the hands of the radicals and the extremists.
Things would have been much simpler of course had the Assads themselves been on board, but logic says that the Assads will be the first and ultimate losers of any inter-community rapprochement, they are the status quo beneficiaries par excellence, and they know it. Assef indeed did.