The population of Syria has grown from a few million to about 23 million in the past 100 years. As the population grew so did the cities. In fact it may point to a more general truth about the shift away from a peasant based society to say that the economic opportunities in the new city slums grew the populations.
The central message of this blog is that nuclear weapons represent engineering talent, and so nuclear weapons must be controlled. Because engineering talent is distributed across many ethnic groups, and that talent becomes visible as the peasantry leaves the illiterate village, and enters the school and the city. There is another predictable change associated with the move into the cities: Ethnic and religious hatreds become visible.
Traditional agricultural villages experienced an ethnic and religious stability across many generations. During their working life the typical peasant had no reason to contact anyone outside of the village for more than a few times a year. This was especially true for women who would have been involved in an arranged marriage into a family in an adjoining village with the same ethnic identity, and would rarely leave her new family’s village for years.
In the 20th century this ancient behavioral reality started to break up under the pressure of two streams that would grow into a worldwide Amazon: mandatory school for boys until the age of 15, and the great urban slum. The differentiation inherent in the IQ distribution would start to become visible.
But other differences would also become visible. Once isolated Shia and Sunni villages could live peaceably a few miles from each other. The urban slum doesn’t offer the same luxury.
Robert B. Zoellick’s Wall Street Journal’s November 6, 2015 piece Obama’s Middle East Escapism grapples with the appearance of religious and ethnic atrocity as the nostalgia of a colonial construct , political Syria gets, somehow, remade. How does he characterize the problem?
He states the obvious, “The old state borders and authorities of the Middle East, established during and after World War I, are disintegrating. The Arab lands are now the scene of a terrible contest for power.”
But there is another way to start the beginning; those “old state borders.” How did they get there? Who put them there? Whose interest were they to serve?
As a jumping off point, it is one thing for the U.S, Britain and France to shove borders down the throat of an illiterate peasantry. It is a wildly different thing to shove those borders down the throat of a literate and urbanized population.
What does Mr. Zoellick advocate? His hostility toward Russia and Iran cannot be missed. Indeed, checking Russia and Iran seem to be the center of his policy recommendations.
The Russian and Iranian interventions in Syria further darken this bleak picture. Bashar Assad has killed about a quarter-million of his own people and depopulated half the country. . . ISIS will recruit Sunnis repulsed by the Assad regime’s heretical (Shiite and Russian Orthodox) reinforcements.
Mr. Zoellick identifies with the Sunnis and explains that he would protect and nurture them through American power. He criticizes Russia;
Russia’s bombardments in support of the regime have targeted Sunni forces resisting both Mr. Assad and ISIS. If Mr. Kerry’s ‘peace conference’ presses these anti-Assad forces to accept a cease-fire, ISIS will gain legitimacy as the only counter to Mr. Assad. . .
A Sunni counterforce won’t fight ISIS unless it and the Syrian people are protected against enemies. If Iraq is unable to offer its own Sunni tribes a secure existence, they will feed- or acquiesce to-Islamic State’s rule.
But he never addresses what is to happen with these Shiite heretics.
Consider what one observer, Vali Nasr, “The Shia Revival” wrote in 2006 about the Shia and their Sunni ovelords:
The deep divide between the Alawi regime n its largely Sunni population remains. p. 248.
In the Arab world, the Shia learned the harsh lesson that secular regimes and ideologies may come and go but Sunni biases endure.
Despite their preponderance in numbers, Shias have never ruled or even had anything like a fair share of power in modern Iraq. p. 90.
The growing Sunni activism in Syria since the late 1970’s – fitfully if at times very brutally suppressed by the Asad regime – has only confirmed that at heart Syria is a very Sunni country.
Arab nationalism therefore holds an inherent bias against the Shia, p. 92.
Vali Nasr published those words in 2006, well before anyone talked about ISIS. Mr. Nasr receives my nomination for winner of the award, “Best prediction of the first decade of the 21t century.”
The first fact that confronts the United States is that the most salient threat from extremist interpretations of Islam now wears Sunni garb. . . Religious and political ideology among Sunnis in the Middle East, unlike among Shias, is moving in the wrong direction, toward militancy and violence.
Trump has not exhibited the same animus toward Putin that some of he other Republican candidates have. No one knows how Sunni Islam will evolve.
Russia may prove to be an important ally.