Sunday, July 29, 2012

More Cognitive Dissonance on Syria


The continued obsession with Syrian unity is mind boggling.  It reminds me of what the guy with the white staticky hair said about "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

"But the breakup of Syria [...] poses a graver threat to the Middle East..." says this recent Vali Nasr op-ed.  But why, really?  If I'm not missing a lot, the main argument of this analysis is preventing the "breakup of Syria."  But the question here is why should there be compunctions about the breakup of Syria if this is what the Syrians (or at least some Syrians) want?  Should people who don't want to live together be forced to remain in an unhappy union?  Is this what happens in real life?  Is this the norm among smart cultured progressive Western liberals? Why this infatuation with a united Syria when its uneasy existence as such (these past 75 years) has been anything but contrived and restive?  Why this infantilization and condescension of the Middle East and Middle Eastern mosaics by ordaining and ossifying their continued unity--as if it's a law of nature?

Can we already stop these lame clichés about "a breakup of Syria [...] spill[ing] into neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey..."  We're still talking about a minor country here projecting a shadow much larger than itself, and punching way above its weight.  Why should it (and why should we admit as a given that it will) "spill into" anywhere?  Can we please stop these unwarranted deifications of Syria, as if it were an exemplar of stability?


Similarities notwithstanding, what happens in Syria is specific to Syria (and "stays in Syria" to use a Vegasism); Lebanon and Iraq could, will (and (sometimes in my opinion) SHOULD) break up because of their own endemic idiosyncrasies, NOT because something from Syria will have spilt into them!  And Turkey?  Really?  The breakup of a police-state ruled by an oppressive party apparatus with medieval worldviews can have an effect on a neighboring democracy with institutions?

In a sense, Professor Nasr is acknowledging the aberrant nature of unitary states in the MIddle East (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, etc..), yet he insists on maintaining them in their dubious unharmonious harmonies--lest their reversion to their natural antecedents offend our taste for "oneness."  I don't know what it is with the West's conceits about the Middle East; assumptions that continue to lead us into failures of interpretation, failures of analysis, and failures of policy.  Is it cognitive dissonance? separation anxiety? or plain intellectual inertia?

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