Much is often said about the artificiality of the modern Middle Eastern state-system, particularly Syria. Often highlighted are the region’s current “republics” as the outcome of Anglo-French colonial fancy: “contrived points on a map” in Fouad Ajami’s telling, joining together disparate peoples, fractious ethnic groups, apprehensive confessional communities and distinct autonomous provinces—into uneasy, compulsory and ultimately unhappy matrimony. This picture of Western intrusions and failed cartography is not entirely off-kilter. Yet this restive Syria protruding out of the sad canvas of the modern Middle East remains an entity that influential pundits insist on defending and preserving in its current form.
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