Syria, like its neighbor, Lebanon, is an ethnic and religious mosaic, the demographic legacy of shattered empires, divided tribes and fractious religious faiths. Over the centuries, heretical sects and obstinate clans living in its rugged mountains and desert valleys have successfully resisted first elimination, then assimilation.
The ethnic and religious hodge-podge includes Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Druze, numerous Christian sects and the Alawites. Sunni Muslim Arabs constitute 65 percent of the population, but they are not a political bloc.
Syria's Kurds, like Iraq's, Iran's, and Turkey's Kurds, are predominantly Sunni Muslim. Many Kurds would prefer to have their own independent state. The Turkish government says an independent Kurdistan is a "red line" issue, meaning it won't happen because creating it would "crumble" what is now south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and a slice of Iran.
From the beginning of the rebellion 17 months ago, regional "crumbling" and ethno-sectarian bloodbaths in the wake of the collapse of the Assad regime have been nightmares every responsible leader has sought to avoid. Preventing them requires political buy-in from all Syrian citizens, including Alawites. The Assads will eventually go. The Alawites will have to accept that. Gaining Alawite acceptance will require deploying an international security force inside Syria, to counter revenge attacks, Iranian subversion, and al-Qaeda trouble-making. The State Department needs to have its Syrian futurists focused on creating it.
To find out more about Austin Bay, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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