What does everyone get wrong about Syria?

2 December

That it still exists. Syria epitomises all that the Sykes-Picot agreement, and imperialism and colonialism, did in the Middle East. It tried to create nation states in a European style when these states don’t exist. We should actually be surprised that these kinds of rebellions and uprisings didn’t happen earlier. Because what has kept these countries together is ruthless dictatorships. As we saw in Iraq or Libya or Yemen, when the structures collapse, we see that these nation states, when they’re exposed, they don’t really exist.

So the idea that if the conflict ends we’ll just find a government to keep it together and make sure that everything will be fine is a big mistake.

On the other hand, Bashar al Assad would argue that Syria does exist. He is fighting and destroying it to keep it in his own image. But it’s a post-colonial construct, existing in an extremely artificial way. I’m not suggesting that it’s impossible to build a new nation state once the war comes to an end. But the way that it was imposed in the first place was not organic.

“Countries were divided up along political lines that didn't reflect their social makeup.”

And we’re also seeing it happen in Africa. First, a nation state is created and only afterwards are people told that they have a lot in common. The way Africa and the Middle East were divided and carved up was in complete disregard to the history, culture and ethnicity of these places. Tribes, nations and people in places like Rwanda, Somalia and Kenya were cut from one another. Those were political lines that didn't necessarily reflected the social makeup of these places. It reflected the European notion of nation-state, which has no roots in either Africa or the Middle East.

That’s why people end up doing what they do. This is not in any way an attempt to justify killing. But violent behaviour is a way of saying, “No, we’re not so sure that we have enough in common to keep it together.”

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