"In Syria there is a strong link between the Alauits and the Christians", interview with Reem Salman

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

One of the most abused descriptions of the Mass Media in relation to the Syrian Civil War is that of a sectarian conflict that opposes the "Sunni" majority of the country to the "alauite" regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Over the years, over the years, the Algerian population of Syria has invariably been described by the politically aligned media as "the origin of all evil", a simplistic and caricatural representation that has little helped to clarify the ideas about who or what they really are the Alauiti.

We interviewed Reem Salman, a young Alu woman. She agreed to be interviewed to be able to tell about the Syrian Civil War from the point of view of her much-despised and little-known community of belonging.

Who are the Alauiti?

Etymologically, "Alauiti" means "followers Ali", ie those who believe it was Ali ibn Abi Talib's right to succeed as "Imam" to the Prophet Muhammad after his death; however, throughout our history we have often been called also Nusayri. The Alauti are a group of Duodecimist Shiites who stand out from all others for the acceptance of metempsychosis. Our total number is around the 7-14 million scattered around the world, but the most important community lives in Syria, in the north-western coastal area and in the Sangriaccato of Alessandretta, today in Turkey.

A fundamental pillar of Alawite identity is the separation of religion from society, given that there is no single central authority of reference in the religious field. Given that there is a general aversion to the intervention of the clergy in society, the Alauti are among the most open communities in the Middle East and have proved receptive to the spread of secular and left-wing political ideas.

One of the most important figures among the Alauis in the contemporary era was the leader of the Syrian 1919 Revolution against the French, Sheikh Saleh Ahmad al-Ali Salman. Among the Alauti, the founder of the Ba'ath party, Zaki al-Arsuzi, the ex-president of Syria, Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar al-Assad, as well as numerous writers and intellectuals such as the poet Adunis, are then mentioned. the writer Badawi al-Jabal and many others.

What is the history of his ethnoreligious community and why do Sunni Muslims in the Middle East, both Arab and Turkish, have such great animosity against the Alauti?

The Alawites are the largest among the minority groups in Syria. There is a strong disagreement regarding the origins of the sect and its secret cult, characterized by the presence of symbols both pagan and Christian. In the eyes of the majority of Sunnis in the past, the Alawite sect was defined as "non-Muslim" or even "infidel". Many believed that the Alauti were unfaithful apostates of Islam or even pagans. In a Fatwa issued by the "scholar" Faqih Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328) he stated that shedding the blood of the Alauiti is permissible if they do not repent and return to the religion of Islam, because they are "more unfaithful of Jews and Christians and even worse than many polytheists ".

One of the main reasons for the fierce hostility between Sunni Islam and Al-Alauti is the veneration of the Iman Ali bin Abi Talib and his recognition as the legitimate successor of the Prophet Muhammad. The Sunnis do not bear the fact that the Alautis prefer to separate religion from society and that they are strongly secularized.

Instead, there is a strong bond between the Alauti and the Christians that can be seen during the course of numerous festivals, traditions and folk customs. The hostility between Sunni Islam and the Alautii grew in historical times after the vast destruction and massacres carried out by the Ottomans against the Alauti, with the conspicuous support of the Sunni Arabs in Syria throughout the period of Ottoman domination . On that occasion then, the Sunni Arabs also supported the Sunni Turks in the process of extermination of other communities, including Christians, Armenians, Ismailis and others.

What did it mean for her to be a member in Syria before the Syrian Civil War began?

Before the war, my life was that of a simple girl belonging to the upper classes. I could go wherever I wanted and at any time of day or night. However, when I was in places mostly inhabited by people belonging to the Sunni community, then I had to pay some attention because there were some negative attitudes on their part. One day, for example, I was walking in the streets of my city with my mother and suddenly a man came out of his shop pointing out and shouting aloud: "Look at these two infidels!" In essence, we still preferred to live in the areas where the Alauti, the Christians and the Ismailis lived. After the war began, I could no longer go to many Syrian cities because I would have been killed because of my sectarian membership, and in any case I preferred to hide my identity in most situations.

When the protests began in Syria in the 2011, first in Dara'a and then in the rest of the country, what was his first reaction?

When the events started in Dara'a I was very surprised, but I thought the state would find a quick solution to the problem and that it was impossible for things to get worse.

Very often the so-called "Mass Media" in the West, in addition to the partisan propaganda coming from the main news media related to the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, have the tendency to represent the Syrian Civil War as a religious / sectarian war .. .

The Gulf and Western media do not always tell the truth. To put it in a direct manner, the media in general often follow specific political agendas according to this and that country. I think the conflict in Syria is only apparently a conflict between the Sunnis and the Alauti, but the reality is that it is a conflict between the major world powers to grab the resources of the underground, especially after the discovery of vast deposits of oil and gas in the Mediterranean off the Syrian coast. These countries exploit sectarian and inter-ethnic animosities and provoke conflicts in order to weaken countries and steal their resources and wealth. For example, in Libya there is a single religious community, the Sunnis, yet even there there is a war going on between the different Sunni tribes. Each country is characterized by its specificity and a certain way of exploiting its weaknesses.

During the war, the governorates of Latakia and Tartus, which form the so-called "Syrian Coastal Reduced", from which she also comes, were fortunately spared most of the fighting. Can you tell us how people have continued to live in the big cities and villages of the Algae hinterland of Syria during all these years? How did the local inhabitants cope with the flow of refugees that literally "poured" on your shores from all over Syria?

This is a very important question. It is true that the Syrian coastal area (the city of Tartus, the city of Latakia and the surrounding countryside) is generally at peace. People live their lives in peace but always monitoring what happens in the rest of the country with great attention. Many young men have joined the Syrian Army to fight and defend their families. As for the refugees, they arrived in the coastal area, leaving the areas and cities most affected by the war, especially Aleppo. The inhabitants of the coast welcomed them and took care of them, providing them with food and other material assistance. The Red Cross and the United Nations have played an important role in bringing them help. However, due to cultural and social differences, there were some problems, such as rape crimes and murders by refugees against coastal people, but thanks to state efforts, these crimes were repressed and criminals arrested. In addition, there have been two serious attacks at the same time in the city of Tartus and in that of Jableh that have caused numerous deaths, mostly among the inhabitants of the coast (reference to the terrorist attacks of the 23 May 2016 that simultaneously hit the cities of Tartus and Jableh causing over 184 deaths and more than injured 200, ed).

Since the beginning of the war, the Alawite community has been at the forefront in fighting for both the territorial integrity of the country and to maintain the stability of the political system. A large number of Alawite men of all ages have fleshed out the ranks of the Syrian Army and the "National Defense Force" (Quwāt ad-Difāʿ al-Watanī) and the losses have been very heavy; What "force / energy" has allowed its community to "go on" even in the darkest hour? Was there a moment during the war in which he seriously thought that everything was lost?

The sense of sacrifice and duty has allowed us to resist. Many men but also women were martyred during this war. To be honest, many Sunni men also remained faithful to the state because they knew the truth and continued to fight in defense of the ideal that Syria was the motherland of us all.

There were moments when I was afraid. I was terrified that the terrorists could arrive in my area and could kill everyone, but after the intervention of friendly countries, I found peace.

Over the years, the "Syrian Civil War" has become a sort of "World War" due to the direct and indirect intervention of many foreign countries and "non-state actors" in the vicissitudes of the conflict. Which States are today perceived by the Syrians as "friends" and which instead as "enemies" from the point of view of popular opinion?

The countries that are considered friends are: Russia, China and Iran, but Syrian dissidents hate these countries and instead love the United States of America.

After 8 years of continuous war, the conflict in Syria is approaching its natural conclusion with the victory of the domestic and international front that supported the government. President Assad has estimated that, so far, Syria has suffered material damage amounting to over 450 billion dollars, but even worse are the "invisible scars" and the legacy of hatred and distrust between the different ethnic and religious communities that one at one time formed "civil society" in his country. Do you think that the different communities of Syria will be able to live together again in peace and mutual respect as they did before the war?

No, I don't think we can live in peace with each other anymore. There will be different areas of residence for each sect and community. There will be continuous tensions and skirmishes between the Sunnis and other minorities.

What should (or shouldn't be) the place of religion in Syria's society and institutions after the war is over? Do you think it will be possible to definitively break with Islamic fundamentalism and create a truly secular society?

At this moment an occult intellectual war is underway in Syria between radical Islamic thought and secularism. The Islamic thought inspired by Daesh (derogatory name used to identify the Islamic State / ISIS, ed) will not disappear as if by magic and is infiltrating the institutions of the state. Secularism is the preserve of minorities only.

The role of women (especially young women) in the new Syria that will come?

The role of women, especially young women, depends on the community they belong to because the Sunni girls are raised according to the most stringent interpretation of Islamic law and have no hope of changing their social position. Conservative Islamic associations called "al-Qubaisiyat" have been created that brainwash young men and women. Some radical Islamic ideas to the detriment of minorities have even been implanted in school curricula. This is very dangerous.

Photo: Online Defense - remains of a church in the town of Maloula after the passage of "democratic rebels"