[THE NEW YORK TIMES]
“Civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration,” wrote Sigmund Freud in “Civilization and Its Discontents.” So it is with the sectarian violence that tears at the Middle East today. The strife that pits Sunnis against Shiites is a product of sustained internal and external pressures that have manipulated and made toxic what has long been one of the hallmarks of Levantine societies, their religious diversity. Neither the internal nor the external reasons are intelligible on their own. They reinforce each other.
The internal failures are most evident in Syria. The fact that Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite and that many of the leading military forces are controlled by Alawite officers is an obviously salient factor in exacerbating sectarian tensions in Syria. But the regime is not Alawite in any religious sense. Like the ostensibly “Sunni” regime of Saddam Hussein that long brutalized Iraq, it is essentially despotic.
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