by Patrick Appel
Max Fisher explains the map above, which “shows the different ethnic and linguistic groups of the Levant, the part of the Middle East that’s dominated by Syria, Lebanon and Israel”:
Ethnic and linguistic breakdowns are just one part of Syria’s complexity, of course. But they are a really important part. The country’s largest group is shown in yellow, signifying ethnic Arabs who follow Sunni Islam, the largest sect of Islam. Shades of brown indicate ethnic Kurds, long oppressed in Syria, who have taken up arms against the regime. There are also Druze, a religious sect, Arab Christians, ethnic Armenians and others.
Syria is run by Alawites, a minority sect of Islam whose members include President Bashar al-Assad and many in his inner circle. They’re indicated in a greyish green, clustered near the Mediterranean coast. Although Alawites make up only 12 percent of the Syrian population, they are playing a crucial role in the war, fighting to prop up Assad’s regime.
He uses the map to discuss Fareed Zakaria’s argument, from June, against intervention in Syria:
Zakaria’s thesis is that what we’re seeing in Syria is in some ways the inevitable re-balancing of power along ethnic and religious lines, with the Sunni Arab majority retaking control from the Alawite minority. He compares the situation to post-2003 Iraq, when members of the Shiite majority violently took power from the Sunni minority that, under Saddam Hussein, had ruled them. That would explain why so much of the killing in Syria has been along sectarian lines. It would also suggest that there’s not much anyone can do to end the killing because, in his view, this is a painful but unstoppable process.
(Map from the Gulf/2000 Project)