“Syria and the Arab ‘Spring’: a Report on Joshua Landis’s Lecture”
Guest Writer: John Claborn

Friday, March 30, 2012

posted under , , , by Unit for Criticism
[On March 29, Joshua Landis (Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma) spoke at a CAS/MillerComm presentation hosted by the Center for South Asian & Middle Eastern Studies in collaboration with the Unit for Criticism & Interpretive Theory. John Claborn (English) a graduate student affiliate of the Unit and recipient of a Unit for Criticism travel grant reports]

"Syria and the Arab 'Spring'"

Written by John Claborn (English)

“Whither Syria?,” the title of this talk, shows us how precarious the situation in Syria is – from day to day, week to week, month to month, we don’t know whether the Assad regime will stand or fall. Of course, most Americans—and perhaps western academics as well—know Syria as a country that borders Iraq and supported insurgents against U. S. forces. Thankfully, Landis’s talk was accessible for those without much knowledge about the Middle East.

Landis’s talk was introduced by Illinois historian Kenneth Cuno, who highlighted Landis’s recent appearances on shows such as Democracy Now! and Charlie Rose. Landis also writes “Syria Comment,” a blog on the topic.

Landis organized his lecture around four problems or questions: why is the Assad regime “doomed”? What are the strengths of the regime? What are the weaknesses of the opposition? What is the economic and regional context for these events?

Giving us some history on the Assad rule, Landis pointed out that minoritarian regimes are not unusual in the Levant (e.g. the Jews in 1940s Palestine, the Christians in Lebanon, the Sunnis in Iraq), but Syria stands as the last minoritarian regime in the region. Though they dominate the current government, Alawite Muslims comprise only 12% of the population, while Sunni Muslims over 70%. The Ba’athist Assad regime maintained power by keeping their sons as military officers, instead of sending them abroad for education. Class also played a role, fueling a dynamic between the rural poor who supported overthrowing the regime and the urban upper class who were made nervous by disruption.

The conflict in Syria, which has left thousands dead, is a reminder still of the so-called Arab Spring of 2010, which saw the fall of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, with uprisings in Bahrain (violently stamped out by Saudi Arabia). While in the past the opposition to Assad has been scattered, it is becoming more unified and it is gaining more support due to the collapse of the economy.

Most of the questions revolved around U. S. intervention in Syria. We went into Libya under certain circumstances, plus an unstable Syria weakens Iraq. Why doesn’t the U.S. intervene? Perhaps this is because the U. S. sees the conflict as a civil war, but more likely U.S. non-intervention just highlights the inconsistency of foreign policy. Syria, Landis was pointed out, is Russia’s strongest ally in the Middle East—perhaps another reason not to intervene.


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Francis Boyle said...

i did serve as Legal Advisor to the Syrian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations during their First Round held in Washington DC under the auspices of the Bush Sr Administration in the Fall of 1991. So i was looking forward to this lecture. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed. If you exclude all the introductions, he basically lectured for30 minutes--i could not stick around for the Q & A. Personally, i think we could have learned more by having Ken Cuno lecture to us during the usual lecture period. fab.

Francis Boyle said...

at the same time i was also serving as Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations. Not to quibble with Landis, but he said that 800,000 Palestinians "fled" their homes in 1948. In fact, they were driven out. See e.g., Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. fab.

Francis Boyle said...

The Syrians, Palestinians and Lebanese were at the Grand Hotel. The Jordanians were at the Willard. Everyone knew the Jordanians wanted peace, but could not go first. Everyone also knew the Lebanese would do whatever the Syrians told them to do. So I was advising the two Key Actors:Syria and Palestine. I knew their bottom lines. I was drafting their documents. We could have solved this entire matter then and there. But the Israelis refused to negotiate with anyone in good faith. What a tragedy.


Ken Cuno said...

Joshua Landis' Syriacomment.com was just named one of the five best blogs for understanding the Middle East. See http://www.policymic.com/articles/5177/5-best-blogs-to-better-understand-the-middle-east.

Ken Cuno

fab said...

"Not technically a blog, but here's #6 for good measure: Al Jazeera's English 'Live Blog-"
And Landis is No. 5. With all due respect to Ken, everyone knows that AJ/E--upon which i have been repeatedly interviewed--is nothing more than a mouthpiece for the Emir of Qatar. So Landis is one notch above His Excellency the Royal Highness currently under US military occupation. fab.

fab said...

(3) Juan Cole's Informed Comment
That's a joke and a fraud too. Cole just completely discredited himself by spending the last 8 months warmongering against Libya and exterminating about 50,000 Libyans in the process. I doubt very seriously he had ever visited that country. By comparison I lectured there on 3 separate occasions, including on their National TV and serving as a commentator for CBS Evening News. A recently report is that Cole works with the CIA. I could drive a truck through his denial. In any event, "experts" such as Landis and Cole prove that my friend Edward Said is right. US Middle East Studies--Ken Cuno excluded--are not much more than an exercise in Imperialist Orientalism.

Anonymous said...

and speaking of Edward Said: as a Triple Harvard Alum, I once spent an entire evening having dinner with Edward and his wife at a Chinese Restaurant in Manhattan trying to get Edward to accept Harvard's Top Honcho Chair in Comparative Literature. I can be a very persuasive person. But despite all of my arguments, Edward adamantly refused because Harvard was so anti-Palestinian that it would have thwarted his intellectual creativity. So he stayed at Columbia. Of course Edward was right. RIP. fab.