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Syria has long presented a serious problem for the Middle East region and U.S. policy. With its mix of competing religious and ethnic groups, radical ideologies, and political repression, it is a 72,000-square-mile time bomb waiting to go off. Yet surprisingly, very little is known about this country and the role it has played in shaping the destiny of the Middle East. In Syria has long presented a serious problem for the Middle East region and U.S. policy. With its mix of competing religious and ethnic groups, radical ideologies, and political repression, it is a 72,000-square-mile time bomb waiting to go off. Yet surprisingly, very little is known about this country and the role it has played in shaping the destiny of the Middle East. In The Truth about Syria, Middle East expert Barry Rubin looks at the critical issues that have made the country the powderkeg of the Middle East and offers an insightful analysis of the effects of recent developments.


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Syria has long presented a serious problem for the Middle East region and U.S. policy. With its mix of competing religious and ethnic groups, radical ideologies, and political repression, it is a 72,000-square-mile time bomb waiting to go off. Yet surprisingly, very little is known about this country and the role it has played in shaping the destiny of the Middle East. In Syria has long presented a serious problem for the Middle East region and U.S. policy. With its mix of competing religious and ethnic groups, radical ideologies, and political repression, it is a 72,000-square-mile time bomb waiting to go off. Yet surprisingly, very little is known about this country and the role it has played in shaping the destiny of the Middle East. In The Truth about Syria, Middle East expert Barry Rubin looks at the critical issues that have made the country the powderkeg of the Middle East and offers an insightful analysis of the effects of recent developments.

30 review for The Truth about Syria

  1. 4 out of 5

    Phoenix

    Patterns of Misbehaviour/Hariri On My Mind Revealing insights into the dynamics of the Assad dictatorship that has been running Syria for the last 40 years, useful background given the current protests against the regime. Rubin's first major point is that the Assad's greatest success has been the rebranding of their ruling minority Alawite Nusayri faction (12% of the pop) as quasi Shias and their emphasis on defining Syria as an Arab state at the forefront of non-existent pan-Arab unity. The irony Patterns of Misbehaviour/Hariri On My Mind Revealing insights into the dynamics of the Assad dictatorship that has been running Syria for the last 40 years, useful background given the current protests against the regime. Rubin's first major point is that the Assad's greatest success has been the rebranding of their ruling minority Alawite Nusayri faction (12% of the pop) as quasi Shias and their emphasis on defining Syria as an Arab state at the forefront of non-existent pan-Arab unity. The irony here is that, at least formerly, the Alawaite sect was regarded as heretic as they not only celebrate the 9th century prophet Nusayri (Mohammed is supposed to the be final prophet) they also consider him to be a manifestation of God and don't perform salah - daily prayers. Example after example shows that the goal of the regime is to keep the Assads in power - all else is secondary. Loyalty is considered far more important than merit or competence and The Assads, like Saddam Hussein did in neighbouring Iraq, have made sure to install their kinsmen in key positions of power. Any dissent from the majority Sunnis who dominate the business class is kept in line by mukabarat security forces. Newspapers are licensed by the State and can only publish that which is favorable to the regime. A quote listed on pp207 should be kept in mind. In an interview in Der Spiegel in August 2005, son Bassar Assad said: "If any Syrians are involved (in the Hariri assassination), it means I'm involved." During the At the beginning of this month representatives of the Special Tribunal For Lebanon investigating the Rafiq Hariri assassination served indictments on 4 members of Syria's proxy Hezbollah, and then flew to Damascus to serve more. The Syrians have always regarded Lebanon as part of greater Syria. During the 30 year Syrian occupation of Lebanon which ended in April of 2006 (Ch 4) Syrian intelligence Chief Ghazi Kanaan maintained a network of informers and wiretaps and acted as co-sponsor along with Iran for the paramilitary Hiz b'Allah. He could and did order assassinations, controlling all important aspects of Lebanese political life, including judiciarial appointments and decisions as well as political ones, including illegal extension of Lebanese Prime Minister Lahoud's term of office as he was favorable to Damascus . Kanaan was found dead in his office in Damascus shortly after the Hariri assassination, an apparent suicide that was brushed under the carpet, though Rubin is skeptical and believes Assad had Kanaan murdered so that he could be blamed for the death of Hariri if need be, without Kanaan pointing the finger at others. Rubin also asserts that the Assads have done well playing off external regional politics. During the Iraqi sanctions of the 90s they subverted UN policy by surreptitiously laundering Iraqi oil, taking a substantial cut for the State, while pretending to be part of the US coalition. They also managed to serve as a base and supplier for Iraqi insurgents operating against US and the pro-democracy government of Iraq, without incurring the wrath of the United States.(1) WIth regard to the Arab/Israeli dispute to a large degree it has been Syrian sponsorship of proxy terrorist organizations (Hiz b'Allah, Fatah) that has kept the conflict going, including the sponsorship of elements (PFLP and PLA) of Fatah against each other. It was interesting to note that originally Hafiz Assad had claimed that the PLO, set up by Egypt, was a Zionist front (pp39), and he and Arafat did not get long. Assad had picked his friend Yousif al-Urabi to be the new Fatah leader - he was killed by Arafat's supporters and Arafat was thrown into a Syrian prison. One should not forget that it was Syria who dictated the withdrawal of Arafat and his militants from Lebanon in December of '83. (pp89). And, as has been a common tactic in the Arab world, anti-Israel rhetoric has been indoctrinated into the general public and is used as an excuse to stave off meaningful reform that might undermine the entrenched power elite. The book also spends time looking at tensions between Syria and it's other Arab neighbours, including its intense rivalry with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Jordan is viewed as historic Syria and the legitimacy of King's Hussein was considered questionable. Bashar and Abdallah are contemporaries, but the governing styles are different and the a relationship hasn't gelled, not that I would advise Abdallah to put any trust in Bashar. The secular nature of Ba'ath and Syria's alliance with Shia Iran plays poorly in Saudi Riyadh and aside from a failed UAR alliance in the 1960s where Egypt viewed Syria contemptuously as a very junior partner, the Assads have portrayed the Egyptian leadership of traitors to the Arab cause. It's current to the time of publication (2006), and though the content is good, at times Rubin repeats the same point in more or less the same way. To me this indicates a problem with editing not writing. Not a big deal as Rubin makes more cogent points in each chapter than many writers make in an entire book. The 2nd problem is that the index is incomplete - for example I tried to find a passage about Adbdallah II of Jordan that I had read, but it didn't show in the index - I used Amazon's "look inside the book" feature instead. Again I feel the problems lie with the editors at Palgrave and not the author. I also had problem with some dead links in web references - in most cases I was able to google quotations in the text and come up with an alternate source. This is a problem across the publishing industry for which a solution is needed. Obviously, given that he is a Zionist, Rubin's arguments would likely be rejected by those who need it most. Even so it is a useful guide. Inshallah the people of Syria wil replace this government soon and seek a new path, but not only will they have to replace the regime they will also need to break the patterns. I found it a worthwhile read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I appreciate the scholarship of this author, and it's good to read a work on a terrible subject that captures a genuinely solemn tone throughout. There are plenty of interesting revelations in here, and most readers will learn a lot from it. So why 2 stars? I'd would have given it 2 and a half (Goodreads doesn't allow it), but one thing irked me early on, and repeatedly was the assertion that the Assads are not Muslims. The Alawites are the minority religious sect to which the Assad family belong I appreciate the scholarship of this author, and it's good to read a work on a terrible subject that captures a genuinely solemn tone throughout. There are plenty of interesting revelations in here, and most readers will learn a lot from it. So why 2 stars? I'd would have given it 2 and a half (Goodreads doesn't allow it), but one thing irked me early on, and repeatedly was the assertion that the Assads are not Muslims. The Alawites are the minority religious sect to which the Assad family belongs, and it constitutes some ten percent of the Syrian population. It is viewed as a heretic sect of Shia Islam, meaning that Shia Muslims presumably do not recognize Alawites as adherents of Islam at all. But what this view implies is that we, as non-Muslims (including the author), can sort of "get inside Islam" and decide who is a true believer and who isn't. This is a mistake. I find it impossible to refuse to recognize any person as belonging to a religious group simply because other members of that religious group deny them. Similarly, I view the Alevis in Turkey as Muslims of a sort. Both names derive from "Ali," the fourth Caliph, according to Sunnis, and the rightful heir to the Caliphate after Mohammed for Shiites. For that matter, followers of the Nation of Islam, who count Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X among their number, are (to me, at least) Muslims. They are Muslims because they call themselves Muslims. It's as simple as that. Are 'Jews for Jesus' Jews? Yes - of a sort. It is difficult if not impossible to put the dysfunctions of the Arab world in context without viewing Syria as ruled by Muslims of a certain variety. I simply couldn't get around the author's assertion that Alawites were not Muslims, and it tainted my enjoyment of the rest of the book. This is a pity, because - as I note - there is much to be learned from it. It pulls no punches, and the Assads deserve no punches pulled. So I would recommend it to anyone wanting a non-whitewashed portrait of Assadist Syria. I found nothing incredible about it otherwise.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vjeko

    Incredible book with a lot of information about the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and the role that Syria played for about 70 years in the Middle East. Incredible details about the relationships between West and Syria, their influence on the Middle East, Lebanon, terrorism and great explanation about Alawites and the Muslim which explains the situation now with the Daesh, and the moderate rebels. Great Assad profile of father and the son. Just one thing caught my eye, in the Incredible book with a lot of information about the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and the role that Syria played for about 70 years in the Middle East. Incredible details about the relationships between West and Syria, their influence on the Middle East, Lebanon, terrorism and great explanation about Alawites and the Muslim which explains the situation now with the Daesh, and the moderate rebels. Great Assad profile of father and the son. Just one thing caught my eye, in the book it said that Syria supports Sunni Muslims in Iraq, while they are allied with Shia Iran, and they are telling for themselves that they are some kind "sect" of Shia Muslims...further explanation on this topic is needed. Overall great book!I recommend.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I have set this aside - (because I can't find it!) However, I am taking it off of my currently reading list with concern that it may be a politically and/or culturally biased book. While I try to read critically and am sensative to bias, I don't want my book shelf to appear to be loaded with one particular perspective - such as I don't only watch or read predominantely Republican or Democrat news, websites and books. This would be the antithesis of what I am interested in - open perspectives lead I have set this aside - (because I can't find it!) However, I am taking it off of my currently reading list with concern that it may be a politically and/or culturally biased book. While I try to read critically and am sensative to bias, I don't want my book shelf to appear to be loaded with one particular perspective - such as I don't only watch or read predominantely Republican or Democrat news, websites and books. This would be the antithesis of what I am interested in - open perspectives leading to understanding and peace.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Daniels

    Weird to claim that Iraq defeated Iran little bit Americentric there is this long bit where he compares the Assads to the Godfather, but I'm not familiar with the series, so its sorta lost on me Too much of a focus on foreign policy, and not enough about Syria and Syrians the more I read, the more I realised this book is unreliable Clearly not as much of an expert as he thinks he is

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elissa Holman

    People need to read this, rather than take media sound bites. I recommended this book via Facebook in hopes others will actually read a book versus only digesting what is presented on the "news". I have found this book very interesting and helpful!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Why doesn't our government direct a little more attention to this rouge country? Building a clandestine nuclear reactor out in the desert with DPRK assistance? Do they believe that Israel can sufficiently "police" them? Book is very good work. Good read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ashwath

    The book is good and is especially relevant with the whole syrian crisis which dominates the headlines today. Though the book presents some very interesting facts, the book often repeats facts and that puts off the reader at times. Barring that, the book is actually a really good read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Barney

    very informative and Rubin made it easy to understand the history of a complex place of competing interests and religions.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo Lima

    This is Zionist propaganda, pure and simple, disguised as a book. Some interesting facts but after a while I got tired of seeing Israel ALWAYS portrayed as the great peace seeker of the Middle East.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    A slow read, but lots of interesting insight into Syria and its influence in the Middle East.

  12. 5 out of 5

    K. L. Petersen

    Not really worth the time, but I appreciate that someone attempted to write a book about Syria and explain it to the ignorant population that includes me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Arlian Sorkal

    Not wrong, but extremely repetitive and chaotic presentation. It could have been cut short by two-thirds.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anas Massoud

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lode Mooneys

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nadia

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anas Sinan

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andre

  19. 5 out of 5

    Abdul Fahl

  20. 5 out of 5

    Meghan Portfolio

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  23. 5 out of 5

    F

  24. 5 out of 5

    James Rankin

  25. 4 out of 5

    Salim Saroueh

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ahmad

  27. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  28. 4 out of 5

    James Aird

  29. 4 out of 5

    Eve Rowell

  30. 5 out of 5

    Derek Nannings

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