Through some sort of maze of websites that I can’t recall right now, I recently arrived at a NY Review of Books article about modern Syria, the Alawites (faith to which the Assads belong) which represent only 13% of that country’s population and the recent turmoil and brutal murders by the regime of Bashar Assad. Bashar, of course, is the son of Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria with an iron hand for decades before handing off the reigns to his son.
Apparently, there was a point at which the French, which had divided control of the Middle East with the British in the early part of the 20th Century, and who ended up with Syria on their part of the map, considered creating an Alawi state.
When the French took over Greater Syria after World War I (including modern Lebanon and parts of modern Turkey), they flirted briefly with the idea of creating a highland Alawi state of 300,000 people separate from the cities of the plainsâ€”Homs, Hama, Damascus, and Aleppoâ€”with their dominant Sunni majorities. The French rightly believed that the Sunni majority would be most resistant to their rule. Like other minorities the Alawis, as they preferred to be called, saw the French as protectors.
It appears that the Alawis favored this outcome and sought to encourage it as time went on and France was intent on providing independence to Syria. To that end, a number of their luminaries, including Sulayman al-Assad, the father and grandfather of Hafez and Bashar, respectively, wrote a letter to Leon Blum in 1936. Blum, a Jewish Prime Minister of France, was the best address to influence French decision-making. The six authors of the Alawi letter provided information about why it would be prudent to keep the Alawis separated from the majority Sunnis in Syria. As one of their key points, they sought to show what happens when a minority, even one that contributes to a society, is faced with a hostile opposing majority. Here is what they wrote about the Jews of Mandatory Palestine (bold italics mine).
We can sense today how the Muslim citizens of Damascus force the Jews who live among them to sign a document pledging that they will not send provisions to their ill-fated brethren in Palestine. The condition of the Jews in Palestine is the strongest and most explicit evidence of the militancy of the Islamic issue vis-Ã -vis those who do not belong to Islam. These good Jews contributed to the Arabs with civilization and peace, scattered gold, and established prosperity in Palestine without harming anyone or taking anything by force, yet the Muslims declare holy war against them and never hesitated in slaughtering their women and children, despite the presence of England in Palestine and France in Syria. Therefore a dark fate awaits the Jews and other minorities in case the Mandate is abolished and Muslim Syria is united with Muslim Palestineâ€¦the ultimate goal of the Muslim Arabs.