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At the Center for Law and Religion Forum today, I interview historian Christian Sahner about his recent book, Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present. In the book—the subject of a First Things event last winter—Sahner recounts his time as a student in Syria before the Arab Spring. Our interview covers topics such as the history of Christians in Syria, their experience under the Assad regime, the failure of the Arab Spring, and prospects for the future. Here's a sample:

There are many theories concerning how the Syrian uprising ended up in the hands of extremists. One suggests that the Asad regime had been so successful in suppressing opposition over the decades that there were few liberal dissidents or intellectuals left in the country with the credibility or know-how to steer the revolution in the right direction in its earliest days. Any legitimate opposition was either sitting in jail or had been living outside the country too long to matter. Another theory suggests that from the beginning, the Asad regime was determined to paint the uprising as a violent, extremist movement (whatever its original character or goals). It did so by turning its guns on the protesters, thereby provoking a violent response from the opposition. It also did so by releasing large numbers of hardline Islamists from Syrian prisons, who in turn, spread to the battlefield and poisoned the revolution, as some tell it. Ultimately, whatever caused the change, fundamentalist groups proved to be the most successful on the battlefield, thereby helping them attract more recruits and money. Furthermore, the vision they proposed for the future of Syria proved more appealing to many Sunnis, who felt disenfranchised by the Alawi-dominated government of President Asad and who had become disenchanted with its secular nationalist platform.

Read the whole thing

More on: Syria, Islam

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