Syria Sees Islamic Resurgence

(New York Times) Neil MacFarquhar - Two decades after Syria ruthlessly uprooted militant Islam, killing an estimated 10,000 people, this most secular of Arab states is experiencing a dramatic religious resurgence. Syrian experts and others say Islam is proving appealing through much of the Arab world, including Syria, as a means to protest corrupt, incompetent, and oppressive governments. The widespread sense that the faith is being singled out for attack by Washington has invigorated that appeal. In Syria, some experts also note that the hasty collapse of the Baath government next door in Iraq stunned Syria's rulers, particularly the fact that most Iraqis reacted to the American onslaught as if they were bored spectators. Syria is now seeking to forge nationalist sentiment by any means possible, experts believe, including fostering the very brand of religious fundamentalism that it once pruned so mercilessly. Hafez al-Assad did two things that helped foster the current resurgence. He built hundreds of mosques, trying to counter the sense among Syria's Sunni Muslims that his minority Alawite sect was religiously suspect. He also founded myriad schools to study the Koran, which Syrians say in recent years dropped the gentle Sufi Islam once prevalent here, replacing it with the more intolerant Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia.

2003-10-24 00:00:00

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