What is nationalism and what are problems with it?
Nationalism is a patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts. Citizens who feel very loyal to their country typically feel a great sense of nationalism.
Nationalism can be great motivation for a country to better themselves but it also has its downfalls. According to author Fareed Zakaria in regards to nationalism, “The rise of pride and confidence among other nations, particularly the largest and most successful ones, is readily apparent” (34). This gives countries a certain sense of cockiness or superiority over other countries. Zakaria goes on to talk about an example he’s seen of this. He was talking to a Chinese executive who was describing the vast growth of his country. The Chinese man describes how he thinks his country will go on into years of prosperity and is very positive and uplifting about it. However, when he is asked about other countries roles in the global world, he starts using “furious” tones claiming that he would invade or distrust certain countries if problems were to arise. The problem that Zakaria is seeing with nationalism here is that it is a wonderful and positive driving force internally for a country, however, when they have to consider their external competitors, the attitude suddenly becomes harsh and negative due to the country’s nationalistic ideology of superiority.
How does nationalism play out in Syria?
With such large and concerning claims made by Zakaria, we must examine a country’s nationalism to get a feel for them as a world power and as an independently operating country.
1. Western Nationalism In Syria
We can see the effects of Western nationalism in Syria. Some people have suggested that Syria rapidly transitions into a Western capitalistic and democratic system. This is due to the fact that Western powers have seen their ways work for themselves, so they feel a sense of superiority and assume that their way must be the best way. However, Syrian sectarian cleavages have stressed the importance of gradually moving to a system that is specifically suited for the Syrians’ needs. The Syrian nation is believed to have many different identities that define it. If they transform into a nation that operates the same as the Wester-world, many cultures and voices will be shut down. The opposition to the Western nationalism trying to be implemented in Syria is a good example of the negative effects of powerful countries nationalism (in this case the nationalism of the Western world) and how it is impacting other countries. Zakaria says, “We still think of a world in which a rising power must choose between two stark options: integrate into the Western order, or reject it” (38). Syria’s choice to seemingly reject Western ways illustrate their loyalty to their own form of nationalism.
2. Arab Nationalism In Syria
If Syria is rejecting Western nationalism, then what type of nationalism do they portray? One article argues that the official nationalistic identity of Syria is Arab. This is referred to as the “Baath” ideology. Amongst this Arab (or Muslim) nationalism, Syria still allows a safe haven for Christians — as long as they don’t want to convert the Muslims.
However, the dominant Arab nationalistic identity does not allow the acceptation of the Kurds. Maps try to diminish the Kurdish population when it actually remains very prevalent in Syria. For example, most sources say that Kurds are 10% of the population when in reality it is at more than 15%. Syrian government does not conduct transparent censuses that hardly acknowledges the Kurds existence in the first place making more grounds for Arab nationalism. Even the U.S. department of State and CIA didn’t recognize the Kurds until the 1980s.
Because of this refusal to acknowledge the Kurds, there have been many unfortunate circumstances. Some 300,000 of them are denied citizenship, relegated to statelessness with no access to passports and, in many cases, governmental services. In the 1960s, Kurds were even stripped of their national status. Arabic Syrians were afraid a Kurdish nationalist movement would uprise. And that did in fact happen. Martin W. Lewish of GeoCurrents writes, “Syrian security forces have repressed at least 14 Kurdish political and cultural public gatherings, overwhelmingly peaceful, and often resorted to violence to disperse the crowds. Not only have the security forces prevented political meetings in support of Kurds’ minority rights, but also gatherings to celebrate Nowruz (the Kurdish new year) and other cultural celebrations. In at least two instances, the security services fired on the crowds and caused deaths.” The Kurds are ignored as a negative result of Arabic Syrian nationalism.
3. Explaining Nationalism In Correspondence With Nation States
A nation state is a sovereign state whose citizens or subjects are relatively homogenous in factors such as language or common descent. The Arab sense of nationalism can be explained by regional nation states. The areas where the Kurds are, are thus overpowered by the dominant nation state of Arabic citizens. Even though the Kurds and Muslims both consider themselves Syrians, the conflict of their nation state surfaces. Author of Globalization A Very Short Introduction Manfred B. Steger argues that nation states manage immigration control (67). This can be an explanation as to why the Arabic nation state is able to control and displace the Kurdish population.
Another article argues that the concept of a nation state for Syria is different than most other countries. Since there are a lot of different religions in Syria, there are a lot of different cultures. This article then argues there isn’t one prevailing “nation state attitude.” This doesn’t make the conflict of nation states and nationalism in Syria nonexistent, it just makes it complicated. The article then goes on to say that the people’s sense of common identity has a lot to do with the ability of former president Hafez al-Asad to orchestrate financial incentives and repressive tactics. So in a sense, this article argues that their nation state is their own way they have been doing things. The argument would then be that any transition into a new state, for example the transition into a Western-like economy, would pose a lot of dangers and threats for the Syrian people.
Inequality in Syria
We must also consider how a country’s inequality plays into the country’s problems and conflicts. Syria’s two biggest forms of inequality are gender and economic.
1. Gender Inequality In Syria
Since the conflict, women are experiencing increased sexual violence and discrimination. Below is a video on stories of different Syrian women who have fled Syria because of domestic violence.
The horrific stories of women such as in the video above are much too prevalent in Syria. Correlating with these stories are the many pressures Syrian women feel. Syria values protecting their family’s honor, so women are pressured into conforming to social norms to uphold a family’s reputation that men don’t feel. In Farah’s story she refused a man’s proposal resulting in violence and abuse from her own family. Many women like Farah are afraid to defy the norms as she did so they are stuck in relationships.
What is being done to help domestic violence in gender inequality?
The Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic gives equality to all of its citizens despite gender in article 25. It also says in Article 45 women are guaranteed, “all opportunities that enable them to participate fully and effectively in political, social, cultural, and economic life.” However, no law technically prohibits gender discrimination and individual laws even have deep gender biases.
The Syrian Arab Republic created the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Violence against Women in 2003 but nothing has really been done to implement this. In addition, many women in Syria have seen growth of women in the workforce, but gender inequality remains a major issue in social standings. In summary, not much can be done politically or economically until Syria socially accepts women.
2. Economic Inequality In Syria
Despite the 5% growth in the economy over the last 5 years, poverty still remains high. One out of every three Syrians live below the poverty line.
Lahcen Achy, writer for the Carnegie Middle East Center suggests there are five main economic problems:
- 1. Population growth and the creation of new jobs are not keeping up with each other
- Pop grow 2.5% per year (requiring 250,000 jobs) but only 20,000 jobs per year have been created since the mid-1990s
- Official unemployment rate is about 10%
- 2. Drought
- 25% decline in agricultural jobs
- Agriculture provided 20% of jobs to the labor force and made up 20% share of the GDP
- Lots of people have moved from their farms to cities
- As a result, urban poverty rates have doubled over the last five years
- Government has tried to put in place cash transfers to poor families but the effect of this is not comparable to the effect they need
- 3. Syria is dominated by large companies that have strong connections to the regime
- Corruption problems
- 4. Oil is becoming less important to the GDP
- Oil prices fell more than 14% in the 2000s and the poor have felt the effects of this because the government has thus decreased their social spending
- The government couldn’t offset the decline of oil revenues
- 5. Income inequality has increased in the last ten years
- Excessive inflation
- The wage increases that were happening only benefited those with higher-education degrees and not the 60% of the less educated people who make up the labor force
What is being done to improve economic equality?
Syria is trying to better economic equality as a whole while facing many other problems:
- 1. Unequal distribution of services by region
- Easter and southern regions are most at risk due to the drought and poor infrastructure – they face rising child labor and deprivation
- 2. Transition into a market-oriented economy and the need to keep up with competition
- The government needs to become less corrupt and implement a better physical and technological infrastructure
- 3. Syria needs to spend more money and increase their debt to help the population during this transition
- They need to spend more money specifically on healthcare and create a program that gives the poor a bit of a “safety net”
- Many people are protesting and if Syria spends more money to help the poor protesters, they could give their citizens the economy and freedom they desire.
If Syria can overcome all of these problems, Achy suggests they will be on the road toward economic success.