Religion

Dimension 13 of 17


We wanted to learn about the capacity of religion in Syria. We listened to a wide range of local, regional, and international actors influential in the life of Syria. We received a wide range of responses, for example: 

"Syria was not tolerant before the revolution. For instance, the constitution required the President must be Muslim. Now religion is an instrument to trade on for gains. The imams present themselves as if God on earth. In all religions we expect to be punished for our sins after death. We get it from each other now. Now we have hell on earth. Crimes should be punished by the code—the government—not by religion. (231641)
"The religious practices of the terrorist-held and government areas are used as tools to control people. (232272)
"The regime controls religion. Religion is between man and God, not man and man. His relation to God defines his ethics, his relationship with others. In Syria it is defined by the regime, not religion. Religion should be separated from government." (233081)
"Islam is government, though not fully manifested in the Assad government, but they pay the imams, and it is a medium for control." (239311)   

“Level 3 [religious intermediaries - priests, imams, saints, gurus, rabbis, and others - translate and explain God's will to citizens] is most true in IS areas. The leader is almost a deity. In all areas, Imams are very important. In regime areas, they justify government violence.” (233911)

“Historically Syria's religious practice was modest, but has been influenced by extremism as the war progresses.” (234281)
“Opposition areas are more backward in this area, working at level 2.” (236592)

“Religion is very deep to people. There is inter-religious violence. Even people perceived as secular are very religious relative to the United States. There are multiple religions intolerant of each other. The Alawites and Christians are more tolerant, but horrified by the Sunni for fear of extermination. Assad himself is probably angry with the Sunni because they are rebelling, not because he is religiously intolerant. They people struggle with questions like, "Why did I survive, but my children did not?" Material wealth is not considered an indicator of blessing. On the other hand, the Islamic State is fighting because they see it as God's will that they will win.” (239312)

“Syria is very diverse. The Sunnis are definitely the dominant group, but before the conflict inter-religious disputes were rare. Inter-religious marriages were common. Even the ruling elite were not from the dominant group, and it was acceptable.” (238631)

“Even with all the killing and divisions tolerance is still a core principle with most.” (235931)

“In the IS controlled areas it is level 4 [intolerant]. In regime controlled areas it is level 3 [religious intermediaries - priests, imams, saints, gurus, rabbis, and others - translate and explain God's will to citizens]. In the Free Syrian Army areas, it is level 6 [the religious and scientific communities cooperate well]. In the PYD controlled areas it is level 5 [one dominant religious community, which is tolerant of other religions and atheists].” (230784) 

Is religion in Syria controlled by the state, and serves to deify Assad ? Or is religion in Syria tolerant of different forms of faith? Why does this matter in your choice of partners, the design of initiatives, and the implementation of those initiatives? Read more to find out. Scroll to the bottom of the page for more statements. 


ABOUT INCA DIMENSION #13: RELIGION


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Religion in Syria is the 13th of 17 dimensions in Syrian society that influential local, regional, and international actors assessed and discussed through 3 rounds of interviews and feedback, beginning in January, 2016. Taken together, the 17 dimensions of the x-axis offer a comprehensive, holistic view of Syria and its people. Interview participants assessed the capacity of each dimension, represented by the y-axis; higher levels indicate greater capacity within that dimension for Syrians to respond effectively to existential global threats.

Religion is important to assess because it reveals the capacity of the Syrian public for altruism and cooperation. Based on the 8-level hierarchy described in the question below, participants from 27 influential organizations assessed Syrian religious capacity at different levels at this time in history, ranging from 2 to 6. (At the bottom of this page, you can read statements interview participants gave to support their assessments.)


The Question

Emile Durkheim defined religion as a "unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things.” Religion has served as a strong binding force for societies. Which of these levels of development is the dominant mode of this country? (If two seem equal, name the higher level.)

1.     In this country, religion is understood to provide for short term needs of not more than a year, primarily related to providing for the needs of the faithful. For example, “If I am faithful the deity will give me the food I need for this crop cycle.”

2.     In this country, the political leader or leaders control the public’s faith practices. (The leader might even be the deity.) Religion provides for medium range needs, up to a generation. For example, “If the people are faithful we will be victorious in battle and be a safe and powerful nation state.”

3.     In this country, religious intermediaries—priests, imams, saints, gurus, rabbis, and others—translate and explain God’s will to citizens. The believer hopes to meet needs beyond the immediate life.

4.     In this country, citizens have individual relationships with the divine. There is one dominant religious community, which is intolerant of other religions and atheists.

5.     In this country, citizens have individual relationships with the divine. There is one dominant religious community, which is tolerant of other religions and atheists.

6.     In this country, the religious and scientific communities cooperate well, and the major religious communities have integrated findings from group altruism, group selection, and evolutionary psychology research.

7.     In this country, the religious and scientific communities are partners in a large-scale initiative to address a global threat (e.g. global warming, environmental degradation, or plagues).

8.     In this country, the religious and scientific communities are partners in a large-scale initiative to address two or more global threats (e.g. global warming, environmental degradation, or plagues).


READ CLOSELY, IMAGINE, LEARN

Read each statement below closely. Assume the person who wrote this is sincere; they believe every word. Imagine what life experience or background might lead a person to have this belief. Whether true or false, this person’s perception is a fact. To move forward on an initiative involving Syrian religious capacity, the reality of each perspective might best need to be accounted for.

This Prime Actor participant sees religious capacity in Syria as centered at Level 2, under the control of political leaders:

"The regime controls religion. Religion is between man and God, not man and man. His relation to God defines his ethics, his relationship with others. In Syria it is defined by the regime, not religion. Religion should be separated from government." (233081) 

This Prime Actor participant sees Syrian religious capacity as centered at Level 6, the country:

“Even with all the killing and divisions tolerance is still a core principle with most.” (235931)

When you can imagine how other Prime Actors could hold these perceptions, you will be better positioned to partner, plan, and implement initiatives in Syria.



DEVELOPMENT IN SYRIA


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WORK WITHIN THE RELIGIOUS CAPACITY IN SYRIA

The thick brown line represents the control of religion by political leaders

The thick brown line represents the most conservative assessment of Syria’s Religion, in which political leaders control the public’s faith practices. Any organization operating in Syria or with refugee Syrians would be best served by not underestimating the moral, personal, and persuasive power of the political leader or leaders of the country.   


STRENGTHEN RELIGIOUS CAPACITY IN SYRIA ONE STEP AT A TIME

Aim just right: strengthen religious activity outside the Assad regime

The green area of the chart, from levels 2 to 3, indicates where projects to strengthen the Syria's religious capacity will be most likely to succeed, by empowering religious leaders who are not political leaders. An example is the work of Islamic Relief, which has provided emergency humanitarian relief to Syrians for years. This good work, by coming from outside the Assad regime, strengthens religious leaders and weakens the demigod-like stature of Bashar al-Assad. 

If you aim too high: destructive overreach

Projects and agreements in the red area of the chart are overly ambitious and, at best, will be a waste of time. More likely, they will drive confusion and corruption into the country. An example is of initiatives to emphasize individuality and philosophical thought in a religious context (level 4). If implemented in Syria, this attempted leap from a state-dominated religious doctrine (level 2) to one based on personal faith (level 4) would be too much to do at once! Without first establishing a system of religious intermediaries and educators (level 3), attempts to help individuals participate in a religious faith independently are unlikely to succeed due to lack of guidance. 

Religion in post-invasion Iraqi society was experienced at a similarly basic level in the spring of 2003. The United States, however, failed to recognize the importance of religion in the political culture of Iraq and enacted many programs based on the faulty assumption that religion was experienced on an individual level (level 4). As a result, inappropriate practices and projects drove confusion and corruption into Iraqi society with disastrous results.

One clear miscalculation about the role of religion in Iraqi society was the failure to address Ayatollah al-Sistani’s criticisms of the November 15th Plan, which laid the framework for a caucus system that would elect the Transitional National Assembly that would, in turn, appoint delegates to draft a new constitution for the country. Assuming that Iraqis’ religious experience was an individual matter (level 4), the Bush Administration ignored al-Sistani’s objections, believing he was simply obstructing their efforts to develop an Iraqi government that was inclusive and tolerant of all religions (a level 5 goal). In actuality, however, al-Sistani’s role as the paramount religious leader for the Iraqi Shi’a population enabled him to foment serious popular opposition to both the transitional government and the new Iraqi constitution. Rather than garner popular support for a new, more inclusive government, which was the intention behind the accord, the November 15th agreement ultimately ended up being condemned by a broad segment of the population and contributed to escalating sectarian tensions by failing to make any attempt to assuage al-Sistani’s fears.

Background Reading

For more information on INCA for Iraq, read our retroactive case study here: http://sovereigntyfirst.com/iraq/report


Round 3 Statements (Nov 2016 - Jul 2017)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range

Lowest Score: 2

Highest Score: 6

2. In this country the political leader or leaders control the public's faith practices. (The leader might even be a deity.)

"Syria was not tolerant before the revolution. For instance, the constitution required the President must be Muslim. Now religion is an instrument to trade on for gains. The Imams present themselves as if God on earth. In all religions we expect to be punished for our sins after death. We get it from each other now. Now we have hell on earth. Crimes should be punished by the code/the government, not by religion." (231641)
"The religious practices of the terrorist-held and government areas are used as tools to control people." (232272)
"The regime controls religion. Religion is between man and God, not man and man. His relation to God defines his ethics, his relationship with others. In Syria it is defined by the regime, not religion. Religion should be separated from government." (233081)
"Islam is government, though not fully manifested in the Assad government, but they pay the Imams, and it is a medium for control." (239311)   

3. In this country religious intermediaries - priests, imams, saints, gurus, rabbis, and others - translate and explain God's will to citizens. The believe hopes to meet needs beyond the immediate life.

“#3 is most true in IS areas. The leader is almost a deity. In all areas, Imams are very important. In regime areas, they justify government violence.” (233911)
“Historically Syria's religious practice was modest, but has been influenced by extremism as the war progresses.” (234281)
“Opposition areas are more backward in this area, working at level 2.” (236592)

4. In this country citizens have individual relationships with the divine. There is one dominant religious community, which is intolerant of other religions and atheists

“Syrian communities have deeply faithful people, including Christian and Yazidi.” (238341)
“Religion is very deep to people. There is inter-religious violence. Even people perceived as secular are very religious relative to the United States. There are multiple religions intolerant of each other. The Alawites and Christians are more tolerant, but horrified by the Sunni for fear of extermination. Assad himself is probably angry with the Sunni because they are rebelling, not because he is religiously intolerant. They people struggle with questions like, "Why did I survive, but my children did not?" Material wealth is not considered an indicator of blessing. On the other hand, the Islamic State is fighting because they see it as God's will that they will win. It is not short term, but they operate more on level 2.” (239312)

5. In this country citizens have individual relationships with the divine. There is one dominant religious community, which is tolerant of other religions and atheists.

“Syria is very diverse. The Sunnis are definitely the dominant group, but before the conflict interreligious disputes were rare. Interreligious marriages were common. Even the ruling elite were not from the dominant group, and it was acceptable.” (238631)
“Even with all the killing and divisions tolerance is still a core principle with most.” (235931)

6. In this country the religious and scientific communities cooperate well, and the major religious communities have integrated findings from group altruism, group selection, and evolutionary psychology research.

“In the IS controlled areas it is level 4. In regime controlled areas it is level 3. In the Free Syrian Army areas, it is level 6. In the PYD controlled areas it is level 5.” (230784)
“The psychology aspect of #6 is non-existent in Syria. #5 is also true. In Syria, there was always tolerance between religions. There is no tolerance now between the Sunni and the Alawi.” (230713)


Round 2 Statements (Aug 2016 - Oct 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range 

Lowest Score: 3

Highest Score: 5

3. In this country, religious intermediaries—priests, imams, saints, gurus, rabbis, and others—translate and explain God’s will to citizens. The believer hopes to meet needs beyond the immediate life.

 "Syria is a founder of local laws." (221641)
"This is exactly what's going on. Groups from Lebanon and Syria are working together on this. The strength of any country comes from the people who live in the country. Everyone working together is the right way to proceed." (222172)

4. In this country, citizens have individual relationships with the divine. There is one dominant religious community, which is intolerant of other religions and atheists.

 "Anyone choosing level 4 is most likely an atheist. Atheists are anyone of a minority religion and eligible to be executed." (223881)
"In government-controlled areas this is true." (222272)

5. In this country, citizens have individual relationships with the divine. There is one dominant religious community, which is tolerant of other religions and atheists.

"Syria used to be a secular country where everyone was tolerant of each other." (223881)


Round 1 Statements (Jan 2016 - May 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at the level they did for this dimension. 

The Range

Lowest Score: 2

Highest Score: 4

2. In this country, the political leader or leaders control the public’s faith practices. (The leader might even be the deity.) Religion provides for medium range needs, up to a generation. For example, “If the people are faithful we will be victorious in battle and be a safe and powerful nation state.”

3.     In this country, religious intermediaries—priests, imams, saints, gurus, rabbis, and others—translate and explain God’s will to citizens. The believer hopes to meet needs beyond the immediate life.

4. In this country, citizens have individual relationships with the divine. There is one dominant religious community, which is intolerant of other religions and atheists.