Many of us who have seen these videos of Syrians fighting against Assad use Allah Wa Akbar often on every occasion dealing with death or life, with joy or sadness, with triumph or defeat. This vocalization is planting a new Syrian culture leading us to the unknown.
Allah Wa Akbar is an expressing in Islam to glorify G*d. It is one of duty and service but also one of inspiration and strength. It tells the world that Syrians are fighting a greater evil and without G*d’s support, they will not defeat that evil.
Another expression used often on top of any expression of the written word is Bism Alah Al Rahman Al Raheem (In the name of G*d, The Merciful). It refers to one’s beliefs in Islam as a priority in his/her life and is part and parcel of our culture in Syria even if used less often than in countries like Saudi Arabia for example.
Given the particularity of the one-sided civil war in Syria today, those two expressions have taken a life of their own and are being used more often by more writers or YouTubers than I have ever seen in the past years.
Part of the reason is directly related to the utter abandonment by the international community of the Free Syrian Army to defend the civilian population in Syria. If the US does not want to help, reliance on G*d is the only option left to strengthen the morale.
But it also has another negative aspect in that it denotes the writer who is a Muslim from one who is not. Of course, the message behind its usage by those who in the past have used it little is to tell the world “I am a Muslim and not an Alawite”.
This form of religiosity to distinguish one’s identity from another in an environment of violence is unique to our region and to the the last century. During the US civil war, as an example, the reference was for a Unionist vs. a Confederate and not a Quaker vs. a Baptist. During the 1917 Soviet Revolution, it was either the Red Army against the Whites or the Bolsheviks against the Tsarists. Same patterns are observed across many of the revolutions in Europe.
The danger in this new identity revealing of one’s religion lies in where this will lead in the future. Will it lead to simple piety and observance of Islam or will it lead to hardened Islam that will morph into extremism? There is one undeniable aspect Syrians are observing: The longer this Revolution lasts, the higher the chances for hardened Muslims to flip to the extremist side, which is self-serving for Assad if one wants to defend his position through a diplomatic solution or disserving of the US position if one is to criticize Obama’s polices of timidity and retreat.
In either case, the Syrian identity is changing and our culture is experiencing an important metamorphosis. We are in the midst of change but the final form, shape, and societal inclinations are not clear yet. Either way, the US position of abandoning Syrians through meaningless meetings it calls “Friends of Syria” is directly affecting this paradigm shift and the rising of a new Syrian Phoenix we all hope will not become a danger for Syria.