The Emergence of Minorities in the Middle East

The Emergence of Minorities in the Middle East: The Politics of Community in French Mandate Syria

BENJAMIN THOMAS WHITE
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r2178
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  • Book Info
    The Emergence of Minorities in the Middle East
    Book Description:

    This book uses a study of Syria under the French mandate to show what historical developments led people to start describing themselves and others as 'minorities'.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4755-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Map 1. Syria c.1936
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Map 2. The Far Northeast of Syria in the 1930s
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. OUTLINE CHRONOLOGY OF THE FRENCH MANDATE, 1919–39
    (pp. viii-x)
  6. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  7. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-18)

    Let me start with what this book is not. When I began my research, I planned to study minorities in French mandate Syria. Everyone who had written about the mandate seemed to agree that the French in Syria used the minorities – in some eyes even created them – in order to offset the opposition of the nationalist majority.¹ Studying these communities would therefore allow me to understand better the confrontation between two ideologies that have shaped our time: imperialism and nationalism.

    My original plan was to consider several specific minorities, defined along religious or linguistic lines (or both), to...

  8. Part I
    • CHAPTER 1 MINORITIES, MAJORITIES AND THE NATION-STATE
      (pp. 21-42)

      The eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, published in 1910–11, does not contain an entry for ‘minorities’. By the fourteenth edition of 1929 the entry on minorities runs to eleven pages, mostly discussing the post-First World War peace settlements and the League of Nations.

      Minorities seem to have come out of nowhere; or rather, the term ‘minority’ does. As late as 1914 it hardly existed in its modern sense of a group ‘distinguished by common ties of descent, physical appearance, language, culture or religion, in virtue of which they feel or are regarded as different from the majority of...

    • CHAPTER 2 ‘MINORITIES’ AND THE FRENCH MANDATE
      (pp. 43-66)

      This extract from Robert de Beauplan’s 1929 work Où va la Syrie? is fairly typical of French imperialist writings on Syria in the 1920s. Rejecting the notion of a territorially or socially unified Syria – ‘the Syrian nation is a myth’, Beauplan affirms elsewhere² – it stresses the religious divisions within Syrian society and assumes a latent persecuting fanaticism on the part of Syria’s Muslims. It justifies the French presence, and the administrative divisions France had imposed in the mandate territories, as the only thing standing between Syrian Christians and massacre. It cites the mandate in support of French rule....

  9. Part II
    • CHAPTER 3 SEPARATISM AND AUTONOMISM
      (pp. 69-100)

      The local governor was worried about ‘separatist propaganda’ in his border region, far from Damascus. Concerned about the ‘state of mind that reigns among the inhabitants’, in the spring of 1939 he sent a secret report to the interior ministry.¹ The people of his governorate, he wrote, were ‘very close in their characteristics and customs’ to the inhabitants of the neighbouring state, a feeling reinforced by ‘their close communication with it’. In the main town, a preacher had stated that the district ‘does not recognise the [Syrian] government nor the president of the Republic’. Alarmingly, this sentiment resonated with the...

    • CHAPTER 4 THE BORDER AND THE KURDS
      (pp. 101-128)

      In the spring of 1939, the French High Commissioner planned a visit to the Jazira.¹ So nationalists in Qamishli asked the beleaguered National Bloc government to send them Syrian flags, and flagpoles to hang them on during his visit. They wanted ‘to show their sound nationalist feeling’, and demonstrate this turbulent region’s loyalty to Damascus. But hostility to Damascus was strong there, too, and when the flags arrived at the local railway station a group of anti–nationalists tried to intercept them. The stationmaster at first refused to give the flags to anyone other than the addressee, and with seventy...

  10. Part III
    • CHAPTER 5 THE FRANCO-SYRIAN TREATY AND THE DEFINITION OF ‘MINORITIES’
      (pp. 131-161)

      Ignace Nouri thought that the meaning of ‘minority’ was self-evident when he wrote to the High Commissioner in 1936 about treaty guarantees for ‘the minorities, that is to say the Christians and Jews’.¹ A few years earlier, the Aleppo deputy Latif Ghanimé – like Nouri, a Syrian-Catholic – took a different view. He told the French intelligence services that the Syrian parliament would be more likely to ratify a treaty containing minority guarantees if they applied to ethnic minorities as well as religious ones: this would make it possible to ‘range among the minoritarians the Kurdish deputies of the North...

    • CHAPTER 6 PERSONAL STATUS LAW REFORM
      (pp. 162-208)

      In February 1939, a French attempt to reform personal status law in Syria provided an opportunity for Jamil Mardam Bek’s discredited National Bloc government to leave office honourably after a succession of failures. A High Commissioner’s decree on the issue dated back to March 1936, but had not been enacted. When a new decree, modifying but also resurrecting the original, was promulgated in November 1938, it provoked widespread opposition because it ‘treated the Moslems as one sect among many, and thus struck at the root of the traditional Moslem conception of the State’.¹ As opposition grew over the next months,...

  11. CONCLUSION: MINORITIES, MAJORITIES AND THE WRITING OF HISTORY
    (pp. 209-212)

    The week before I submitted the doctoral thesis on which this book is based, I met an American historian in the library where I was fretting over my footnotes. One day we went for lunch, and she asked me a question: what, in a single sentence, is the argument of your thesis? Somewhere around the fourteenth subordinate clause of my answer I had to accept that I was no longer in the realm of a single sentence, and gave up. I should think about an answer, she told me, since that question often came up in job interviews.¹

    That night,...

  12. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 213-232)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 233-242)