A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Jean-Pierre Filiu: Syria as a Modern Spanish Civil War

Jean-Pierre Filiu is a Professor at Sciences-Po in Paris, an expert on radical jihadi movements in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, and a man worth listening to. (He once joked to me that he impresses people more readily in English, since English speakers are taken with the French accent. I hope he doesn't mind my quoting him on that.) He's not writing in English here, so this is for those with at least a reading knowledge of French, but he offers a somewhat surprising parallel to the current conflict in Syria in Le Monde: "La Syrie est notre guerre d'Espagne," referring to the Spanish civil war. He begins with a nod to Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, and then proceeds to draw some occasionally labored parallels (to simplify, the divided rebels are the divided Republican side; Asad is pretty much Franco, with Iran and Russia as Italy and Germany, and Aleppo is Guernica, but without a Picasso).

At first my reaction was that this, like all historical parallels between drastically different countries, is a bit of a reach. As I said earlier though, Filiu is worth listening to. I also suspect that for Europeans, and especially (after the Spanish of course) for the French, the Spanish civil war plays a more prominent role in the historical consciousness than it does for most Americans, except for those "red diaper babies" raised by leftwing parents for whom the Spanish Republicans were heroic figures martyred by fascism. While a reach, there are real parallels here. And remember what the Spanish civil war turned out to be a rehearsal for.

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