Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst. He has just published an article in Gulf News entitled "Islam and secularism must go hand in hand in Syria". Mr Moubayed is, as ever, well informed and his analysis benefits from a good sense of history.
His article focuses on Islam but overlooks the fact that both Muslims and Christians have been slowly turning to religion in the last fifteen years. More people attend church and go to mosques than ever before and they compete by turning the volume up in their calls to prayer, religious chanting and street fanfare.
Moubayed attributes this to political helplessness and despair. He is right. Secularism has not provided any answers to social problems. However, the type of secularism that the Syrian regime has practised for 30 years is rather unique. It is both elastic and devoid of any real principles. It is used as a cover to legitimise the regime's absolute hold on power. No real attempt is made by the regime to build secular institutions or instil secular values in schools and the adult population. Quite the opposite; it is now cynically fanning the fires of religious extremism in order to defeat the secular Syrian opposition and buy protection from Iran against the West. It will crack down on religious extremists when it feels less threatened by the West and the secular Syrian opposition has been weakened.
The regime is clearly playing a very dangerous game, which is a sure sign of desperation and moral and political bankruptcy. Islamic fundamentalists have become cleverer and more adept at gaining grass root support and loyalty. Just look at Hizbullah and Hamas. Once they scent power, they will not be easily shaken off and will resort to jihadist tactics to get their own way.
Syrians are naturally averse to extremism but even they can develop a taste for it. If a significant number of Syrians become religiously indoctrinated and the regime collapses, civil war cannot not be ruled out. That is precisely the message that the Assad clan are now sending out to the West. They may be looking east towards Tehran, but their hearts (and hidden fortunes) are in the West. Whatever the eventual outcome, the Syrian people will pay in blood for the greed and political adventurism of their rulers.