This is an extraordinary document, though I wouldn’t make the mistake of reading too much into it. None of the Assads were good guys. Assad’s father was a monster. And Assad’s grandfather was willing to be honest about what was going on in a private communique to a foreign leader back when he was part of a beleaguered minority.
This isn’t unusual. Reading through books like Bartley Crum’s Silken Curtain, there are meetings with Arab leaders who are willing to speak the plain truth in confidence.
The letter is from a number of Alawite leaders, including Assad’s grandfather written back in 1936 to the Prime Minister of France. I’ve excerpted a few of the more interesting sections.
Notably the letter clearly distinguishes between Alawites and Muslims. While we casually refer to Alawites as Shiites, that’s a convenience. Alawites are arguably a much bigger deviation from Islam. That deviation was papered over and covered with a certain amount of secrecy for political convenience.
4. The spirit of fanaticism and narrow-mindedness, whose roots are deep in the heart of the Arab Muslims toward all those who are not Muslim, is the spirit that continually feeds the Islamic religion, and therefore there is no hope that the situation will change.
Why, even today we see how the Muslim residents of Damascus force the Jews who live under their auspices to sign a document in which they are forbidden to send food to their Jewish brothers who are suffering from the disaster in Palestine [in the days of the great Arab rebellion], the situation of the Jews in Palestine being the strongest and most concrete proof of the importance of the religious problem among the Muslim Arabs toward anyone who does not belong to Islam.
Those good Jews, who have brought to the Muslim Arabs civilization and peace, and have spread wealth and prosperity to the land of Palestine, have not hurt anyone and have not taken anything by force, and nevertheless the Muslims have declared holy war against them and have not hesitated to slaughter their children and their women despite the fact that England is in Palestine and France is in Syria.
Therefore a black future awaits the Jews and the other minorities if the Mandate is cancelled and Muslim Syria is unified with Muslim Palestine. This union is the ultimate goal of the Muslim Arabs.
That union, also known as the Caliphate, is what is behind the current war in Syria. Interestingly, the letter, written with the pose of a Westernized rational man, defends Zionism in the terms of the day, without using the word, and does so quite accurately.
Of course the Alawites are well aware that they’re writing to a Jewish politician who had some Zionist sympathies, but also sympathies toward the Arab populations of French colonies. Assad, along with his co-signatories, is formulating the Alawites as a minority, like the Jews, who can expect no mercy at Muslim hands. But the Alawites, like the Jews, ended up carving out a space of their own the hard way, because they had no other choice.
6. You may see fit to assure the rights of the Alawites and other minorities in the wording of the treaty (The French-Syrian Treaty, which defines the relationships between the states), but we emphasize to you that contracts have no value in the Syrian Islamic mentality. We have seen this in the past, with the pact that England signed with Iraq, which forbade the Iraqis to slaughter the Assyrians and the Yazidis.
Which is why peace treaties and guarantees of minority rights are utterly worthless. It was true then. It’s true now.