Meaning and Validity of Bilad al-Sham

By: Pablo Sapag

Bilad al-Sham is much more than a mere geographic reference, as western outsiders seem to believe every time they equal what is an ancient rich and comprehensive social, cultural, and political reality with that of the Levant. The latter is indeed a purely physical tag. This misunderstanding is at the core of those western catastrophic cyclic policies towards Bilad al-Sham and beyond. It's also the cause of the systematic failure of their interventionist schemes in what by far transcends a landscape, Pablo Sapag, a Professor at Complutense University of Madrid and author of "Syria in Perspective" said in a recent article published recently by "Al-Mayadeen" website.

Since the time of the crusaders, one after the other, all and each of western attempts to divide and conquer has ended up with the invaders expelled, puzzled and for a long time searching for the causes of their recurrent defeats. An example of this is what happened during the 20th century’s first half, when the French and British plot to dismember Bilad al-Sham according to the Sykes-Picot secret terms ended up shamefully on April 17th, 1946. On that date, the last of the defeated French soldiers evacuated off the core of Bilad al-Sham, nowadays the Syrian Arab Republic. In parallel, the other member of the aspiring terminator duo struggled to impose to the region a Zionist entity that 73 years later is still psychologically insecure and desperately trying to make true the impossible dream of its British putative father. Palestine, the Syrian Golan, and Lebanon are the mirror that every single day reflects a fiasco that cannot be overcome through a wishful thinking so-called “normalization”.

 More recently, the war imposed on Syria with the declared aim to quarter it into confessional and ethnic cantons, or mini-states depending on outside powers, has failed once again. Now as then the reason is the same. Bilad al-Sham’s main strength is the will of its diverse people to live together, regardless of their ethnic and religious different affiliations. In short, they just keep adhering to what has been there the natural state of things for several millennia, a social way of life which defines a culture. In case of necessity, such a rich legacy gives a formidable impulse to resistance and becomes an unbeatable defense shield vis-à-vis any invader.

Ten years after the beginning of the conspiracy against the Syrian Arab Republic, and by extension against the whole Bilad al-Sham, this solid ancient reality that westerners don’t identify because they simply don’t understand it, is showing all its economic and political possibilities, not to mention its social and cultural ones. Umm Kulthum, Fairouz, Sabah Fakhri, Nizar Qabbani, Mahmoud Darwish, George Wassouf, or Edward Said –just to remind some- are the cultural voices that trespass the imposed borders to Bilad al-Sham, exposing in every concert, book, reading, or listening session the futility of the dismembering endeavor. 

The energy crisis imposed on several Middle Eastern countries is being solved in a natural - let’s say Shami, successful way that challenges those borders imposed one century ago by the infamous Sykes-Picot treaty. Lebanon is already receiving Iranian petrol transported through the Syrian Sea to the Syrian Arab Republic port of Banias and from there to Lebanon. The latter will also increase very soon its gas and electricity supplies thanks to the agreement that will facilitate Lebanon to receive from the Egyptian Sinai gas or gas transformed into electricity through Jordan and Syria. All the countries involved have in one way or the other been historically core components of Bilad al-Sham. 

After a long decade of an imposed, cruel and bloody winter, the political recovery of the Arab block as an international actor is taking shape precisely around Bilad al-Sham. Trust and bonds among Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon have resettled. Some non-Bilad al-Sham countries have understood it and are rushing to reconcile with Syria. The UAE’s constructive policy shows that Abu Dhabi understood that any Arab attempt to counterbalance the western diktat to the Arab region and especially the pernicious Turkish aggressive policies must be built around Bilad al-Sham in both, geographically and cultural terms. From the Gulf, however, others insist to establish a new Arabness based on the radical interpretation of a religion that they believe is the only one possible. One spiritual current among many others that they feverishly pretend has to shape everything, from the government to the rule of law and even personal behavior. An extremist and short-minded ideology exported to the rest of the world from the desert south of Jordan and from the lands north of the Taurus Mountains.

Michel Aflaq and Salah Bitar’s Pan-Arabism is linked to a collective Arab identity developed around political struggles for independence and the use of Arabic as a language of understanding. As a means of communication, Arabic was embraced long before by the people of Bilad al-Sham, a useful and valuable tool to express its culture, thoughts, and social unity. In that sense, the UAE is siding with those like Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, or Algeria. The latter has always realized that the political unity of Arab states is based on a common language and a pragmatic approach to counterbalance an unfair world order. That unity can only be possible if social and cultural differences are respected. Above all, the Emiratis have understood that without Bilad al-Sham other schemes of convergence are simply not possible. That’s the meaning and validity of Bilad al-Sham. No more, no less.

Pablo Sapag is a Professor at Complutense University of Madrid and author of "Syria in Perspective"