In addition to geography and topography, the implications of which are explored in depth, religion has also played a major political role in conditioning the pattern of Middle Eastern history. The Greeks first introduced the politicization of religious belief into the region in the form of pan-Hellenism, which essentially sought to impose Greek forms of popular religion and culture on the indigenous peoples of the region as a means of solidifying Greek political control. This ultimately led to religious persecution as a state policy. Subsequently, the Persian Sassanid Empire adopted Zoroastrianism as the state religion for the same purpose and with the same result. Later, when Armenia adopted Christianity as the state religion, followed soon after by the Roman Empire, religion and the intolerance it tended to breed became fundamental ingredients, in regional politics and have remained such ever since. Sicker shows that the political history of the pre-Islamic Middle East provides ample evidence that the geopolitical and religious factors conditioning political decision-making tended to promote military solutions to political problems, making conflict resolution through war the norm, with the peaceful settlement of disputes quite rare. A sweeping synthesis that will be of considerable interest to scholars, students, and others concerned with Middle East history and politics as well as international relations and ancient history.
Batatu begins by examining social differences among Syria's peasants and the evolution of their mode of life and economic circumstances. He then scrutinizes the peasants' forms of consciousness, organization, and behavior in Ottoman and Mandate times and prior to the Ba`thists' rise to power. He explores the rural aspects of Ba`thism and shows that it was not a single force but a plurality of interrelated groups--prominent among them the descendants of the lesser rural notables--with different social goals and mental horizons. The book also provides a perceptive account of President Asad, his personality and conduct, and the characteristics and power structures of his regime. Batatu draws throughout on a wide range of socioeconomic and biographical information and on personal interviews with Syrian peasants and political leaders, offering invaluable insights into the complexities of a country and a regime that have long been poorly understood by outsiders.