Syria: The Spanish Civil War of Our Time?

June 8, 2012

Is the violent dictatorial conflict in Syria comparable to that of Spain in the 1930s? Over the past week a number of opinions regarding this subject matter have been published on the Internet, including that of international affairs expert Barry Rubin. Stated Rubin in a recent blog post:

In several respects, the Syrian civil war is the Spanish Civil War of our time. It is an exhibition match between two ideological rivals—Shia Islamism and Sunni Islamism—that both want totalitarian dictatorship but cannot co-exist. It is a testing ground for the conflicts to come.

This was contested by writer Daniel Larson in, who argues:

Even if we accept the comparison for the sake of argument, how is it in the U.S. interest to back the weaker side? Rubin is portraying Syria’s civil war simply as a clash of sectarian forces, so why should the U.S. involve itself in that?

Central to both of Ruben and Larson’s respective arguments is the role of the United States in Syria. Rubin especially criticizes the “rest of the democratic world” for “standing passive.” Regardless of whether each argument holds validity, it is valuable to consider the ways in which the current events in Syria may in fact reflect those of an earlier era.