Islamic State only the latest group to fill vacuum left by long Ba'athist retreat in Syria.

The Conversation, 20 August 2014.

Black-clad fighters, suffering refugees and Western warplanes overhead – these are the mainstays of Iraq and Syria coverage as the Islamic State (IS) continues its campaign. Notably absent from debates is how today’s Iraq and Syria emerged from their own national histories, and not just out of foreign meddling – from Sykes-Picot to Bush and Blair.

In Syria, a critical aspect of that national history was the 1960s rise of statist policies of land and wealth redistribution, and then their gradual rollback in the 1980s and 1990s. And as the Syrian state preferred to serve a small elite in the 2000s, Islamist actors – not IS-style extremists, but respectable middle class ulema (clerics), alongside their allies and relatives in small business – rose in importance, influencing much of Syrian society.

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