Too many Western analysts of Syria tip-toe around the awkward but inescapable fact that the dominant tension in Syrian public life has to do with religion; but Böttcher, who spent several years living in Damascus, helpfully faces up to this reality. "In Syria, an ‘Alawi president rules over a predominantly Sunni population" and the Sunni opposition constitutes the main danger to the regime. Her book argues that "Islam policy" played a major part in the Hafiz al-Asad regime's efforts to remain in powerand she details the ways in which it controlled and manipulated Islam in the cause of self-preservation.
These efforts have two dimensions, one repressive and one offensive. The former consists of an array of "official" Islamic institutions, such as the waqf administration (which oversees the properties belonging to Islamic organizations), the mufti's office (which issues pronouncements on what is or is not legal in Islam), the mosque administration, and the Sunni schools (the most interesting of which, undoubtedly, is the Hafiz al-Asad Institute for Memorizing the Holy Qur'an – an even more interesting institution when one recalls that hafiz means "a person who has memorized the Qur'an"). The offensive strategy consists mainly of the activities and ideas of Grand Mufti Ahmad Kaftaru whose `Abd an-Nur Center is the center of contemporary Islamic life in Syria and which has a distinctly Sufi and modernist outlook.
Böttcher's work shows how closely the Syrian regime fits the well-established path of totalitarian governments which leave nothing to chance but instead insist on controlling every corner of their subjects' lives. She correctly concludes that, so long as the present regime remains in power, there is little chance of a more creative or dynamic form of Islam developing .