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Syrian voices on Syria

Bill Weinberg

August 31, 2013

Since the Syria war began over two years ago, we have been seeking voices of the civil resistance within Syria, which supports a democratic and secular future for the country. Although marginalized by utterly ruthless armed actors that have come to dominate the scene, such a civil resistance continues even now to exist in war-torn Syria. The "anti-war" voices now mounting in the US have displayed very little awareness of these progressive voices in Syria, or even interest in whether they exist—much less their perspectives on the looming military intervention, or the opposition to it. Today, three pieces appeared on the Internet addressed to "anti-war" commentators in the West—two by Palestinians with family connections in Syria, one by a Syrian. They contain some harsh admonitions...

In The Human Province, a blogger identiifed only as "Sean," apparently writing from Beirut, offers "An open letter on Syria to Western narcissists." Sean says he has extended family members at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus who have been forced to flee into Lebanon, becoming refugees a second time...

[T]he current conflict in Syria isn’t just of academic interest to me; it's personal as well. This is partially why I have so little patience for some of the rhetoric I've been seeing from Western leftist circles, where this conflict seems like nothing more than a rhetorical bludgeon for scoring ideological points. This has been illustrated by the passing around of an article by Robert Fisk, who asks, "Does Obama know he's fighting on al-Qa'ida's side?" This lazy and facile opinion piece assures us that if the US attacks Syria, then "the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa'ida." It is the flip side of the rhetoric that was so evident in the run-up to war in Iraq that equated any opposition to an idiotic war with support for Saddam Hussein. Well, guess what? There are lots of perfectly fine opinions that might put you on the same side as al-Qa'ida. Just to name one: if you're against drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, as I am, then you're also "on the same side as al-Qa'ida" according to this logic.

This is the caricature of knee-jerk leftism, where everything is always and everywhere about the United States. The narcissism of such a position boggles the mind. In such an ideological stance it's not enough to be critical of Washington's actions and motivations, as well we should be, it is necessary to parrot the talking points of Washington's enemies. (The same phenomenon can be seen in certain Islamophobic and right-wing circles.) In this narrative, the militarization of the uprising in Syria was an American plan, not a foreseeable reaction to a brutally violent crackdown on a predominately peaceful opposition movement by the security forces of the Ba'ath regime. This conflict is, so the argument goes, a creation of Washington, and perhaps Riyadh, and the opposition is made up of only of blood-thirsty sectarian Islamists who are generally seen as but tools of malicious statecraft. Such a narrative, of course, denies the agency of Syrians, seeing them as so many lifeless puppets waiting for a tug from the imperialist American hand.  

This is why discussions of Syria in such quarters tend not to be discussions of Syria. They're actually discussions of "American capitalism" or "American imperialism"—take your pick. So let me be clear: if your opinion of Syria is actually an opinion about the United States, I have no interest in hearing it, and it's probably safe to say that most Syrians (or at least all of the ones I know) who are faced with the business end of the regime's ordinance don't either...

Lest I be accused of shilling for American intervention here, let me set a few things straight. In addition to endangering my family's lives, the proposed "punitive strikes" that are all but inevitable probably won't make anything better on the ground, and may make things worse, which is why I'm against them. My opinion on American intervention in general and in this conflict in particular...is that the US is not to be trusted to act in anything but what it sees as its interests, and often a woefully short-sighted understanding of those interests to boot. So no, Washington does not really care about those children killed last week in a chemical attack, just as it didn't care about the Iranians or Kurds killed in previous ones. Consequently, my feeling is that a vicious, and viciously short-sighted, realpolitik in Washington would probably like nothing better than to let its enemies fight indefinitely in Syria, burning the country to the ground as they do so. 

But please, don't let the conflict in Syria be about opposing America. Let it be about Syria, and what might actually help Syrians—you know, the actually existing people who are dying by the tens of thousands in this brutal war. But if you can't do that, then do me a favor, and please shut up.

We also noted Robert Fisk's shameful betrayal of the Syrian opposition. Another Palestinian commentator, Talal Alyan, writes a piece entitled "Syria Is Not a Disposable Bride" in Huffington Post:

It took the prospect of a Western response to chemical massacre to provoke notice of Syria. And when the gates opened, it seemed as though everyone had brushed the dust off their old slogan from the Iraq war and recycled them for Syria.

"Hands off Syria" is the mantra. But one has to wonder where these voices were when the imprints of Russian or Iranian or Hezbollah intervention scarred the Syrian landscape, and sheltered the Assad dynasty from diplomatic or military threat. If the concern is Syrian innocent life, where were these voices, and their easy slogans, when he essentially threw over a million Syrian children into exile, robbed them of family and childhood and dignity.
 
The sudden rush to become active in the discourse about Syria has revealed ugly elements of the anti-interventionist movement; it has once again proven their tendency to dictate to peoples from other countries what is in their best interests as though Syrians are not familiar with geopolitical choreography or lack the intellect to grasp it. All the while, these same groups protest against their own governments for doing the same.
 
It has also showcased how little many of these outspoken group know of Syria.
 
"This opposition is not interested in creating a democracy," declares an article on the Green Shadow Cabinet, a group headed by Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, the presidential nominees of the Green Party in the last election.
 
These are the circles that pride themselves on supporting human rights and indigenous struggles? These same groups that now casually create false equivalence between tyrants and those who fight them, demanding an easy symmetry of the world that does not exist.
 
No, this is not the position of persons who oppose intervention out of concern for Syrians, they are the perspectives of those who cannot grasp a conflict when it steers outside of their comfortable "anything endorsed by the West is evil" worldview. It is a banal point to state that Western intentions and motives might be driven by self-interest. However, it is a secondary thought to those who face the brutality of Assad's regime. When you are facing slaughter, your first consideration is survival, not what your survival might entail regarding Western intention. But it is this essential component that seems absent from many conversations.

And finally, Syrian Racan Alhoch of the Racanarchy blog offers a piece with the extremely ironic title of "The case for 'Hands off Syria'"...

It comes as no surprise to me that the proponents of 'Hands off Syria' have been keeping their hands off Syria for almost three years now. While the under privileged and downtrodden citizens of Syria took to the streets peacefully chanting for change they were cut down with machine guns and you kept your hands off Syria. When the underclass realized that nobody would step up to protect them because it was in nobody's favor they picked up small arms to defend themselves and you kept your hands off of Syria. As Assad began air raids and shelling campaigns on the civilians of Homs, pictures of women and children slaughtered surfaced everywhere and you kept your hands off  Syria.  After Assad's killing squads entered the civilian, unarmed villages of Banias and slaughtered over a thousand people using knives you kept your hands off of Syria.

 
Also, unsurprisingly, the only time you put your blood soaked hands on Syria is when the occasional YouTube video appeared vilifying the suffering people... I understand your stance, I truly do. You live inside of a bubble where everything makes sense. Assad has his PR people work tirelessly...and therefore he is a soldier against tyranny, against oppression, against capitalism, against the West, and against Israel. I imagine once one has become accustomed to the life of a simpleton it is a difficult transition into that of a thinking human being. Thinking human beings realize that this paradigm which the 'Hands off Syria' camp hold has been unsuccessful in freeing one inch of the ever-shrinking Palestine. They have been even more unsuccessful to stop the wars in Afghanistan, and Iraq. So I pose the question;  what are you actually good for?
 
All of the fears that you hold against a military intervention in Syria have materialized long ago. Entire cities have been flattened, men, women, and children have been brutally mutilated, tortured, raped, and slaughtered. What have we the Syrians got to lose at this point?  A few more flattened buildings? A few more lives lost? Or is it the West, which you hate so much the sticking point in your feeble mind?
 
Again while Russia, China, Hezbollah, Liwa Abu Fadhl al Abbas, and various sectarian militias from all over the world have helped Assad slaughter the underclass of Syria, you kept your hands off Syria.  Do the Syrians a favor and keep your hands off of our revolution. Return to your homes and your lives of privilege outside of the slaughter and surf your conspiracy forums. The revolution is ongoing and if the devil himself rose from the depths of hell to help us we will welcome him with open arms, because you have left us no choice.
If we had listened a year, two years ago, "progressives" in the West could have been spared this well-earned scolding. Are we listening now?


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