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.
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Syrian Revolutionary Left Current statement on Ghouta massacre
From Syria Freedom Forever, Aug. 21:
At dawn on August 21 2013 hundreds of Syrians have fallen, and among them a huge number of children and women, victims of deadly weapons: poisonous gases and explicit use of chemical weapons, in the regions of East Gouta in the countryside of Damascus, as part of a fierce military attack waged by the regime since this morning on these areas. The list of sufferings and sacrifices of the masses of our people has lengthened after more than two years, it is no longer possible to count the hundreds of thousands of martyrs and wounded, detainees and millions of displaced and refugees. The suffering of our people has continued and it became more unbearable. Cry goes unheeded, and lingers the death silence of the human conscience.
Killing and coercion of our people continue, perpetrated by the machine of death and destruction of a regime that exceeds fascism by its savagery. It is a tragedy that the world has not known for a long time, the tragedy of a people revolting for freedom and liberation from the clutches of a dictatorship, from its savage repression and from its savage exploitation of the oppressed in our country, serving the interests of a narrow bourgeois clique.
Our revolution has no sincere ally, except the popular revolutions of the region and of the world and of all the militants struggling against regimes of ignorance and servitude and exploitation. This crime is part of the criminal and terrible actions of the ruling juntas against the masses of our people of unarmed civilians in shocking disregard for the human conscience and at a time when the forces of counter-revolution organized an offensive against the revolutions in the region, led by Saudi Arabia and its allies, the regime has found an opportunity to commit the heinous massacre. Yet our rebellious and determined people, proven by his injuries, will continue its resistance against the criminal tyrants, they will inflict a defeat and punishment they deserve for their crimes.
We bury our dead and will look after our wounded. We will only be more determined and resolute in our struggle for the fall of the murderous and destructive regime and the victory of our people’s revolution.
Arab revolutionary statement on Syria intervention
From Syria Freedom Forever, Aug. 31:
We Stand Behind the Syrian People’s Revolution – No to Foreign Intervention
Over 150 thousand were killed, hundreds of thousands injured and disabled, millions of people displaced inside and outside Syria. Cities, villages, and neighborhoods were destroyed fully or partially, using all sorts of weapons, including warplanes, scud missiles, bombs, and tanks, all paid for by the sweat and blood of the Syrian people. This was under the pretext of defending the homeland and achieving military balance with Israel (whose occupation of Syrian land is, in fact, being protected by the Syrian regime, which failed to reply to any of its continuing aggressions).
Yet, despite the enormous losses mentioned above, befalling all Syrians, and the calamity inflicted on them, no international organization or major country – or a lesser one – felt the need to provide practical solidarity or support the Syrians in their struggle for their most basic rights, human dignity, and social justice.
The only exception was some Gulf countries, more specifically Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However, their aim was to control the nature of the conflict and steer it in a sectarian direction, distorting the Syrian revolution and aiming to abort it, as a reflection of their deepest fear that the revolutionary flame will reach their shores. So they backed obscurantist takfiri groups, coming, for the most part, from the four corners of the world, to impose a grotesque vision for rule based on Islamic sharia. These groups were engaged, time and time again, in terrifying massacres against Syrian citizens who opposed their repressive measures and aggressions inside areas under their control or under attack, such as the recent example of villages in the Latakia countryside.
A large block of hostile forces, from around the world, is conspiring against the Syrian people’s revolution, which erupted in tandem with the uprisings spreading through a large section of the Arab region and the Maghreb for the past three years. The people’s uprisings aimed to put an end to a history of brutality, injustice, and exploitation and attain the rights to freedom, dignity, and social justice.
However, this did not only provoke local brutal dictatorships, but also most of the imperialist forces seeking to perpetuate the theft of the wealth of our people, in addition to the various reactionary classes and forces throughout those areas and in surrounding countries.
As for Syria, the alliance fighting against the people’s revolution comprises a host of reactionary sectarian forces, spearheaded by Iran and confessional militias in Iraq, and, to much regret, Hezbollah’s strike force, which is drowning in the quagmire of defending a profoundly corrupt and criminal dictatorial regime.
This unfortunate situation has also struck a major section of the traditional Arab left with Stalinist roots, whether in Syria itself or in Lebanon, Egypt, and the rest of the Arab region – and worldwide – which is clearly biased towards the wretched alliance surrounding the Assad regime. The justification is that some see it as a “resilient” or even a “resistance” regime, despite its long history – throughout its existence in power – of protecting the Zionist occupation of the Golan Heights, its constant bloody repression of various groups resisting Israel, be it Palestinian or Lebanese (or Syrian), and remaining idle and subservient, since the October 1973 war, concerning Israel’s aggressions on Syrian territories. This bias will have serious ramifications on ordinary Syrians’ position regarding the left in general.
The United Nations and the Security Council, in particular, was unable to condemn the crimes of a regime, which the Syrian people rejected continuously and peacefully for more than seven months, while the bullets of the snipers and shabbiha took demonstrators one by one and day after day and while the most influential activists were being detained and subjected to the worst kinds of torture and elimination in the prisons and detention centers. All the while, the world remained completely silent and in a state of total negativity.
The situation persisted with small difference after the people in revolution decided to take up arms and the emergence of what became known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – whose command and soldiers came, to a large extent, from the regular army. This led to the horrific escalation of crimes by the regime.
Russian imperialism, the most important ally of the Baathist regime in Damascus, which provides it with all sorts of support, remains on the lookout to block any attempt to condemn those crimes in the Security Council. The United States, on the other hand, does not find a real problem in the continuation of the status quo, with all the apparent repercussions and destruction of the country. This is despite the threats and intimidation utilized by the US president, every time someone in the opposition raises the question of the use of chemical weapons by the regime, up until the latest escalation, when it was considered crossing a “red line.”
It is clear that Obama, who gives the impression that he will go ahead with his threats, would have felt great embarrassment if he did not do so, since it will not only impact negatively on the president, but also on the image of the mighty and arrogant state that he leads in the eyes of subservient Arab countries and the entire world.
The imminent strike against the Syrian armed forces is led by the US in essence. However, it occurs with the understanding and cooperation of allied imperialist countries, even without rationalizing it through the usual farce, known as international legitimacy (namely the decisions of the UN, which was and remains representative of the interests of major powers, whether in conflict or in alliance, depending on the circumstances, differences, and balances among them). In other words, the strike will not wait for the Security Council due to the anticipated Russian-Chinese veto.
Unfortunately, many in the Syrian opposition are gambling on this strike and the US position in general. They believe this would create an opportunity for them to seize power, skipping over the movement and of the masses and their independent decision. It should not be a surprise, then, that the representatives of this opposition and the FSA had no reservations on providing information to the US about proposed targets for the strike.
In all cases, we agree on the following:
Syrian anarchist statement on military intervention
From a blogger dubbed Darth Nader, identified by Ireland’s Workers Solidarity Movement as a Syrian anarchist, dated Aug. 27:
On Interventions and the Syrian Revolution
The Syrian revolution is a revolution that began as a struggle for self-determination. The Syrian people demanded to determine their own destiny. And, for more than two years, against all odds, and in the face of massive repression and destruction from the Assad regime, they persevered.
In the course of the revolutionary process, many other actors have also appeared on the scene to work against the struggle for self-determination. Iran and its militias, with the backing of Russia, came to the aid of the regime, to ensure the Syrian people would not be given this right. The jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and others, under the guise of “fighting the Assad regime,” worked against this right as well. And I feel the same way about any Western intervention.
Some would argue that we have come a long way from that, that it isn’t even about self-determination anymore, but rather, simply stopping the killing. This is a position I cannot support. If it was simply about stopping the killing, then I would’ve supported the jihadis when they came in, because, no one can deny, they were the best armed and the best equipped to challenge the Assad regime. But I didn’t, and many others didn’t, because we knew that despite their ability to challenge the regime, that they did not share the goals of the Syrian people. They wanted to control the Syrian people, and stifle their ability to determine their own destiny. Because of this, they were counter-revolutionaries, even if they were fighting against the regime.
And now in the face of a possible Western intervention in Syria, I hold the same position. Many would say I’m being ideological, and that I should just focus on stopping the killing; but those people are ignoring that, even on pragmatic terms and within their own line of reasoning, their argument holds no sway, after repeated US insistence that “these will only be punitive strikes” and they “do not intend to topple the regime.” What indication is there that these strikes will do anything to stop the killing, or “solve” the Syrian crisis?
I don’t care about sovereignty. Syria has become a land for everyone but Syrians nowadays. The myth of Syrian sovereignty is not why I oppose Western intervention. Neither is the prospect of the destruction of Syria, for it has already been destroyed by this criminal regime. I oppose Western intervention because it will work against the struggle for self-determination, that is, against the Syrian revolution.
Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. I have no doubt about this. And this could have been prevented if the Syrian resistance was actually given weapons that could have tilted the balance against the regime. But foreign powers sat on their hands, not wanting Assad to win, but not wanting the resistance to win either. They couldn’t give weapons to the Syrian people to defend themselves, they said, who knows whose hands they might end up in? They might accidentally end up in, say, the hands of Syrians who wanted to determine their own destiny despite foreign interests!
So we’ve come full circle. No one armed the Syrian resistance, so they were killed by the regime, or forced to put up with jihadi infiltration. So Assad used chemical weapons against the Syrians, and the West wants to respond to teach Assad a lesson, a response that still guarantees that Syrians have no say in the matter of their future. And the regime will probably live through any “punitive” Western intervention, and the killing will probably not stop.
But despite all that, the Syrian revolution, and, at its heart, the Syrian people’s struggle for liberation and to determine their own destiny, will live on.
Interview with Syrian anarchist
The blogger Darth Nader cited above is actually Nader Atassi, "a Syrian political researcher and writer originally from Homs, currently living between the United States and Beirut." There is an interview with him by Joshua Stephens on Truthout.
Syrian Alawite dissident statement to anti-war forces in West
We have noted that courageous voices among Syria’s Alawites, the group favored by the Assad dictatorship, have broken with the regime and joined the secular civil resistance. On the Facebook page Alawites in the Syrian Revolution, one such dissident, Lama Hamoudi, of Dreikesh, Tartus governorate, says: “If you, as an American/British/French/etc, are anti-war in Syria, just try not to align yourself with the Syrian regime or adhere blindly to its propaganda. Most importantly, if you suddenly see yourself involved in an issue outside the borders of your country, try at least to show the human aspect in you by paying respect to the dead, wounded, detained, forcefully disappeared, displaced, & disabled thanks to the war initiated first by the regime.”
Syrian activist: air-strikes will not help us
Andersoon Cooper on CNN Sept. 3 interviews a Syrian activist identified only as Zaidoun, who seems to be Zaidoun al-Zoabi, a University of Damascus professor who was illegally detained by the regime last year, according to a statement by the Syrian Expatriates Organization. While clearly despairing, he says that air-strikes will only strengthen the regime, allowing Assad to declare a “victory over imperialism.” He sees the only hope in a negotiated solution, with the Russians bringing pressure on Assad—while emphasizing that this is a slim hope, as “the regime lives on killing,” and that Syrians still feel “abandoned by the world.”
Why does it fall to the much-maligned mainstream media, rather than progressive anti-war forces, to give Zaidoun a voice?
Syrians debate military intervention on Democracy Now!
Ironically, while CNN offers a genuine grassroots voice from Syria who opposes military intervention, Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! hosts a debate between two more technocratic figures from the Syrian opposition, both in exile. London-based Rim Turkmani of the opposition group Building the Syrian State says the US has a “historic opportunity” to help achieve a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria. “If the US resorts to military power to end this, that means [it’s] failed politically,” Turkmani says. Radwan Ziadeh, director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies and the Syrian Center Political and Strategic Studies, and former director of foreign relations at the Syrian National Council, says there are no other options to a military solution in Syria, in which US involvement could prove decisive. “We don’t have other options,” Ziadeh says.”Otherwise, Assad will continue his killing machine.”
More Syrian voices on Democracy Now!
Democracy Now! Sept. 10 offers a debate between Rafif Jouejati of the Local Coordination Committees, and Rania Masri, Lebanese-based human rights activist and professor at the University of Balamand in Lebanon. Samples…
Intellectuals, cultural workers issue ‘Statement for Syria’
Posted to the Syrian Nonviolence Movement Facebook page, dated Aug. 17. It has accrued 299 signatories, identified as luminaries of Syrian culture—women and men; Christians, Sunnis, Alawites, many of them still in-country. The list includes prominent writers Yasin Haj Saleh, Khawla Dunia and Sameer Shqeir:
Statement for Syria
In faith to the immense sacrifices of the people of Syria; to their long ordeal and exemplary courage in their struggle against brutal tyranny; aware of ongoing changes on the ground, as well as on local, regional and international levels—the consequences of which may well be crucial in weeks and months to come; and based on the National Pact (signed in Cairo on July 3, 2012) by all strands of the opposition; the signatories below, who are writers, artists, and individuals involved in various cultural fields, hereby declare:
1. Their adherence to the principles on which the Syrian people’s revolution was sparked in March 2011, summarized by the desire for liberty, dignity, social justice, and national unity.
2. Their support for the revolutionaries who are fighting for the establishment of a pluralistic democracy, the guarantor of the country’s independence, security and territorial integrity, as well as its individual and collective freedoms, and equality before the law for all citizens, with no form of discrimination.
3. A commitment to the decision-making autonomy of Syrians, and their rejection of the use of Syria in strategic and confessional conflicts between the regional and international powers.
4. Their conviction that the despotic, corrupt Assad regime—which has choked Syria for forty three years—bears full responsibility for the tragic situation in which the country finds itself. The country’s salvation can only begin with the overthrow of the regime and the erasure of its denaturing symbols.
5. Their aspiration, ideally, for a peaceful solution to halt carnage and preserve national unity and territorial integrity. This means the departure of Bashar al-Assad and the brutal pillars of his family and his regime; the transfer of power—under the aegis of the United Nations—to a transitional government, whose mission would be to bring about the necessary conditions for the election of a representative assembly, to adopt a democratic constitution, and then to oversee free and fair legislative elections.
Syrian scholar speaks on the Revolution and international left
Dr.Yasser Munif of Emerson College, who recently visited Syria to witness the revolution there, speaks with the American Friends Service Committee’s online Declaration Radio, in a segment entitled “Inside the Syrian Revolution and What the Left Must Do.” An excerpt: “Most of the left is taking the wrong position. They are understanding the Syrian revolution in a very binary and reductive way… They are very ignorant of how violent the Syrian regime has been for the past 40 years, how many times it betrayed the Palestinian struggle… This is very detrimental. It is sending the wrong message to the Syrian people. Many Syrians think the left is by default for the regime.”
Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa on military intervention
From an Aug. 29 statement by Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa, via the website Arabic Literature (in English):
Do you want to know my position?
I am against the US military intervention and I have my reasons, I, the son of this revolution, whether you like it or not.
In a situation like ours, blood-traders and the Coalition should all admit that they are partners with the dictators, and they are just a copy of them and not a copy nor representative of the honesty of our revolution.
I will say no more,
You have to stand before the mirror, you who got paid for our blood, before you say facts we know about the fascist dictator and sectarian regime. But you should be neither fascist, dictator, nor sectarian if you want to be part of our revolution.
Tell me when did the invaders bring freedom?
At the end I will never be in favour of any American intervention in our area, because I know them very well. They could have defended the values from day one of our revolution and could have helped us, but they waited till the country was destroyed.
The fall of the regime will satisfy me, but I don’t want our revolution to be incomplete after all this blood. This is not a letter for history but a farewell letter to all my friends if I die. If I die amidst this shelling or for any other reason, I want my friends to bury me in an unknown grave that only my friends and my beloved will know its address.
Syrian left-opposition statement on military intervention
Via The Syrian Observer, Sept. 12:
Syrian anarchist responds to Michigan anarcho-wonks
We note here an exchange between a group calling itself First of May Anarchist Alliance, seemingly in Detroit, which recently issued a portentously entitled statement, “Toward an anarchist policy on Syria,” run on the libertarian-communist website LibCom.org, and a commenter by the name of “Shiar” who wrote a “Response by a Syrian anarchist to the First of May statement on Syria.” This really says it all: the detatched, presumptous anarcho-wonkery written from the safety and comfort of Michigan, verses the reality-based analysis of an actual Syrian anarchist, rooted in the struggle…