Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"In effect, the Syrian revolution is a monster"

By Maysaloon

Four years on and the commentary and perceptions surrounding Syria continue to be mired in childish perceptions and hopes. We think, as Syrians living abroad, and supporting the revolution, that we have an historic opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and all that we saw wrong with Syrian societies. Perhaps, but that is unlikely. The Syria that will emerge from this will be deeply conservative, deeply Islamic, and mired in conspiracy theories and ignorance. Any future government will be paranoid, paralysed, or both, owing to the nature of the divisions that we have been subjected to as a country. In fact, the Syrian state as a project is likely to be dead, and herein lies the strength of the Islamic State's vision, if nothing else, because it so far offers the only other terrifying alternative to Assad. This does not mean the Islamic State must not be resisted, simply that it must be understood, because it is tapping into something that is at the core of what makes Syria.

We think if we sing some songs, write some banners, play some games with children, and blog or intellectualise ourselves into a frenzy, that we have played our part in the revolution, but in truth the honeymoon stage of the Syrian revolution ended less than a year after it started. Yes, many activists kept trying to keep the myth of the Syrian revolution's idealistic phase alive, but they paid the price for this naiveté, most often with their lives. Recently a rumour, as yet unconfirmed, spread that a popular figure of the Syrian revolution, Abdel Baset Sarout (a former football player), had joined the ranks of ISIS (either out of desperation or conviction) and the news sent shockwaves through Syrian activists who had held him up as the best of Syria's revolution. It felt like a trust had been betrayed, but this was because we do not know where Sarout comes from. The Syria he lives and breathes in, that he sees, is alien to us, and even after four years we have only seen glimpses of it.

I once blogged that I believed there were two Syria's: one that was relatively modern, secular and aspired to lifestyles like the West; and another that was Eastern, Other, and Islamic. This other half, more than half in fact, is the Syria where people speak Arabic, think Arabic, and where tradition, religion, and tribal links are far more important than wearing jeans and owning an iPhone. We, and I count myself as one of them, pretended that this other Syria wasn't important, or that we ourselves came from it, but we didn't, not by a long shot. We talked about Palestine, anti-imperialism and national sovereignty as if we knew something, as if we ourselves were Syrian, but what we failed to acknowledge is that we were a thin peel, irrelevant, when push came to shove. In hindsight we were almost comical, but we had money and middle to upper class status so we thought we were all there was to the country.

Silly young Syrians, like myself, studying in foreign universities, talked revolution, Fanon and Malcolm X while fetishising the Palestinian struggle for years but we did not create this revolution, expect it, or want it. The people who created it came from the beating heart of Syria - from it's backbone and 'dark' interior. These were the people who were uncorrupted by city life and proximity to the regime, and whose sense of moral outrage was not diluted by comfortable living. They are Syria's greatest strength but also it's weakness, because the revolutions they unleash, when they come, result in a terrible reckoning that will not be recovered from easily. In effect, the Syrian revolution is a monster, or something akin to a force of nature, that was triggered by the corrupt and inept rule of a brutal dictatorship. One could even say that the Assad regime created the Syrian revolution, and it could not have been anything other than what it was - something many of us can have trouble accepting.

The pro-regime Syrians are rightly terrified of what will come, because they understand this dark heart of the country and tried for over forty years to repress it, and whoever runs ISIS recognises it, and they have tapped into it with startling effect. But pro-revolution Syrians mostly do not. Certainly not the generation of Syrians that have lived in the West most of their lives. They are sometimes allowed to help with aid and foreign advocacy because this dark heart of Syria, this "Avicennan"-style essence, without which there would be no Syria, will tolerate them, and needs all the help it can get, but "foreign" Syrians (again for lack of a better word) with their rubber independence day flag bracelets are spectators. We, as "foreign" Syrians, scratch our heads in puzzlement as to why the West is not coming to help our revolution, why they won't listen to us, and I suspect this is mainly because we ourselves do not know our country, though we claim to come from it.

We're also puzzled as to why our fellow Syrians mock our calls for respecting human rights and international law, and this is fundamentally down to our own failure to articulate, without condescension, an authentically Syrian translation of human rights, one that merges seamlessly with the traditions and religions that we instead deride and view as an inconvenience. If we try to know this Syria and step out of our ivory towers, if we get to know its pulse and it's language then, maybe, we will have a chance at building something and helping when the storm blows over. And we can then listen and understand and try to explain to the world what Syrians have been dying to say.

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