by Gerry Emmett
The unprecedented uprising in Syria has been called the “orphan revolution” because it seems that the Syrian people have stood almost alone in their epic struggle for freedom. The Arab League observers achieved nothing. The UN has been stymied by Russian and Chinese vetoes in the Security Council. Most recently, the meeting in Tunis Feb. 24 of the 80-nation “Friends of Syria” failed to produce anything concrete in the way of aid to the revolution.
The Syrian Revolution is a serious challenge to the order in the region and beyond. Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia all have much to lose from the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist family dynasty, as do their imperialist patrons.
The Arab Spring lives on in new struggles emerging in Egypt and Tunisia. Somewhere in the upper atmosphere the smoke of Syria’s tortured cities mingles with the smoke of burning Athens.
As well, the Egyptian, Tunisian, Palestinian, Libyan masses and others clearly see this revolution as their own.
The opposition Syrian National Council has been unable to gain concrete solidarity from state powers, in part because it is unable to guarantee the “stability” that al-Assad has provided. For instance, there is no possibility that free Syrian people would turn their backs on the Palestinian people’s struggle. Nothing spells that out more clearly than Hamas finally being forced to turn its back on its former patron, al-Assad.
Revolution will not come from above.
BANKRUPT ASSAD TURNS TO GENOCIDE
What is needed is for all to support the Syrian people’s just and heroic struggle.
There is no question that Assad has lost any “legitimacy” his regime had. His family’s rule in Syria has always been based on violence and intimidation. The phrase “Hama rules,” after his late father Hafez al-Assad’s murder of 40,000 people in that city in 1982, entered the world’s vocabulary to signify the ultimate in ruling class cynicism and brutality.
Now, over 8,000 have reportedly been killed since the start of the Revolution one year ago. Countless thousands more have been injured, beaten, detained and threatened. Torture is common, including the torture of children. Cultural figures have been singled out for attack: cartoonist Ali Ferzat, his hands broken; the songwriter Ibrahim Qashoush, his throat cut out. Qashoush’s defiant words ring at demonstrations from Damascus to Chicago, “Screw you, Bashar, and screw those who salute you. Come on, Bashar, time to leave! Freedom is at our doors. Come on, Bashar, time to leave!“
The assault on Homs, a center of resistance, has been merciless. The genocidal nature of Assad’s regime is clear. Apt comparisons have been made to 1990s Bosnia and the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
SYRIANS’ RIGHT TO FIGHT BACK
The Syrian people have the right to armed self-defense, which didn’t come from outside plotters. It began in the villages and working-class communities where guns were more likely to be available, and men with some previous military experience to use them. Resistance began in defense of the largely peaceful demonstrations.
Massive, peaceful demonstrations took place week after week in the face of brutal assaults from the regime. Throughout 2011 the Syrian branch of the Arab Spring manifested one of the most profound, courageous and sustained nonviolent freedom movements in memory. Given orders to attack unarmed men, women and children, many members of the Syrian army defected in disgust and horror. They justly turned their guns around. Thus the armed resistance grew.
The armed resistance–whether in the form of the Free Syrian Army or the more informal local defense forces–has received little aid from outside. Instead, there has been a one-sided fight in which the Syrian regime forces are supplied with heavy weaponry by Russia. The Russian naval base being reconstructed in Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast gives the conflict an aspect of classic imperialism.
Assad, in return, has not scrupled to use the same genocidal tactics used by Russia against the Chechens. Homs has been bombarded using 240mm “Tulip” mortar rounds, the largest in the world, supplied by Russia and previously used to level the Chechen capital, Grozny. They are being fired indiscriminately into working-class and poor neighborhoods like Baba Amr.
From the midst of carnage, the internet has allowed the human cost to be put before the world. Figures like the late Rami al-Sayyed, killed in Baba Amr, and Danny Abdel Dayem presented on-scene reports and pictures unprecedented in war and revolution. There are no excuses. The world knows.
HUMANISM OF THE SYRIAN MASSES
The Syrian people have fought the ideological traps laid by the regime. Assad has made every effort to stir up religious sectarianism in his own favor. But demonstrations, largely Sunni Muslim because that is the country’s oppressed majority, have continued to include groups of Christians, Druze and Alawites, Assad’s own sect. As reported by Nir Rosen, “…I have met many activists from Druze, Christian and even Alawite backgrounds….I have met many secular activists, who for example drink alcohol or date the opposite sex. There are female activists who dress in western fashions. But undeniably, Islam is playing a role in the revolution….But very few in the opposition are struggling for an Islamic state. Islam is not the goal. But it does provide a creed or inspiration and it colors the discourse for many protesters and fighters” (Al Jazeera, Feb. 16).
This contradicts the blanket portrayal by Assad, by some in the Western media, and by some on the Left that the Revolution is dominated by religious fundamentalists, and even al-Qaeda.
As in all of Arab Spring, women have been activists. Even in conservative areas, there have been women’s demonstrations. “Nour,” an activist in al-Maadamiya, near Damascus, described some of the things women have been involved in: “Some prepare demonstration signs. Others take charge of the communication among group members. We are strongly involved in our movement’s exposure and communication tools, like Facebook. And we provide special medical care to demonstrators who get injured during the protests” (Adel Mansur, “Syrian women recruit resisters in flashpoint town,” WeNews, Jan. 31). Women have provided much of the movement’s logistics, and compared to some other branches of the Arab Spring, have been better represented in the movement.
Young women, especially, have been active outside Syria in building concrete support–from organizing flash mobs to collecting medicines and iPhones for the resistance.
As has been pointed out in Egypt and elsewhere, the Arab Spring can’t be allowed to fall into the pattern of 1979 Iran, with counter-revolution emerging from inside the revolution specifically attacking women as its opening move against the entire revolution. In that regard, Iran’s reactionary theocratic regime has much to lose from a successful Syrian Revolution. Millions of Iranian women and men await their chance to overthrow their own oppressors.
NO ATTACKS ON IRAN!
Nothing could serve the Iranian rulers better than threatened attacks by Israel or the U.S. This would only serve to unify the people behind the regime, and prolong its life. Israel’s threats, in particular, are being driven by the panic its rulers feel toward the prospect of a free Syria which would genuinely support the Palestinians. Nothing terrifies Israel’s reactionary rulers more than the Arab revolution.
The Iranian people challenged their own rulers in the mass protests following Ahmadinejad’s stolen election in 2009. They have done so continually. The Iranian people’s freedom is not an industrial by-product of the nuclear industry, no matter what the Iranian rulers or U.S. and Israeli right-wing militarists would have the world believe. The Iranian masses are closely watching Syria.
Like al-Assad, Iran’s ruling hypocrites have sometimes masked themselves as supporters of Palestinian freedom. That masquerade is over.
Palestinian youth have introduced the ideas and tactics of the Arab Spring into their own struggle. The impact has already been felt. Khader Adnan’s 66-day hunger strike against Israel’s inhuman policy of “administrative detention,” a British colonial inheritance, received national support. At the same time, Adnan, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, announced his support for nonviolent resistance.
Threats by Israel or the U.S. to attack Iran are designed to kill off these manifestations of freedom and self-development. They are designed to keep events at the level of state power and military threat.
Revolutionaries need to maintain a focus on women’s liberation. Far from being a diversion from revolution, women’s struggles reveal how deep and permanent it must become if all are to experience liberation. That is why the question, “What happens after revolution?” must be addressed now, even in the midst of battle.
The Syrian Revolution calls for grasping second negativity–that is, not just what the struggle is against, but what it is for. Anything less risks falling into an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” mentality, all too characteristic of that part of the Left which sees Assad, delusively, as an “anti-imperialist.” Journalist Khalil Issa put it this way in Jadaliyya, Feb. 24:
“They are oblivious to the fact that fighting fascist oppression was and continues to be an inseparable part of what it means to be a leftist….However, it appears that each and every one of these currents prefers the continuity of Iranian and Syrian authoritarianism for the sake of endlessly reproducing both themselves and their discourses.”
These Leftists ignore the real difficulty this revolution presents for a capitalist world order in deep economic and social crisis. In truth, Syria isn’t just the place Arab Spring was always heading, toward life-and-death confrontation with the world’s rulers. But it is where the world itself–history itself–is heading as long as the capitalist system prevails.
CUTTING EDGE OF WORLD REVOLUTION
The Syrian people are fighting for their own freedom. They are also fighting for the Palestinian people, who have every interest in a democratic Syria. They are fighting for the people of Iran, who have risen up time and time again to reclaim their own stolen revolution. They are fighting for the hundreds of thousands of Russians who have come out to protest Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime, and they are fighting for the millions of Chinese workers who are exploited and denied representation.
The Syrian people are fighting for us, here in the U.S., beside Occupy Wall Street and the Pelican Bay prison hunger strikers. An “anti-imperialism” that stops at the call for “Hands off Syria!” undercuts solidarity with the Syrian revolution.
History has assigned to our generation the task of not stopping at any such first negation. Second negation, the creation of the new, begins with working out the new ideas that have been coming to birth in the revolutionary year opened by the Arab Spring.
This is a potential turning point that could move history forward in a way fitting the heroism shown by the masses in motion. It recalls what Raya Dunayevskaya, the founder of Marxist-Humanism, wrote about the freedom struggles of the 1960s:
“It was as if Hegel’s Absolute Method as a simultaneously subjective-objective mediation had taken on flesh. Both in life and in cognition, ‘Subjectivity’–live men and women–tried shaping history via a totally new relationship of practice to theory. It was as if the ‘Absolute Universal,’ instead of being a beyond, an abstraction, was concrete and everywhere” (Philosophy and Revolution, p. 42).
The goal is the revolution in permanence, in which the free development of each of us is the condition for the free development of all. Supporting the Syrian Revolution is a vital part of the world revolution. History doesn’t often afford such opportunities, or responsibilities.