Syrians against all odds

From the new September-October 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Editorial

Syrians against all odds

Daraya, Aug. 25: the Assad regime continues its genocide, with 300-600 estimated killed in this Damascus suburb. The dead are unarmed men, women and children of the working class. This massacre was committed to terrorize the revolutionary people of Syria, and to guarantee the security of the nearby military airfield that Assad will use in the event he flees.

The area had slipped from Assad’s control months ago, residents organizing their own lives free of the mukhabarat (secret police). This is no “civil war.” It is a revolution that has reduced Assad’s forces to something more like occupiers. What is left of his loyal military, and the terrorist shabiha, can pummel Syria’s neighborhoods and villages with heavy weaponry and move in for lightning raids that invariably end in massacre. They can no longer hold the territory of Free Syria.

Even the claim to be a protector of “his own” Alawi religious group is vitiated by the fact, pointed out by an Alawi defector, that “In the Sunni community, if in every building there is an agent for the regime, in an Alawite community, in every building there are five.” So terror there remains effective–the Alawi effectively hostages to the regime.

TEHRAN TO RIYYAD AND BEYOND

There is outside intervention in Syria. The Russian, Chinese and Iranian governments, in particular, have provided military aid and diplomatic cover for Assad. On the other hand, the reactionary rulers of Saudi Arabia have provided a stingy amount of aid to the Syrian revolutionaries. It hasn’t been nearly enough, nor anything like what the Saudi rulers can afford. That is because they are not committed to a free, revolutionary Syria at all. That would threaten their own rule. Rather, their game plan is to weaken Assad as Iran’s ally, and if possible to facilitate either Israeli or U.S. air strikes against Iran.

This has long been the game played by Israel, Iran and the Saudis. Much of it has previously been for domestic consumption, but the prospect of revolution in Syria has turned it into an existential crisis for all three regional powers. In this situation, it is only the Syrian revolution that represents a genuine hope for peace. Half-measures are guarantees of future wars.

Battles that erupted over Syria in Lebanon show the retrogressive nature of these games. There the fighting between Sunnis and Alawis has sometimes echoed the rhetoric of Lebanon’s Civil War, including appeals to religious hatred. Thus old and discredited ideas and practices try to attach themselves to living revolutions.

THE SYRIAN PEOPLE ORGANIZE

The bases of a Free Syria have sprung up where the Assad regime’s thugs have been eliminated. For example, Daraya had “been run with quiet efficiency by opposition activists and volunteers from the local community….With no security forces on hand…activists would stand at major intersections and hand out leaflets designed to educate residents on the key principles of the revolution, as drawn up by committees of local men and women. The leaflets said there must be equality between all religious and ethnic groups…and stressed the importance of ensuring justice and rejecting revenge….They also spelt out that with new freedoms would come enormous responsibilities and duties…including caring for the environment and conserving scarce water resources.” (“Daraya: The Defiance that led to a Massacre,” Phil Sands, The National, Aug. 27.)

Similarly, in al-Bab near Aleppo, “Within days, the makings of a civil society could already be glimpsed, especially at night. It was then that locals and rebels poured out into the streets, trading their cell phones and Kalashnikov rifles for garbage bags, white gloves, and brooms….One young boy told me he was on cleanup duty because for his whole life to do anything spontaneous or willful in Syria required government permission. Another joked that the garbage bag in his hand was where he wanted Assad to go.” (“Ramadan in Aleppo,” Michael Weiss, Foreign Affairs, Aug. 13.)

‘THE TWELVE’ AND THEIR KIND

It is the most brutal irony that so many of the state powers that support Assad claim “revolutionary” pedigrees. Besides Russia and China, the 12 countries that give Assad UN cover include Cuba and the “Bolivarian” states; the unreconstructed Stalinists of North Korea and Belarus; and Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe. All will eventually have to answer to their own people.

Leftists, who support Assad, show that they can’t imagine a people’s movement apart from state power–from state terror. They begin from the point at which previous revolutions have become transformed into their opposites, oppressive state-capitalist regimes, and uphold their failures and crimes as ideals. Only this explains the hysteria with which some have defended Assad and willfully ignored the genocide in Syria.

The profound courage, dignity and humanity of Syrian men, women and children remain intact. In the words of one woman activist in Daraya, “What we are saying to the regime is, ‘you destroy, we build, you destroy again, we will build again.’ That is our revolution and that is why it will succeed in the end.”

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