[Marxism] Facts on the ground the only narrative that matters inSyria

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Mon Aug 6 10:28:30 MDT 2012


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Facts on the ground the only narrative that matters in Syria

Hassan Hassan
Aug 7, 2012

One day during my high school studies in Syria, over a decade ago, the 
school's administration decided to replace a sport class with a science 
class to compensate for the absence of a teacher. About half of my 
classmates rejected the decision (they liked their sport), refused to 
enter the class and stood outside in protest.

I had never seen the school's administration more nervous. That 
negligible act of rebellion compelled the headmaster to come and speak 
to us personally, armed with what I'd call the Baathist tools of 
coercion. "I know that most of you are good people," he told us, "but I 
want you to point out to me the subversive student among you, who I know 
is an ikhwanji (a pejorative term that refers to a member of the banned 
Muslim Brotherhood organisation).

"If you do not, I will have to call the Political Security (a branch of 
the mukhabarat, with an office adjacent to the school)". That sentence 
was powerful enough to make us return to class, without uttering a word.

I'm reminded of that defining day on the schoolyard as I watch the world 
try to make sense of the absurdity of the Assad regime today, and its 
answer to any form of dissent by calling Syrians "mundasseen" - 

Syrians raised under this regime know that taking to the streets to call 
for the government's downfall is the very definition of audacity. 
Syrians do not need to be told by media what the regime is capable of or 
how it behaves when it is confronted. They also do not need to be told 
to fight until the end because they know full well the regime kills and 
tortures in times of calm, as it does when it is embattled.

Yet outside Syria, a narrative taking root suggests that the Syrian 
uprising is somehow less worthy than the other Arab pro-democracy 
revolts that swept the region last year. The Syrian uprising, according 
to this narrative, is a foreign conspiracy promoted by biased media and 
instigated by extremists. The position is maintained largely by the Arab 
left, pan-Arabists and anti-imperialists, as if the only way to resist 
imperialism or an Israeli threat is for the Syrian people to endure 
living under Baathism.

Mohamed Hassanein Haykal, a veteran Egyptian journalist and a former 
adviser to the late Gamal Abdel Nasser, dismissed the Syrian uprising 
late last year as one spurred by foreign intelligence. He said the 
cities that revolted against the regime were border cities - proof, he 
said, it was not a real revolution. Only if Damascus and Aleppo rose up, 
he argued, could the uprising be considered a legitimate revolution. 
Since the two main cities rose up, however, he has remained deafeningly 
silent. (It's worth reminding Haykal that all Syrian cities, except Hama 
and Suweida, are border cities).

Others have jumped from denying the existence of a popular uprising to 
labelling it a civil war. When Abdul Razzaq Tlass defected in June last 
year, for example, Asad Abu Khalil, an influential Lebanese-American 
pundit known for his criticism of Israel, posted this comment on his 
blog: "Western and Arab (Saudi and Qatari) media are so desperate for 
any news that is damaging to the Syrian regime that they play up the 
'news' of YouTube-based defection of individual soldiers or officers. 
That is really not news worthy."

Not long after that comment was made, the lieutenant became a nightmare 
for the regime, battling with a group of military defectors for 28 days 
in Baba Amr.

The Syrian opposition has undeniably committed several human rights 
violations. But it is one thing to highlight these violations, quite 
another to undermine the sacrifices of people who seek nothing but 
freedom from a brutal regime. Syrian activists, via social media, 
highlight and criticise abuses more often than any human rights 
organisation. In March, when Human Rights Watch issued an open letter to 
the Syrian opposition about human rights violations, Syrian activists 
issued a letter that unequivocally acknowledged the importance of 
constructive criticism and called on the organisation to continue to 
highlight violations.

Abu Khalil and others have tried to taint the Syrian uprising as a 
foreign plot, and save particular ire for Qatar. Al Jazeera, the Arab 
satellite behemoth based in Doha, has borne the brunt of this criticism.

Last week the astute Emirati commentator Sultan Al Qassemi wrote that 
both Al Jazeera and Al Arabia have "lowered their journalistic 
standards, abandoned rudimentary fact-checks, and relied on anonymous 
callers and unverified videos in place of solid reporting".

I share some of Al Qassemi's sentiments but disagree with the attempt to 
undermine the narrative of the activists, especially the suggestion that 
anonymous callers are paid "handsome amounts of money" to appear on 
these channels.

Qatar's role in the Arab world was once hailed. In 2006, Abu Khalil 
called the arrival of Emir Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani in 
Lebanon a "PR coup for the Qatari government". After the 
Hizbollah-Israel war in 2006, during a visit to Beirut, Qatar's emir was 
symbolically handed keys to Lebanon by Lebanese officials, who called 
the emir the owner of the land rather than its guest.

But regardless of how the uprising is being portrayed by regional 
governments, or their affiliated media, the only narrative that matters 
for Syria is the fact on the ground. The regime is suffering everywhere 
in the country, from Idlib to Damascus to Deir Ezzor. Generals continue 
to defect, others are killed in battle and officials at the regime's 
helm continue to defect.

These are all stories that must be told.

hhassan at thenational.ae

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