[Marxism] The right to resist is universal: A farewell to Al Akhbar and Assad’s apologists

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jun 20 18:55:33 MDT 2012

On 6/20/12 8:39 PM, Daniel Rocha wrote:
> When I see more detailed attempt in accounting for what happened in Houla,
> it seems I am seeing a rehearse of a violent tribal affair, like what
> usually happens in the Maghreb or in the Horn of Africa.

There is no "detailed" account for what happened in Houla. One German 
reporter in Damascus called up some people there who said the rebels did 
it, while another German reporter called up another group of people who 
said the government did it. If you want to see what a detailed account 
looks like, read this:

NY Times July 19, 2011
In Scarred Syria City, a Vision of a Life Free From Dictators

HAMA, Syria — In this city that bears the scars of one of the modern 
Middle East’s bloodiest episodes, the revolt against President Bashar 
al-Assad has begun to help Syrians imagine life after dictatorship as it 
forges new leaders, organizes its own defense and reckons with a grim 
past in an uncertain experiment that showcases the forces that could end 
Mr. Assad’s rule.

Dozens of barricades of trash bins, street lamps, bulldozers and 
sandbags, defended in various states of vigilance, block the feared 
return of the security forces that surprisingly withdrew last month. 
Protests begin past midnight, drawing raucous crowds of youths 
celebrating the simple fact that they can protest. At dusk, distant 
cries echo off cinder blocks and stone that render a tableau here of 
jubilation, fear and memory of a crackdown a generation ago whose toll — 
10,000, 20,000, more — remains a defiant guess.

“Hama is free,” the protesters chant, “and it will remain free.”

Freedom is a word heard often these days in this city, Syria’s fourth 
largest, though that freedom could yet prove elusive. Hama rebelled last 
month, and the government withdrew the soldiers and security forces 
seemingly to forestall even more bloodshed, ceding space along the 
Orontes River that is really neither liberated nor subjugated.

In the uncertain interregnum, punctuated by worry that the security 
forces might return and fear of informers left behind, Hama has emerged 
in the four-month revolt against Mr. Assad as a turbulent model of what 
a city in Syria might resemble once four decades of dictatorship end. In 
skittish streets, there are at least nascent notions of 
self-determination, as residents seek to speak for themselves and defend 
a city that they declare theirs.

The sole poster of Mr. Assad in the city hangs from the undamaged 
headquarters of the ruling Baath Party. Gaggles of residents gather on 
the curb to debate politics, sing protest songs and retell the traumas 
of the crackdown in 1982, when the government stormed Hama to end an 
Islamist uprising. For the first time in memory, clerics and the 
educated elite in Hama are negotiating with the governor over how to 
administer the city, in a country long accustomed to a monologue 
delivered by the ruler to the ruled.

“This is the way a city is supposed to be,” said a 49-year-old former 
government employee who gave his name as Abu Muhammad. Like many people 
here, he declined to be fully identified.

Lined with oleander and eucalyptus trees, the road to Hama underlines 
the depth of the challenge today to Mr. Assad. Tanks are parked inside 
Homs, to the south. More are stationed at the entrances to smaller towns 
in between Homs and Hama — Talbiseh and Rastan, where protesters 
dismantled a statue of Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, who seized power in 
1970. At one entrance, strewn with stones thrown by protesters, a slogan 
says, “The army and the people are one hand.” But the scenes of jittery 
soldiers behind sandbags and turrets of tanks pointed at incoming 
traffic suggest an army of occupation.

“Syria is colonized by its own sons,” one resident quipped.

Hama is bracing for an attack by a government that may regret its 
decision to withdraw on the first week of June, after an especially 
bloody Friday. But the authorities seem at a loss over how to retake 
control of the rebellious city that is Syria’s most religiously 
conservative. Railing from fences was torn down and stones from 
sidewalks unearthed to build scores of barricades, which block entrances 
to most neighborhoods. Refuse has accumulated along streets where every 
trash bin seems part of a barrier.

Youths have distributed bags of rocks to the checkpoints, and some, too 
young to shave, carry bars and sticks. Others sneak cigarettes, away 
from disapproving parents. A banner in Jerajmeh Square seemed to plead 
their case: “Here is Hama. It is not Tel Aviv” — a reference to Syria’s 
avowed enemy, Israel.

“Of course, we know the regime can enter any time,” said a 30-year-old 
carpenter with a goatee and blue eyes who gave his name as Abdel-Razzaq. 
He shrugged his shoulders at the prospect. “So the battle will happen,” 
he said. “What can we do about it?”

Even as they celebrate Hama’s measure of freedom, residents elsewhere 
have wondered what motivated the government to withdraw its forces from 
Hama. Some suggest foreign pressure, others point to Hama’s 
demographics. Unlike Homs, Hama has no Alawite minority, the heterodox 
Muslim sect from which the country’s leadership draws much of its 
support. The city’s small Christian population seems wary, but unharried.

A City’s Painful Past

But most believe the key lies in Hama’s past, quoting a refrain heard 
almost any time the city’s name is mentioned.

“Hama is wounded,” it goes.

Under the orders of Hafez al-Assad, the Syrian Army quelled the revolt 
in 1982 with a brutality that defined his later rule. He ended the 
rebellion, but the ferocity forever changed his leadership, ushering 
forth a suspicion and paranoia that still dominates his family’s 
politics. The three weeks of fighting left behind a graveyard in this 
city, too. Planes bombed Hama’s historic quarter, and tanks plowed 
through narrow streets. Mass executions were routine, as was torture 
visited on survivors.

“Hama is the cemetery of the nation,” say graffiti here.

“Every house has martyrs,” said a 25-year-old petroleum engineer who 
gave his name as Adnan. Others joined him, sitting in plastic chairs on 
the curb, sipping tea.

Seventeen had died on their street, named after Sheik Mustafa al-Hamid, 
Adnan and others said. Many of the children playing soccer nearby bore 
the names of the dead. One recalled his uncle Mahmoud, who he said was 
shot 24 times and survived, though badly crippled. “He looked like a 
strainer,” he said. A pharmacist said he never heard from his cousin, 
Othman, again.

“Their sons and grandsons are doing the protests today,” Abu Muhammad, 
the former government employee, said.

On successive Fridays since the government pulled out its forces, the 
protests in Assi Square — renamed Martyrs’ Square — have grown as 
quickly as fear crumbled, reaching more than 100,000 this month. Songs 
like “Get Out Bashar” were taken up by protesters in other cities and, 
by Syria’s standards, became a YouTube sensation.

In President’s Square, the government dismantled a statue of Hafez 
al-Assad on June 10. The next day, residents recalled, a man nicknamed 
Gilamo put his donkey on the pedestal. Hundreds gathered, clapping, in 
mock displays of obsequiousness.

“Oh, youth of Damascus, we in Hama overthrew the regime,” residents 
recalled them chanting. “We removed Hafez, and we put a donkey in his 

Several residents said the security forces shot the donkey a few days later.

In the vacuum, new leaders have begun to emerge, sometimes coexisting 
uneasily in a city that seems to be staggering into the unknown. 
Youthful protesters have come together in a group called the Free Ones 
of Hama, but it is more a name than an organization. Their real work, 
activists say, happens in their own neighborhoods, where they organize 
shifts to defend barricades, persuade their mothers to cook stuffed 
squash for their friends and relentlessly document the uprising with 
cameras, cellphones and camcorders.

No security troops can come close, they declare, without their streets 
sounding the alarm, erupting in cries of “God is great,” the chorus 
joined by a cacophony of banging pots and pans.

“The fear has been broken,” said Adnan, one of the protest leaders.

The protesters, though, hold little sway with the government, which has 
negotiated with the city to a surprising degree. These days, Hama is 
represented by Mustafa Abdel-Rahman, the 60-year-old cleric in charge of 
the Serjawi Mosque. Residents say he consults with worshipers at his 
mosque, along with doctors, lawyers and engineers in the neighborhoods, 
over ways to defuse tension. Under the latest deal, the government 
agreed to release prisoners if protesters dismantled checkpoints on the 
main roads. The protesters did, though in the end, only a fraction of 
the more than 1,200 detainees were freed.

“They will keep taking people, definitely,” said Tarek, a 22-year-old 
protester. “We can’t trust them. We just can’t trust them anymore.”

A Revolt’s Microcosm

Over these six weeks, Hama has, in a way, emerged as a microcosm of the 
revolt — what the protesters see as competing visions of liberation and 
what the government labels chaos.

As in other places, the government has spoken of armed gangs and 
Islamists roaming the city’s streets, though over two days, not a single 
weapon was seen, save a slingshot. Islamists populate and perhaps 
dominate the ranks of protesters, and by some estimates, a fourth of the 
city has fled, fearing a showdown more than the brand of rule the 
Islamists might impose.

The government has spoken of losing control, though the city still 
functions. Shops have reopened, people walk the streets, and the 
municipal administration — from courts to trash collection — began 
working again Saturday after a two-week strike. Gardeners watered city 
squares, and cars obeyed traffic signals along streets where not a 
single government building was damaged beyond a few broken windows. 
Although the security forces have disappeared — all 16 branches of them, 
by some residents’ count — the traffic police still come to work.

“You don’t feel secure unless the security forces are gone,” Abu 
Muhammad said.

But episodes of lawlessness and vengeance have punctuated the city’s 
experiment. An informer was hanged from an electricity pylon last month; 
the bodies of three or four others were thrown into the Orontes River, 
residents say. A week ago, three Korean-made cars were stolen from a 
dealership, residents said, and some businessmen have complained about 
the checkpoints and a two-week strike that shut down Hama. Many frowned 
upon the dismantling of street lights and other infrastructure to build 
the barriers.

“There was no destruction with the protests, why does there have to be 
with the checkpoints?” asked a 40-year-old trader who gave his name as 
Ahmed. “Without a doubt, people are angry. I am myself. There are thugs 
out there, without question.”

At least anecdotally, his seemed to be a minority opinion.

Festive Protesters

The scenes on Saturday night were less chaotic than festive, as crowds 
lined the streets to watch a spontaneous protest celebrating the freedom 
of the few prisoners released. The demonstrators headed to the 
governor’s building, which was adorned in a slogan that still said 
“Assad’s Syria.” Youths jumped in their cars, speeding through pulsating 
streets, trading rumors and news over cellphones that rang incessantly. 
They joked with one another at checkpoints.

“Next time I see you, we’ll be playing cards together in jail,” one said.

Around midnight, a protester named Obada joined his friends in what 
seemed to be a cross between a dorm room and a safe house. The coals for 
water pipes smoldered in the corner, near computers, headphones, a 
big-screen television, a scanner, sound-mixing equipment and stacks of 
compact discs documenting protests, arrests and clashes with the 
security forces.

Each took a turn to celebrate what their uprising meant.

“There’s no fear,” said Mustafa, 27.

“You can walk in the streets with security,” added his friend, Mahmoud.

“We’ve come closer together,” volunteered Fadi, typing on his computer.

Another friend, Bassem, shook his head. “We’re not free yet,” he said.

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