[Marxism] Portrait of an FSA fighter

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Oct 10 06:59:26 MDT 2012

In Syria, a rebellion calls for revolutionary measures
By Times staff

October 9, 2012, 12:12 a.m.

DAMASCUS, Syria — The crack of a sniper rifle and the boom of exploding 
shells seemed to take turns as Hanadi slipped out of the apartment and 
onto the dark street.

Seconds later, a shell landed nearby and Hanadi groaned, worried that 
the Syrian army would storm the neighborhood that night — before she got 
her camera back from the repairman, leaving her unable to record the 

Walking down the street, carefully planting her feet, she glanced left 
and right through open doors, concerned that her husband might see her.

At the corner, a few young Free Syrian Army fighters manning a 
checkpoint recognized her immediately.

"Abu al-Majid is inside," one of them said, referring to her husband and 
pointing in the direction she had just come from.

"What do I want with Abu al-Majid?" she replied. They warned her about a 
government sniper ahead, but she continued walking through the intersection.

When antigovernment protests first began in Dara in March 2011, the 
then-high school senior didn't join, believing that President Bashar 
Assad was blameless. That changed in June though, when Assad called the 
opposition "germs."

"From that point I joined the opposition," she said. "They came out 
asking for freedom, so I came out also asking for freedom."

The following school year, as a first-year law student at the University 
of Damascus, Hanadi, who asked that her last name not be used so as to 
protect her family, would skip classes to attend protests.

As the armed uprising that had devastated much of the rest of Syria 
finally made its way into Damascus in late July, she traded her placard 
for a syringe as a volunteer nurse at an opposition-run field hospital. 
Soon she put down the needle and picked up a camera to join a rebel 
militia and record clashes at government checkpoints and outposts.

Now, as the violence and bloodshed only grow, Hanadi, 19, has traded up 
once again: replacing her camera with a Kalashnikov.

Weeks ago, rebels clashed with government security forces in several 
south Damascus neighborhoods. As government forces bombarded the 
neighborhoods with airstrikes, the opposition fighters fled from 
district to district and eventually withdrew to the suburbs as their 
ammunition ran low.

Hanadi's rebel militia was one of the last to leave, from the district 
of Asali, and she left for the suburbs unwillingly.

"The worst thing for me is the tactical withdrawal," she said a few days 
afterward. "I swear the next time we attack I will be the first one in 
and the last one to leave until my last bullet."

Being at the front line was what she came for, she said.

After all, the Kalashnikov was her promised dowry.


Her marriage, Hanadi said, is simply one of convenience.

In August, she wed the commander of the militia she had joined, the 
30-member Thul Nurain, based in the Tadamon neighborhood.

"It was to prevent people from talking — 'Why is she sitting among all 
those men?' " she said.

"Tadamon is a conservative place and it's a big deal to have an 
unmarried girl among a group of men," said Abu Majid, 34, who worked as 
a deliveryman before he took up arms.

He asked her father's permission and was turned down, but a local sheik 
agreed to marry them anyway.

They publicized the marriage within the neighborhood and among rebel 
groups in order to stop the wagging tongues. For weeks, she didn't tell 
her family.

Abu Majid's first wife still doesn't know.

His wife and three young sons, who left Tadamon when fighting erupted 
there, are one reason Hanadi said the marriage won't last past the 
conflict. She doesn't want to be a home wrecker and added that Abu 
Majid's wife would "slaughter him if she found out."

"This is just a marriage for the revolution. After … we will separate," 
she said, placing her index fingers side by side and then moving them 
apart, by way of visual aid. "Either I may die or we both may die, or at 
the end of the revolution we will say bye-bye but remain friends."

Hanadi inhabits a strange dynamic here: part wife expected to serve tea 
and prepare meals — though she does so awkwardly, as if the role fits 
like a rumpled suit — and part militia member. When fighters and rebel 
leaders gather in their living room, she sits with them, rarely speaking 
but giggling often.

She follows some orders from Abu Majid but ignores others.

"We will give her a rifle and she can go with the guys," he said a few 
weeks ago, lounging in a stuffy living room because the electricity had 
been cut. "Or maybe we will give her the detonator and let her blow up 
the bombs."

"No," she said, barely looking up from peeling potatoes for a lunch of 
French fries and pita bread.


"I don't consider that work. That's work without any risk," she said. 
"If you grab a Kalashnikov and go to the front lines, that's work. Being 
far away and not being able to see anything? That doesn't fly with me."

Outside, gunshots rang out occasionally and the walkie-talkie beside her 
regularly crackled to life as she continued peeling.


Hanadi has a wide smile and runs her tongue over her teeth when 
something amuses her, which is often. She has a girlishness even as she 
talks of wanting to be a martyr, the rashness of a teenager intermingled 
with the militant's willingness to die.

She wears tight jeans and tunics and her hair always pokes out from 
under her hijab.

Originally from Quneitra in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, she grew 
up in the poor Damascus neighborhood of Asali. As a child she remembers 
attending anti-Israel rallies where the crowd chanted pro-Assad slogans.

Though her father supports the opposition, he doesn't want any of his 
eight children risking their lives. When he found out Hanadi was 
attending protests, he suggested she become an activist online instead.

When fighting began in Damascus a few days before the Muslim holy month 
of Ramadan, her father took the family to stay with relatives in 
Quneitra, including Hanadi and her three brothers who had also joined 
Free Syrian Army militias. But an hour after arriving, Hanadi got on a 
bus and returned to the capital.

Her father brought her back to Quneitra four more times, but each time 
she returned to Damascus.

As a pretext for one escape from a relative's home, she volunteered to 
help her elderly great-aunt to the outhouse, she said. While the woman 
was inside, Hanadi climbed over the outer wall of the house and ran to 
the bus station.

"We were raised in a conservative society where a girl has to heed her 
mother and father, but I no longer recognize their authority," she said, 
underscoring what some describe as not only an uprising against the 
government but also a revolution that has upset the balance between 
generations. Many of the activists and fighters have joined the fight 
against their parents' wishes.

The parents belong to a generation of Syrians who remained silent after 
an uprising against the Assad family in the early 1980s that was quickly 
and brutally suppressed.

The role of women in the revolution has diminished as it has become 
violent, but Hanadi is not the first to join the Free Syrian Army. Other 
women have taken up arms and there is even a females-only rebel group, 
made up of the widows of fighters, in Idlib province.

In a YouTube video posted in July, a Syrian woman identifying herself as 
an engineer from Canada announced she had joined the Martyrs of Aleppo 
brigade to "answer the call of the country."

"There are girls that come that are stronger than many of the guys," 
said Abu Jaafar, a member of the Tadamon Local Coordination Committee 
who knows Hanadi. "They can carry weapons or a video camera."

But the percentage is still tiny.

Befitting her youth, Hanadi seems unsure of what she wants: whether she 
is looking to be a martyr or looking forward to the freedoms — both 
politically and personally — of a post-revolution Syria. She talks about 
finishing law school, but because of her involvement with the Free 
Syrian Army, this academic year has been lost.

A few weeks ago, the university held a makeup exam for summer school 
students, but she didn't show up, worried about arrest.

There have been moments when she was in the midst of clashes and felt a 
bullet coming for her, she said. But she has not been shot, she said, 
sounding somewhat disappointed.

"I've come out wanting to be a martyr," she said. "I've been living for 
19 years. That's enough, don't you think?"


"She's more of a revolutionary than Abu al-Majid," said Abu Rahaf, who 
leads another Tadamon militia and, like Abu Majid, goes by a nickname.

When Hanadi heard what he had said, she saw it as an opportunity. Even 
though she agreed to marry Abu Majid on the condition that he not 
prevent her from going out with the rebels, he tells her to stay home 

Crossing the sniper-manned intersection safely, Hanadi sought out Abu Rahaf.

"Abu al-Majid won't always take me out with him," she told him as they 
stood in a dark alley, the only light coming from the tip of his cigarette.


"I want to [go] with your group," she said, shifting her weight from 
side to side.

He skirted the question. "There may not be an operation tonight; the 
situation is unstable."

Standing more than a foot shorter than Abu Rahaf, Hanadi looked like an 
athlete begging a coach to put her in the game. Abu Rahaf seemed both 
amused and impressed.

"I swear," he said, "you are something."

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