[Marxism] [UCE] Syria in Revolt - Understanding the Unthinkable War

mkaradjis . mkaradjis at gmail.com
Mon Aug 18 20:58:37 MDT 2014

Extraordinary article.

Syria in Revolt

Understanding the Unthinkable War

Sadik J. Al-Azm
August 18, 2014


Burning Syria, Tammam Azam

The people’s intifada in Syria, against the military regime and police
state of the Assad family, took me by surprise. I was fearful at first
that the regime would crush it almost instantly, given its legendary
ferocity and repressiveness. Like other Syrian intellectuals, I felt
total impotence before this devouring monster, which precluded any
thought of an imminent, or even possible, collective “no.”

I was surprised by the revolution, but I should not have been. Daily
experiences and recurrent observations foretold a crisis that many
Syrians tried hard to deny. And deny we did. Let me explain.

After the violent suppression of the Damascus Spring in 2001–2002 and
again after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq
Hariri in Beirut in 2005, which led to the humiliating withdrawal of
Assad’s troops from Lebanon, angst spread throughout Syria. I was
working in Damascus, where the trepidation was especially pronounced.
The country, it seemed, was teetering on the edge of an abyss.

But life flowed routinely on the surface. Talking about the situation
publicly was out of the question. Even hinting at it was dangerous.
When someone did speak up, others quickly changed the subject. A
conspiracy of silence was the order of the day.

This period marked a palpable deterioration in relations among
Syrians. Sectarian lines hardened, undermining long-standing
friendships, harmony among colleagues, and the daily interactions of
citizens. Even our way of joking changed.

Like many in Damascus, I found myself beginning, almost unconsciously,
to weigh every word according to the religious affiliations of passing
acquaintances and close friends alike. Social engagements lost
spontaneity. Confidence and trust evaporated, and offense was taken
more quickly than ever before. An unusual dose of suspicion seeped
into the Syrian intelligentsia’s traditional solidarity against

By 2009–2010, it was impossible to go about the day without repeatedly
hearing from working people expressions such as, “All it needs is a
match to ignite,” “It needs a spark to flare up,” and “All it needs is
a fire-cracker to explode.”

More educated Syrians, particularly intellectuals, had their own
favorite metaphors. Mine was a pressure cooker, where the heat is
mounting and the safety valves have been destroyed. Yasine Haj Saleh,
a former political prisoner and the most prominent underground
commentator and critic on behalf of the revolution, as well as a fine
writer of prison literature, warned that if the people did not quickly
find a way of letting their “Syrianness” prevail, the country would be
in for the worst. The cartoonist Ali Ferzat said in a 2007 Newsweek
interview, “Either reform or le deluge.” In 2011 Ferzat was assaulted
by regime thugs and left for dead on the side of the road, but he

A prominent colleague and friend in the philosophy department
emphasized the inevitability of a civil war because the worst had
already happened: the antagonistic Sunni-Alawi divide in Syrian
society is a fait accompli, he told me. War was preordained.

Others maintained that one thing could be said for the regime: it
alone was holding Syrians back from massacring each other.

Had you asked me what would happen if the tsunami that started in
Tunisia reached Syria, I would have answered: the Sunni of Hama would
sharpen their knives and pour out into the neighboring Alawi villages
to take revenge for the rape and destruction of their city by Assad’s
storm troopers in 1982.

But sectarian slaughter did not come to pass. Instead, the unthinkable
happened: a people’s revolution against the regime.

• • •

How did we fail so badly in predicting this outcome? Denial was not
the only factor; a number of ideas and questions were the talk of the
town during this crucial period, at all levels of society. Many of
these ideas, especially among intellectuals and elites, were wrong.

Full: http://bostonreview.net/world/sadik-al-azm-syria-in-revolt

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