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Fear of Arrest

[Handcuffed Syrian protesters on the ground after being arrested following a demonstration in Baida in April. Image from] [Handcuffed Syrian protesters on the ground after being arrested following a demonstration in Baida in April. Image from]

The author of the following text is anonymous. But his deeds have rocked the foundations of our world in Syria. He is one and he is everyone. I don't know his whereabouts. He is probably already dead or in prison. Or maybe he is still roaming the streets of cities and towns in Syria trying in all earnestness to get the frame of his next picture right where it is supposed to be. At this very moment I imagine him cursing his laptop because it froze a few seconds before the video was successfully uploaded; or struggling to figure out why his Skype cannot work with the new VPN software even though he was told that it should configure itself automatically. But he could very well be spending the night in the basement of al-Mukhabarat headquarters in Kafar Soussa: unable to stretch his leg in the crowded prison cell, unable to rest his back because his wounds from the afternoon beating session are still burning and bleeding; unable to close his eyes because the screams of tortured bodies are whirling in his head like a tornado. But wherever he could be, he knows that he has already won.

I picked up the text from one of the Facebook pages administered by a "local coordination committee" in one of the neighborhoods of Damascus. The text is written in colloquial Arabic. I could tell that he is probably in his early twenties with a clear Aleppo accent. On how a youth from Aleppo ended up in a Damascus neighborhood we can only speculate. Few sleep in their houses these days or in the same place for long.

The text has this ordinary, almost technocratic, quality that makes it extra-ordinary considering the circumstances. It is not written for political propaganda. It does not theorize, it does not make too many claims, it is not poetic, or confessional. The author addresses his "buddies" to neutralize the effect of a paralyzing fear of arrest that may have made some of them too cautious to participate in demonstrations. The rhetorical posture is descriptive. His goal is to demystify the experience of arrest as an antidote to fear. The premise of the text is that his destined reader should expect arrest and torture, and should therefore stop wasting time to avoid it. The fact that one is arrested has nothing to do with the relative strength of the Mukhabarat. It has also little to do with how cautious you are. A revolution is taking place, and if you are there in the regime's field of projections of power, arrest is a matter of time -- an absurd game of probabilities. Knowing what an arrest entails will make it more bearable, and the fear of it less debilitating.

This article is now featured in Jadaliyya's edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.


9 comments for "Fear of Arrest"


I am in awe of the strength of this movement, and the individuals in it. May God bless them and give them courage, peace, and success.

Sarah Familia wrote on August 06, 2011 at 10:49 AM

Closely, descriptive testimony on how to act in case of being arrested by the Mokhabarat (security police)Syria I would like to read the arabic version

said wrote on August 06, 2011 at 12:17 PM

This guys account of the practices is very accurate. I spent a week inside, and he is most def on point. His advice should be distributed to all Syrians. I salute his bravery. wrote on August 07, 2011 at 04:53 AM

Wow Wow Wow. An incredible text. From Algeria, to Chile, to Egypt, to Syria. The insights are so many and so rich.

Milli Schmidt wrote on August 09, 2011 at 08:19 AM

God help all Arabs get rid of the despotic regimes once and for all.

Laila El Baradei wrote on August 10, 2011 at 05:13 AM

The author of this text is perfectly rational. He is it seems to me rational in two ways: First, having as a revolutionary along with his comrades challenged what seemed indomitable before, the power of the regime, they have revealed to themselves and to us that the regime is not all that powerful. It turns out that what was irrational was to exaggerate the power of the Syrian dictator an irrationality the dictator relied upon to project the same power. Having revealed the regime's power for what it really was, the revolutionary finds that he has entered the realm of "realism": power can now be discussed realistically and rationally, therefore the highly rational style of the text. This brilliant insight is one that only a revolution can produce - no other position is capable of it _ not legalism, not deconstruction-not irony- not reformism-only revolutionary struggle produces insights like that. Second, the text is highly rational in that once the author has entered the realm of realism after giving up the fantasy of the regime's power, he, as revolutionary is committed, in a perfectly rational way to tease out all the implications of this realist discovery. The revolutionary has entered now the stark and shining logic and rationality of the revolution: there is no revolution unless revolutionaries tease out indeed force out of the act of revolution all the truths that lie hidden underneath that were concealed to us in pre-revolutionary times. These truths are the truth about the life the subject of the revolution, faithful to its event, wants to establish and make into the new realism. It is the rationality of revolutionary rule which the author of the text projects most powerfully: by giving instructions, he is already the new ruler- with an insight into a future only he can see and for us to be let into he has to translate it to us in his own way.

Far out, an amazing text, and thanks Hani for translating it. Lama

Lama Abu Odeh wrote on August 13, 2011 at 04:14 AM

If it isn't likely to compromise anyone, could you add a link to the Arabic original? Thanks!

warda wrote on August 14, 2011 at 07:17 PM

I am speechless - This young man is a hero. I am so very proud of my fellow Syrian activists.

Ruba Hachim wrote on September 10, 2011 at 10:32 PM

Yes, link to Arabic original would be appreciated. I know some Arabic-only speakers who would like to read this.

Marianne wrote on October 30, 2011 at 04:48 AM

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