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The Real Me and the Hypothetical Syrian Revolution - Part 1

[A dark cloud of smoke hovers over Homs. Courtesy of Omar Shakir.] [A dark cloud of smoke hovers over Homs. Courtesy of Omar Shakir.]

The Syrian revolution undeniably belongs to the street. It’s rooted in the public realm where masses of physical bodies occupy the squares and real voices fill the air with defiance against the brutality of a relentless regime. The virtual realm of the revolution is a strong, second line of defense. Communities of online activists in Syria tirelessly spread the voices and events from the street as far and wide as possible, while the activists outside Syria continue the ripple effect, transferring what is happening inside Syria across the world.

Supporters of the regime like to demeaningly describe the Syrian revolution as iftiraadiyyeh, hypothetical, “a virtual revolution,” fueled by outside forces far from Syrian streets (thus, Syrian interests). They mark the protesters as traitors falling prey to a “universal conspiracy” against Syria’s sovereignty. These accusations start with the head of the regime himself, Bashar al-Assad, as he declared in his last speech: “At the beginning of the crisis, it was not easy to explain what happened. Emotional reactions and the absence of rationality were surpassing the facts. But now, the fog has lifted, and it is no longer possible for the regional and international parties which wanted to destabilize Syria to forge the facts and the events. Now the masks have fallen off the faces of those parties, and we have become more capable of deconstructing the virtual environment which they have created to push Syrians towards illusion and then make them fall. That virtual environment was created to lead to a psychological and moral defeat which would eventually lead to the actual defeat.”

During the early months of the uprising, the president called dissidents “conspiracies” and protesters “armed gangs.” In his last speech he claimed if real protesters really existed, he would have joined them, “This is not a revolution. Can a revolutionary work for the enemy – a revolutionary and a traitor at the same time? This is impossible. Can revolutionaries be without honor, moral values or religious principles? Had we had real revolutionaries, in the sense we know, you and I and the whole people would have moved with them. This is a fact.”

These sentiments have been repeated by people inside Syria and out, Syrians and not, who consider the thousands of “unable to verify” videos documenting Assad’s atrocities as mfabrakeh, fabricated. They say the clips exaggerate the number of people actually protesting, while the pro-regime demonstrations are deceptively reduced or not declared as massive as they really were, or not covered at all by the biased Arab and international media. The YouTube clips are described as “pictures” by some journalists like Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn. “Pictures,” a carefully chosen, archaic term that alludes slyly to the reel not the real; directed, acted, cinematic. Were they not real even when these videos were made in front of the Arab League monitors? Were they not real even when filmed by independent journalists who have finally entered Syria (albeit on extremely short visas and even shorter government-controlled leashes)?

Recently, debates have been occupied trying to understand the nature of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Does this army exist or is the FSA “a fax machine in Turkey”? Maybe the pundits have not seen the wide-spread protests on the Fridays christened, “We support the Free Syrian Army”, and “The Free Syrian Army Protects Us.” Rania Abuzaid’s excellent report explains the nuanced composition of the FSA. While it is true the FSA is separated into various groups defending different parts of the country and lacks a traditional central command, the thousands of men who fight and die every day in its name make it very real.

The president explains these discrepancies in reports emerging from Syria, “However, all the media fabrications, and the whole political and media campaign against Syria, were built on that phase of forging and distortion; and there is a difference between distorting the truth then giving it credibility as being presented from the inside of Syria, on the one hand, and distorting the truth from the outside of Syria where less credibility tends to be given to such misrepresentation. That is why we took a decision not to close the door to all media networks, but to be selective in the access given to them in order to control the quality of the information or the falsification which goes beyond the borders.” So the regime decided to be selective about who was allowed access to Syria, to combat the masses’ fabrications and control the message. Is that the definition of propaganda?

One of those “selective” moments is the now infamous Barbara Walters’ interview. Assad was apparently shocked at how poorly he was portrayed in the interview, declaring the fabrication so convincing, he almost believed it himself. But recently, while activists combed through the hacked email accounts of government officials, they uncovered an email by Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari’s daughter, Sheherazad. She prepped the president for the interview by studying, in her mind, the typical American viewer, “It is hugely important and worth mentioning that ‘mistakes’ have been done in the beginning of the crisis because we did not have a well-organized ‘police force.’ The American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are ‘mistakes’ done and now we are ‘fixing it.’” (Her “quotes.”) Staging and gaging for American likability, American sentiments, and American sympathy. Later, in his speech to supporters, Assad spins the unflattering interview into an American media conspiracy.

The president, joined by his small but growing public relations army of Arab and Western journalists/supporters and backed by “most Syrians” according to Jonathan Steele, would like you to believe the following scenario: In Syria, a minuscule number of mythical (yet sectarian/extremist/Salafi/violent) protesters repeat make-believe chants supporting (and protected by) a fictional army, while being filmed by faux cameras, made into fabricated films, to be tweeted by virtual activists, and watched by millions of fake people on their conspiratorial Arabic satellite channels and consumed by a biased Western media engaged in the “propaganda” war, in order to cover the “real” Syrian crisis in, as Cockburn says, “a fog of disinformation pumped through the internet.”

And why should the world believe Assad’s scenario over the people’s reality? Because, according to the Syrian regime, the country faces a universal conspiracy designed to validate foreign intervention which will destabilize the region, strengthen Israel, weaken Iran, declare Qatar a regional superpower, and push Syria into a civil war fueled by “inherent” sectarianism that the Assad regime has protected its citizens from for the past forty-two years.

For some, the “conspiracy” also threatens to kill what is called the last vestige of Arab “resistance.” Resistance against what? Most Syrians would say the Assad regime has never resisted anything but the Syrian people’s aspirations. (But most Syrians never understood or appreciated their country’s all-important “regional” political role. They were too busy enduring Assad & son’s domestic policies.) The Syrians on the street (the ones who matter) even chant: “Ya Bashar, you coward, go send your troops to the Golan.” No one in Syria or the Golan is holding their breath. Some people will disagree with blindly disregarding the Assad regime’s regional and international accomplishments, as a result of its historic stances of resistance. Those people should ask the families of the over 7,000 murdered Syrians if their loved ones’ deaths were worth this so-called resistance. They should ask Palestinians as well (also the ones who matter): What has the Syrian regime done for you lately? (“Lately,” is loosely defined here, but let us just say in the last fifty years.) They would probably answer: a lot; of damage. Critic Subhi Hadidi lists some of the damage, “As for the Palestinians, well, the regime did quite the opposite: It sided against the Palestinians, as well as the 'national movement’ led by Kamal Jumblatt in the Lebanese civil war; it was involved in the 1976 Tal al-Zaater siege and massacre . . . it participated in the 1983 siege and shelling of Palestinian camps in Tripoli, Lebanon.” Poet and former political prisoner Faraj Bayraqdar says those who still defend the regime’s self-declared role of resistance, “are inflicted with ideological blindness.” He adds, “Those people don’t know the difference between resistance and desisting, between rhetoric and reality.”

The regime uses this mix of recycled ideological propaganda and media manipulations to confront the mass accumulation of evidence of their atrocities that have spread across the world. The regime continues to insist it’s fighting armed gangs while using real weapons pouring in from Russia on real ships to kill unarmed civilians and defected soldiers. After months of skeptics asking, “Just who are these ‘armed gangs’?”, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem ended a press conference in November with clips of the “armed gangs” in action. It was later discovered that those clips were filmed in Lebanon in 2010. In other words, mfabrakeh. When he was confronted in December, Muallem defended himself (beginning at minute 57:00) saying the clips were “correct in all their content, but they weren’t directed in a good way, only.” Directed? Like “pictures”? How real of him. He added, “If we wanted to expose the truth, the ugly images of what the terrorist groups are doing, I believe many of you will faint.” (Thank you, Walid Muallem for sparing us the truth.) When the mysterious yet conveniently-timed explosion rocked the Midan area in Damascus last month, state television channel, SANA, was on location ready to broadcast live coverage of the “surprise” bombing. They were so efficient that they captured on film, a man holding a Syrian TV mic planting white plastic bags near the pools of blood. Even the presenter was shocked into silence as she narrated the scene. Another case of bad direction. They should have called Jaafari Jr. to handle it.

Patrick Cockburn accuses the revolutionary forces of “engaging in black propaganda,” constructing a “fake” revolution using the regime’s tools of manipulation, while the old-school regime has become incompetent and sloppy. Assad has an explanation for those “mistakes” (in a 15,000 word speech, you can expect to find an explanation for anything): “In our quest to dismantle that virtual environment and to ensure the importance of the internal situation in confronting any external interference, we took the initiative to talk transparently on having a default here and a defect or delay there in some areas.” Maybe it’s a case of the students becoming more masterful than the master. Or maybe, it’s a case of one side being real and the other finally exposed as fake.

Syrian supporters of the regime know very well what it feels like to play pretend. It’s apparent in the new, popular chant, “We will be your shabbiha forever, ya Assad.” For decades, Syrians chanted “We sacrifice our souls and our blood for you, ya Assad.” I never thought I would feel nostalgic for that chant, but I am. As insincere it as it was, it meant that we were willing to sacrifice what we were, as we were, our souls and blood, for the leader. This new chant viciously takes subserviency to another level. It expresses the willingness of the people to become something criminal—the despised, ruthless thugs for the regime. To become something they are not.

Between treacherous chants and pseudonymous identities, Syria has become a web of deception, woven by necessity by both sides for protection against the entrenched regime. But Syrians have been unaccounted for as individuals for decades. Long ago, our features were erased in a sea of empty faces that mirrored only one face. We became a pixilated canvas that created a collage of the leader’s image. Our voices formed one unified mouth only capable of expressing (fake) declarations of love and devotion. We never really mattered to the regime, and so, we forgot to matter to ourselves. Today, the Syrian people not only fight every day for their survival, but to prove that they matter. They resist to prove they exist.

In a recent article by Robert Fisk, he referred to Syria as a symbol. For decades, Syria indeed was reduced to a symbol, sometimes of Arab unity, other times of confrontational and heroic resistance. Hafez al-Assad represented revolution, as we used to chant during mandatory demonstrations, “Hafez. Assad. Symbol of the Arab revolution.” For the last eleven months, the regime has proved everyday that they are far from being a symbol of revolution. Or a symbol of unity, or Arabism, or anti-imperialism, or even resistance. They have been an emblem of nothing but tyranny and oppression.

To conceal the reality of what they really are, the Assad regime fabricates every kind of conspiracy possible: political conspiracy, media conspiracy, military conspiracy, an Arab conspiracy, a Western conspiracy, an imperialist conspiracy, an economic conspiracy, a sectarian conspiracy. And according to Jaafari Sr., Syria now faces a Google conspiracy. Every conspiracy is legitimate except the one conspiracy the Syrian people have endured for four decades: the illegitimate rule of the Assad dynasty. The regime would rather erase every citizen’s existence than admit they are the universal conspiracy that plagues Syria.

For such a virtual, hypothetical, fictitious, mythical, conspiracy-based revolution, its heavy weight is tangible with real blood, real corpses, real tears, real intimidation, real scars of real torture dug into real flesh.

The Syrian people, like their revolution, are not hypothetical, mythical, or fictitious, they are real. They are not a symbol of revolution, they are revolution. But as Elias Khoury says, "In their struggle and in their resistance, waging their orphan revolution, the Syrian people are alone." And it is wearing them out. 

12 comments for "The Real Me and the Hypothetical Syrian Revolution - Part 1"

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I have to preface by saying that I’m vehemently against the regime (and I feel compelled to say that lest I’m accused of being one of Asad’s shabbiha), but what Amal is doing here is taking an extreme view not very different from the one she’s criticizing. In this article, as well as in some of the previous ones, she refuses to even acknowledge that there’s an armed element to the opposition that’s not only used to protect civilians. She refuses to acknowledge that there are salafi and sectarian elements in the opposition who among other things openly called for killing or even extermination of Alawis, and she neither criticizes those elements directly, nor does she fault opposition groups such as the SNC, or the FSA for not distancing themselves from such voices. She refuses to acknowledge that outside forces are playing a dirty role in what’s happening in Syria (are we really to believe that US/NATO/Qatar/Saudi care about democracy or human rights in Syria), and never talks about the huge influence they have over the SNC and FSA; whether we call this a conspiracy or not, doesn’t change the fact that it’s there. She refuses to acknowledge that there are many Syrians (rightly or wrongly) who are against the fall of the regime, not because they necessarily support it, but because they don’t want the state to fall, and she in essence labels anyone who doesn’t hold her views as a shabbih.

Dirar Hakeem wrote on February 23, 2012 at 12:50 PM
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This article is all over the place. Not even individual paragraphs make sense.

It seems that the objective is to issue as many attacks on the Syrian regime as one could in the space provided.

Good. But serious readers do not need conclusions and attacks.

Incidentally, the black cloud of the intensity you show in the photograph arises from burnt petroleum products or rubber.

Oh, yes. I need to present my Certificate of Allegiance to the cause by hurling a few insults on the head of the Syrian regime... Nah! I am not bothered by this stupid checkpoint. I know who you are you are by what you call me - so, you can call me what you like.

Yousof Al-Aseer wrote on February 24, 2012 at 03:28 PM
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The short answer: and your point is?

The long one: these kinds of comments are the normal reaction from people who are willing to ignore the crimes of the regime that you're so "vehemently against." My "extreme view" in this piece was to take a closer look at how the Syrian revolution is delegitimized by the regime and its sympathetic media. Yes, I refuse to acknowledge most of what you mentioned because, either I don’t believe it’s relevant or its relevance diminishes considerably after we’ve witnessed residential areas of Homs being pounded with shells, rockets, and missiles launched by regime planes and tanks for the last 21 days. But, I never labeled anyone a shabbih, if anything I gave everyone who is chanting they are shabbiha in front of Bashar, the benefit of the doubt. I said they’re acting as if they were shabbiha, pretending to be something they are not. I placed them alongside the rest of us—everyone equally terrified of an entrenched, brutal regime. And there’s no one who’s "rightly" against the fall of the regime. Anyone who truly still supports the Assad regime must face the painful truth that they in turn support all of the regime's crimes. And that’s worse than being a shabbih.

Amal Hanano wrote on February 24, 2012 at 05:08 PM
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Assad will fall, no matter what happens. It is sad that his actions will lead to everyone being on the losing side in this war. Everyone will suffer.

Dirar Hakeem, Assad's actions leave Syrians and the world no choice but to confront him militarily. At this point, one cannot be "vehemently against the regime" as you say you are, and accept submission to it. It cannot happen, it will not happen, and anyone who thinks otherwise is being quite foolish. Individuals in the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the world don't necessarily care about democracy, but contrary to what you say they do care about human rights. They deserve thanks, and encouragement to do more against the regime (responsibly of course when possible).

Amal, thank you for your writing. Keep up the great work.

Atassi wrote on February 24, 2012 at 05:35 PM
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Yousof, I'm sorry you didn't understand the piece. Actually, I could have gone on about the regime's crimes for at least 8000 more lines... And yes, the black cloud is from the burning fuel in the exploded pipeline in Homs (destroyed by the regime, but they say it's a conspiracy). I forwarded your comment on the photograph to Omar Shakir, and he says: "Come to Baba Amr and see for yourself." (He said a lot more than that, but I'm keeping it simple for you.)

Atassi, thanks for your comment. You're right, Assad will fall, but the longer it takes, the more suffering there will be for all.

Amal Hanano wrote on February 24, 2012 at 08:12 PM
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Great article! I believe the problem is that the dictatorship and the sychophants that still worship at its feet in Syria and abroad are people of little vision. Hafez al Assad and his murderous band of bandits have been shown for what they are. People of no vision and just soviet style leaders, manipulating everyone to see Syria burn than step aside. Like a bad record they keep playing yet not even their supporters really want to keep hearing them. Why would they after all this time and yet still chant such silly chants. They are history except they just dont know it! I cannot believe some of the paid supportters of this regime who still think that Assad is their leader for life and all loyalty and fealty is to him. Can anyone in Syria hate politicians then like we do in the West? If I dont like my politician I dont expect them to feature everywhere on the TV, in the paper, on billboards looking scornfully at you and yet love that leader as though it were the face of my dear mother! These Assad supporters whether Alawis or Shia or Sunni are clearly suffering Stockholm syndrome when they wish to have a monotonous leadership comprised of one family who bring no plurality of voices which was captured beautifully by your article. This family of murderers feel they are the embodiment of Syria like a kingship and act with brazen impunity shelling homes and neighborhoods whilst cleaverly dumbfounded the critics and hamstrung the security council with their facade of conspiracy. This is like someone who patronises everyone else as being dunces fit to be divided and ruled through the confusion of conspiracy so their murderous acts are conceled and only the Family of Mafioso Al Assad can rule above them. In fact they hold nothing together, if they had moved Al Assad out another Alawi might have ruled in his place as a legitimate leader instead they will face an uncertain future. The Al Assad family are laughing at everyone the international press who they manipulate with a veneer of western propriety, the Sunni people as elements of discord and disunity, the Alawis of loss of importance and wealth. In fact they are exposed for what they are manipulators, liars and tyrants ready to kill to keep their daily bread the Syrian peoples blood! Horrible and disgusting display of naked ambition and lust for power!

Nadhim Mustafa wrote on February 25, 2012 at 06:04 PM
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Amal, I really don’t want to turn this into an argument between you and “the other side”, but your response seems to reinforce my point. I will just say I was referring what you’re NOT criticizing, not what are criticizing. I don’t think the objectives of the revolution will be served by ignoring those very relevant facts.

Driar Hakeem wrote on February 26, 2012 at 02:05 AM
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Dirar, I understand your point of view—upholding regional, long-term political predictions of what may happen in Syria and how it may affect the countries around it. The difference between us is that you defend those who may die in the unforeseeable future at the expense of those dying today. I can’t and won't make that choice.

Amal Hanano wrote on February 26, 2012 at 09:18 AM
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Amal,

Thanks for the clarification.

It didn't remove the incoherence and muddled-hotheadedness displayed in the article. But then, I now know you live on a different planet, and I do not usually feel inclined to read the messed up logic (let alone the translation) of the work of such characters, anyway!

Still, do not worry. The memory of Ibraheem Hanano will never be tarnished - not by a pipsqueak.

Yousof Al-Aseer wrote on February 26, 2012 at 01:03 PM
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Both Dirar and Yousof offer a critique that is off point, as I understand the message and import of what I thought was a tough but fair article about real propaganda and fabrication.

The two gentlemen maybe haven't yet read Amal's earler good pieces, but I tend to have misgivings when a critique takes no note of what the article in question put forth as its main points.

Every single 'pro-change' Syrian I have interacted with has little respect for the official organs of the Syrian state, specifically SANA, Addounia and SyTV.¸And all Amal does here is drive that point home with some tough reportage.

What Amal has done is show the actual paltry support for the charges made in offical media against a universal conspiracy. She is after the truth here, and set compelling criteria for truth.

The truth is that the most masterful propagandist and fabricator of them all is the forty-year regime, its directors, policy-makers, mouthpieces and official organs giving unswerving compliance with state media directives.

Thus, I do not understand why the two gentlemen could be so churlishh not to thank her for a strong article that hammered its point home.

Amal Hanano's regard for fact and disinclination to retail fabrication and deception is the mark of a good journalist, to my mind.

Of course the edge of some truths are painfully sharp. They separate us from our illusions and sometimes shock us. And so I understand at least a part of the consternation shown by Dirar and Yousof.

Please, Dirar , Yousof -- read it one more time while not insisting that Amal is purblind. She has excellent eyes, and provides you an excellent answer to a simple question: who is the biggest wolf of Syria. You will find yourself much more in agreement with her perspective and focus the second time around. I guarantee it.

I wish that you may be more peaceful in your hearts, brothers, and give way gracefully as misunderstanding give way to acceptance, and to a more patient engagement with the powerful voices of truth. Many like Amal live in Syria today, but she is able to acutely articulate and concentrate the visceral punch of reality in Syria today, the angers, the resentments and pains of injustice, even in strictest reporting format. This lady deserves applause for this work, not disdain or a critique without empathy or engagement.

As for you, Amal, these gentlemen may not yet appreciate your perspective and articles you have published to date on Jadaliyya, as at this moment they seem quite troubled by what you "refuse to acknowledge," whilst appearing relatively untroubled by regime lies, oppression, and a month of savage military aggression against its own people.

The biggest wolf, the biggest purse, the greatest liar, the largest deployer of armed gangs (of irregular militiamen), gents?

William Scott Scherk wrote on February 26, 2012 at 01:42 PM
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It's actually quite the contrary. You seem to be only concerned for those dying now at the hands of the regime. What I'm saying is that we should also be concerned for those who are unjustly dying now at the hands of some elements of the opposition, as well as those who could unnecessarily die in the future if we don't make sure the revolution is not derailed.

Dirar Hakeem wrote on February 26, 2012 at 11:24 PM
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Beşar esad now is a terrible tirnat and murderer we call it as nemrud or firavun. I am a person form TURKEY and we all Turkish people can not remain idle or silence while our innocent syrian brothers are being killed and slaughtered. Esad now shold leave Syria before his fate is to be as dictator Saddam or Qaddafi. We dont want any dictator to stay in power in our geography anymore.This lands had been a cradle of civillisation in history and will hopefully be so in the near future. Long live Syrian Revolution, Long Live Syrian Martyries

yusuf wrote on March 25, 2012 at 05:28 PM

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