For the past several weeks in Beirut, I have been inundated with emails and comments from colleagues and observers about developments in Syria. The same goes for Jadaliyya’s coverage. Why, the question goes, is coverage thin on Syria? I am also asked by the kinder variety if I am afraid of something, or if I am avoiding something. These questions come from the left and center-right, from proponents of the opposition(s) and their detractors. Often, they assume that writing on Syria today really matters, irrespective of whether there is something significant to say; and irrespective of the locale of those of us not too close to the scene, which makes much of our writing polemical, grand-standing, and positional in nature, rather than meaningful. There is certainly something to say about Syria, but much of what one may write at this point seems undramatic and perhaps unnecessary. And there is always a set of rather refined questions about the writer, their role as educator, pontificator, public intellectual (self-styled and otherwise), academic, journalist, spy, infiltrator, policy-maker, policy wonk, agitator etc. What is one’s relationship to the subject matter and how productive are we, if at all? Most importantly, to whom are we as writers accountable? (these questions merit a separate post or even a roundtable).
After incessant nudges and badgering, a few words are in order, if only because the agony and human tragedy that is Syria is increasingly astounding.
What should one write about—again? [see list of articles by the author below]
Should one write about how the Asad regime is brutal, and has been for decades, and that it is primarily responsible for whatever state of affairs Syria is in? Should one write about how the uprising was initially peaceful and was radicalized first by the regime’s response and later by various forms of problematic external support? Should one write about the transformation of the uprising from a call for accountability and basic freedoms into a militant affair at the expense of its other dimensions . . . how it was transformed from a call for democracy—broadly speaking—to a regional and international affair that aimed to redraw the map of the region according to this or that hegemony/domination axis (usually, for brevity, of “West-Gulf-Israel”)? Should one write about how many Syrian “revolutionaries” are not so revolutionary and quite anti-revolutionary in all senses of the word?
Should one write about the cohesion of the Syrian regime at the top and debate again whether it was a function of pure sectarianism or a more complex set of factors that cannot be reduced to that? Should one write about the stifling public life in Syria that produced an always already fragmented and uninitiated opposition? Should one write about how this state of affairs, also caused by the regime’s repression of any alternative political voice or grouping, was further manipulated by countries like Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia to serve non-Syrian interests, erroneously assuming the regime’s speedy fall? Should one write about how these countries’ desire to steer and lure the usually willing parts of the opposition undermined collective action across all opposition groups and undercut coordination between the external and internal opposition? Should one write about the consequences (intended and unintended) of supporting certain strands/dimensions of the internal opposition which came back to scare some of its sponsors because of their obscurantist radicalism?
Should one write about the dominance of takfiris (jihadis(ts) in off-mark English-speak) and their disproportionate presence on the front lines of the fighting battalions? And how this created further rifts among the opposition (in part because of their exclusionary approach), and a huge gap between the original sentiments behind the uprising and the current intense (if not ubiquitous) theocratic sentiments? And should one write yet again to debunk those who reduce everything about the Syrian uprising to the likes of Jabhat al-Nusrah, as though the uprising is mutating naturally into al-Qa`idah types as an expression of its original sentiment, not as an empirical response to mayhem largely brought about by the regime—which, nearly always, brings problematic external players to exacerbate the problem.
What should one write about?
Should one write once again about the debate of whether the peaceful track might have worked better, and about the detractors of this view who see militarization as inevitability not choice? Should one write anew about the perils of international military intervention? Should one write about why most external actors have ceased to consider Syria an urgent matter and how letting, urging, exacerbating, and/or watching the fighting brew became a strategy that exhausts all parties to make them ripe for an exit to their liking? And how this strategy is obsessed with creating and calibrating some “balance” in order to dictate or spur next steps, and how such steps invariably correspond specifically with the interests of those (usually Israel and the United States and their local allies) who want to see the military, infrastructural, and relational capabilities of Syria depleted?
Should one write about the debate between those who only see an external conspiracy and those who do not consider at all the impact of regional elements and factors? Should one write about how for many parties to the conflict this is about breaking the non-conformist axis of Syria-Iran-Hizballah as the most active resistance to US-Israeli hegemony in the Arab region?
Or should one write about how, nonetheless, Syrians are paying the price of all these calculations and politico-military monsters? Should we write anew about the unending pain and tragedy befalling Syrians on a daily basis, including the dramatic increase in refugees who are stranded and malnourished? Should one write about the numbers debate, is it seventy thousand or one hundred and twenty thousand dead?
Should we write about the Qatari and Saudi media and their impact, with ample help form the Syrian regime, on the sectarianization of the conflict, and how each party assumed that this strategy will solidify “its” side more to forge ahead with vengeance? Should one write about the Alawis as though all other parties are not sectarian, and about Sunnis as though the past forty years in Syria privileged them proportionately within the Syrian state? Should one write about the amnesiac accounts of those who point to Alawi solidarity (`asabiyyah) as though the pre-1958 history of Syria did not see urban Sunni establishment communities subjugate the countryside and its minorities (especially Alawis) for decades and more?
Should one write once again about the neoliberalism of the Syrian regime and its political dealings with the west when it suited its survival—and nothing else? Should we talk about how the army and reservoir of discontent in Syria has of late been the strongest in the countryside—the irony is astounding—because the regime and its neoliberal economic networks have increasingly neglected and marginalized those areas for more than two decades? Should one write about how Syria’s political economic policies increasingly trampled on the average Syrian citizen since the early 1990s, and increasingly left them bereft of the last economic lines of defense after decreasing subsidies in the wake of the establishment of the Social Market Economy in 2005?
What should one write about?
Should one write about the politico-cultural disasters of the oil-rich-Arab Gulf states whose much valued aspiration is to satisfy western powers, with the hypocritical United States at the helm, so that the latter may guarantee their security under changing circumstances? And should one write about how this dynamic comports with Israeli colonial interests not only in subduing any semblance of resistance, but also normalizing ethnic cleansing in the absence of any opposing powers worth their salt? Should one write about how such narratives and rudimentary interests cannot be discounted as we witness the development of the conflict in Syria, which now includes the problematic and thoroughly odd participation of Hizballah in it? Should one write about Hizballah’s intervention as equivalent to the thousands of foreign fighters that swarm Syria? Or should one write about the disappointment with Hizballah’s decision and its increasingly irreversible impact on its future as a resistance force with broad appeal regionally and globally?
Should one write about how the Syrian uprising remarkably spun out of control that the definition of winning or losing is no longer graspable, for any party involved? Should one write about the unfolding layers of this human tragedy as though “principle” matters more than human beings, or vice versa?
Should one write once again about all the above?
Maybe we should, if only because many others are incessantly repeating problematic narratives that require reminders and debunking at the expense of repetition. Romanticizing the uprising despite the ugliness of significant parts of the “revolution” or denying its original legitimacy in favor solely of pointing to external conspiracies do not serve Syria, the Syrian people, or the peoples of the region. But these poles continue to dominate the discursive sphere. Both tendencies continue to reveal the increasing distance between current writing and the relatively purer early period, as well as the increasing distance between nearly all writers and the multitude of developments on the ground because of knowledge limitations.
At the risk of sounding like a broken and dull record . . . one may, I assume, write something, though none of this will reduce or even limit the pain of Syrians and a Syria that is being gradually eroded, with its good and bad.
Select Articles on Syria, on Jadaliyya, by the Author
“Perpetual Recalculation: Getting Syria Wrong Two Years On”
“The Triumph and Irrelevance of Meta-Narratives Over Syria”
“As Syria Free-Falls . . . A Return to the Basics: Some Structural Causes (Part 2)”
As Syria Free-Falls . . . A Return to the Basics (Part 1)
“Hizballah, Development, and the Political Economy of Pain: For Syria, What is “Left” (Part 3-Final)”
“The End of Taking the Syrian Revolution at Face Value”
“US on UN Veto: ‘Disgusting’, ‘Shameful’, ‘Deplorable’, ‘a Travesty’…Really?”
“The Idiot’s Guide to Fighting Dictatorship in Syria While Opposing Military Intervention.” Jadaliyya (20 Jan 2012).
“The Plot Thickens: Ghalyoun’s ‘Ill-Conceived’ Statements in the WSJ Interview”
“Religion/Morality, Syria/Resistance: For Syria, What is ‘Left?’ (Part 2)”
“For Syria, What is ‘Left?’ (Part 1)”
“Why Syria is not Next…so far” [With Arabic Translation]
[preceding the uprising]
“The Predicament of Independent Opposition (Part 1)”