The time of innocence has ended. During the Lebanese civil war we discovered that revolution is not pretty. And we watched as the romance of Che Guevara’s portrait faded, and the dreams of May 1968 turned into nightmares when they came into contact with reality.
Revolution is not a dream. It is a nightmare through which one passes.
I am still convinced of this truth even though it baffles me. I am more confused by the manner in which revolution can explode inside people. In a particular historical moment, revolution becomes the only choice. Marx was right when he said, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” But who can guarantee that we are not simply exchanging one set of chains for another?
But before arriving at results, a complex and problematic issue, there is the revolutionary path itself. And that is filled with blood and disappointment, missteps and the collapse of dreams.
The Arab revolutions gestured towards a truth that was not evident to all, namely that people do not embark on revolutions, but rather find themselves in them. Revolutions resemble acts of nature, like earthquakes and hurricanes. All we can do is join revolutions and deal with their consequences, searching for the right ideas that allow us to be done with them as quickly as possible. And our goal throughout is to return to what we call “normal life.”
We do not make revolutions. It is revolutions that make and shape us.
The Arab revolutions that exploded as a result of oppression and humiliation found themselves without leadership or ideology. This gave some — Gulf regimes, takfiri Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and the various militaries — an opportunity to seize the revolution and put it to use to serve their own purposes.
This is what has allowed a brutal regime like that of Bashar al-Assad to go on destroying Syria. The Assad Regime depends on a regional alliance that fears the specter of revolution spreading across the Gulf. As long as Gulf actors attempt to strike balances in the leadership struggles across the region, the authoritarian regime in Syria will receive the support it does.
Revolution as we are now living it, is sad and depressing and devoid of any romantic glow. This leaves us with two options. Either we wash the blood from our hands with more blood and claim we are innocent, or we go on defending humanistic values and do our best to stave off the collapse of society, resisting tyranny and the dictatorships of political Islam with all the words and deeds we have at our disposal.
The time of innocence has ended.
In Syria, Father Paolo is kidnapped and the people in al-Riqqah rise up against the tyranny of al-Qaeda and their ilk. In Cairo the Muslim Brotherhood decided to defend its power by turning Egypt into a bloodbath.
Innocence has ended. Al-Assad is a butcher, and the struggle against his tyranny is the struggle against all tyranny. The defense of human rights must begin with the defense of human life and dignity.
One of the ironies of fate is that the revolutionaries who are still remembered are those who perished making revolution rather not those whose revolutions triumphed. We remember the Paris Commune, not the Bolsheviks. We elegize Mayakovsky, not Gorky. We praise Guevara, not Castro. Rosa Luxemburg, not Stalin. The only thing that saved Arafat’s reputation was being poisoned in the end by the Israelis. What saved Nasser was the fact he died while trying to rebuild his defeated army.
In Aita al-sha‘b
Aita al-Sha‘b occupies a special place in Lebanese memory. It is where the war of July 2006 broke out. It is where the resistance drew a line of freedom with the blood of martyrs against the Israeli invasion.
I went to Aita the day that the ceasefire was announced. I was surrounded by streams of people returning to southern Lebanon after the Israeli brutality came to an end.
There, my heart grieved over homes that had been destroyed. I saw how the Hezbollah resisters created the legend of sumud — steadfastness. I saw how, through dying, they had defended life.
In marking the memory of 14 August this year, we took Hassan Nasrallah with us to Aita, and listened to him through the TV screen.
My innocent, naïve question was this: Why must a resisting Lebanese faction go to war to defend the authoritarian regime in Syria?
Why did a resistance, which had forced an unconditional Israeli withdrawal for the first time in the history of the conflict, have to participate in the Syrian regime’s war against its own people?
The question is naïve. It belongs to a time of innocence that has disappeared in the blood now flowing across the Arab Levant. It is a question that sinks into the quagmire of identity politics that grew out of the narrow sectarian politics of Lebanon and has become a more general politics throughout the Arab Levant.
The weakness of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon is also its strength. Its weakness is its religious identity in a country of diverse groups and schools of thought. The Islamic resistance is beholden to this identity and limited by it. It is unable to address society at large. But this weakness has always been its strength. First, because it brought scraps of ideology that could fill the vacuum left by the collapse of nationalist and the leftist projects. Second, because it allowed for a firm alliance with Iran, who supplied it with weapons, money, and training.
This is the complicated mixture of weakness and strength that made it a player in the struggle of identities in the Levant and Iraq and shifted its primary conflict from a conflict with Israel to an internal conflict in the heart of Syria.
Can we ask, in an innocent voice, for Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria?
No, we cannot, it seems. We could have asked that back in the time of innocence. But that era has been torn to shreds.
Did innocence ever exist?
I mourn innocence as if it had once been with us. But it is unclear if innocence ever existed in the first place. Most likely, innocence is a figment of literary or cultural imagination, nothing more.
When I met Iranian refugees in Berlin last year, I remembered facts that had been wiped out by the eraser of history. I saw pictures of thousands of leftist prisoners — men and women — who were executed to the cheers of the Iranian revolution.
No, innocence never existed. The decline of Arab regional media is clear proof of this. There are no media outlets today, only weapon systems clashing amidst a sea of blood.
Were the satellite channels, who have made us forget their freedom, ever really free?
And how does someone who is free become a slave? How does someone become a mouthpiece?
We mourn innocence in order to guard ourselves against the brutality of history. We try to return to an era of ideals so as to keep ourselves from admitting that our idealism was itself a deception.
This does not mean that we must retreat from the morass of history. Rather it means we must recognize that our defense of values cannot be innocent. It must be part of a social-political vision. Otherwise, its innocence becomes naiveté, and its defense of values becomes an insult.
[This article originally appeared in Arabic in al-Quds al-Arabi on 19 August, 2012. It was translated by Spencer Scoville.]