[See Part II here]
After four years of killing and mayhem, the truth remains that there are no easy answers in Syria. What might appear to be natural liberal solutions are not only lacking in realism, but are also embedded in half-baked world views about freedom, justice, development, international relations, and even human dignity—contested as some these terms might be. No consequential camp or political actor approximates the pure. No camp is immune to faults, even to despicable behavior. Those groups who escape that harsh realism—the heroic Syrian men and women who keep life moving on a daily basis outside the confines of militarism, violence, and blind partisanship—are often marginalized and forgotten, even as they carry the remains of the country forward. These stalwart and unknown individuals who are keeping Syria ticking, under the bombs, the knives, and the onslaught of international solutions and talks; they are the future of a Syria that continues to burn, while ultimate beneficiaries look on feigning non- or constructive involvement. The global media do not pay much attention to them, parties to the conflict attempt to manipulate them, and many observers often deny their existence lest it emerges that there are actually people in Syria who are disgusted with, or have grown indifferent to, the regime and possibly all its able alternatives, and are waiting for such time when they can actually rebuild their country and usher in life anew.
Meanwhile, the near paralysis many feel regarding the incessant “what is to be done” type of questions is both real and objectionable. Recognizing the real culprit, at least for those who appreciate the history of repression in Syria prior to 2011, might be cathartic. However, it is no longer satisfying or meaningful, especially that competitors are emerging, even if with shorter resumés. The grim realities on the ground, the inextricable relations and strategic intrigue that turn the people’s foe into a partner as well as the people’s defenders into accomplices of external powers, and the absence of any reasonably clear exit scenario or horse to bet on leaves the thoughtful in despair, as unacceptable as that temporary fate is.
Even the “lesser evil” argument is diluted in a context where “lesser” is often like splitting hairs. An egalitarianism of “evil” is triumphing instead. One might assume that the senselessness and banality of violence that is tearing apart more than the bodies of human beings via knives and barrel bombs must run out of steam, reach an end. But such logics and rationalism belong in the moral and ethical realms of which this conflict, and the world of interests, is bereft.
Any formal assessment of players involved on all sides within Syria, with or without their patrons, leads many an informed observer to various degrees of despair, amid a power and territorial stalemate that is taking hold, building facts on the ground, like despicable illegal settlements just to the south of Syria. And time marches on to make space and repulsiveness ever more real.
Outside Syria, conferences and workshops galore punt around the fate of Syrians like ping-pong balls; high-powered scenario-building schemes treat people like objects in video games; and even human rights efforts are often motivated by guilt rather than responsibility, or carried out by the most unlikely actors whose connection to Syria is driven more by funding than mission. Differentially or not, many of us are guilty of one of these or similar acts. Helplessness makes us clumsy and compromises our judgment and collective resolve—for now. Chaos and misery rule in a country where half its population has been displaced and at least one percent has been killed, the proportional equivalent of more than three million US citizens. Most disturbing in this recent year has been the increasing indifference with which this mayhem has been met by populations in the region and beyond.
Writing this in Beirut, a stone’s throw away from raging battlefields and the squalor of refugee camps, this is easy to affirm as life moves on. But then again, what are people to do? Who to cry for? Who to lobby? Who to attack? In a setting where nearly everyone is cursed, ironically, no one emerges as the problem whose disappearance would constitute a panacea.
. . .
There are no easy answers in Syria. How will it end? What is an “end?” Is it the beginning of another reconstructed patriarchal, neoliberal, barely camouflaged repressive nation-state?
[To be continued]