Forum on Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy

On June 6, I moderated a panel discussion in Chicago on Yassin al-Haj Saleh‘s momentous book The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy. The event was presented by Haymarket Books, the volume’s North American publisher (it’s published in the UK and worldwide by Hurst). The panelists were Wendy Pearlman, author of We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria; Lina Sergie Attar, co-founder of the Karam Foundation; Firas Aladai, director of the film Winter; Sarah Hunaidi, an activist and co-host of the Hummus for Thought podcast; and Behzad Tehrani with Haymarket Books. The discussion starts a few minutes into the video. Sorry for the uneven audio quality. Turn the volume up!

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Arab Revolution: It happened before, it’ll happen again

Palestinian intellectual Iyad el-Baghdadi spoke at the first Oslo Freedom Forum in Johannesburg on why the Arab Spring failed to produce tangible results, but also how Arab youth are the most educated and informed age group in the history of the Middle East, and his hope for future democratic movements in the region.

Are there really “no good guys” in Syria?

A version of this article first appeared in The New Arab

Following the Syrian regime’s recent chemical attack on Douma, US, Britain and France took swift but symbolic action to destroy three chemical weapons facilities. The action was not universally lauded. For Syrians it was too little too late; for isolationists and “anti-imperialists”, the 15,201st US airstrike on Syria since September 2014 was a “dangerous escalation” in a war where there were “no good guys”.

“There are no good guys”—or “everyone is equally bad”—has become a trope used by many otherwise decent people to absolve themselves of moral guilt for being bystanders to injustice. (The indecent on the other hand pronounce Assad the “lesser evil”, if not outright supporting him). The trope relies on a disciplined will to ignorance, unreasonable doubt, and manufactured uncertainty. It has been aided by a post-truth paranoia where cynicism passes for scepticism and all inconvenient facts expire into a haze of competing claims. “We can’t really know”!

But are facts really that elusive? And is it really impossible to tell good from bad?

Syria in fact is the most closely observed conflict in history, every aspect of which has been investigated, researched, filmed, documented, and reported on. The picture that emerges is not equivocal. In the judgment of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the war in Syria the regime is responsible for “the crimes against humanity of extermination; murder; rape or other forms of sexual violence; torture; imprisonment; enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts”.

Let us now look at the balance of atrocities.

Continue reading “Are there really “no good guys” in Syria?”

Disagreeing on the Internet: The New McCarthyism?

Originally published at Muftah on December 19, 2016.
What if the United States carried out daily bombing raids in a foreign country for over two years, killing hundreds of innocent men, women, and children as part of its ever expanding, never ending War on Terror? And what if those most performatively opposed to U.S. intervention had little or nothing to say about it?

These questions, alas, are not hypothetical: they accurately describe the position of much of the ostensibly anti-imperialist left on Syria today. These leftists present themselves as the most righteously anti-war—their critics are all described as warmongers—while they foolishly run cover for actual imperialism, as typified by writer Fredrik deBoer in his November 2016 piece for Current Affairs.

DeBoer’s article, entitled “1953—2002—2016: Syria and the Reemergence of McCarthyism,” would have us believe that the new new McCarthyism is defined by social media attacks from an irrationally interventionist left (“do they not remember Iraq?”) on dissident journalists like AlterNet’s Max Blumenthal and Twitter’s Rania Khalek. Their sin, according to deBoer, is not apologism for President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions of others, but simply opposing “a coming conflict in Syria.”

Continue reading “Disagreeing on the Internet: The New McCarthyism?”

You aren’t antiwar if you aren’t anti-Assad’s war

by Anton Mukhamedov

Following the joint US-UK-French strikes at the facilities associated with Syrian government’s chemical weapons programme on April 16, 2018, the international left needs to be in a position to ask tough questions about the steps the global powers are ready to take in order to prevent further civilian suffering in a country devastated by a brutal war, which the West has done nearly nothing to stop.

Unfortunately, deaf to the calls for transnational solidarity with the Syrian civil society, even as Syrian civilians have been fighting against both Assad and Islamist extremists, many figures associated with the anti-war movement have instead been preaching a kind of isolationism reminiscent of the times of the America First Committee.

Against a red-brown alliance

A month ago, a piece published by the Southern Poverty Law Center depicted a political scene ripe for barely hidden collaborations between the far right and a fraction of the Western left, such as the American ANSWER coalition or Party for Socialism and Liberation embracing similar foreign policy talking points as white nationalists. The author described a surprising connection over Syria, mediated by movements such as the Hands Off Syria coalition and think-tanks (inspired by a Russian fascist ideology going by the name of “Eurasianism”), all sharing the same affinity for Russian military intervention in Syria. Soon enough, the piece—written by Portland State University lecturer and fascism expert Alexander Reid Ross—was retracted due to a litigation threat issued by one of the actors mentioned in the article.

Continue reading “You aren’t antiwar if you aren’t anti-Assad’s war”

What is next for Syria?

Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar moderates a panel on seven years of the Syrian revolution featuring the great Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Thomas Pierret and Kristin Helberg.

The 18th of March 2011, marked the first sparkle of the Syrian Revolution against one of the most brutal totalitarian regimes in the region. But few months after the country entered dark phases of civil and proxy wars. The writer and political dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar, and Syrian writer and journalist Yasmine Merei, hosted group of Syrian and European experts and writers to discuss Syria’s complicated present and ambiguous future.

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In Harasta, force overpowers freedom—for now

by Fadi Dayoub

Today we are at the end of a story that is more than five-year-old.

A bittersweet story for sure, but one that saw people reach and touch the dream, even if they did not get to experience its full potential.

Only six months ago, we were debating what’s next for Harasta. We had just concluded the direct elections of a local council, a process that upheld electoral standards within our means–we even had debates among the candidates.

Harasta, to be fair, was not the first to lead the way with direct elections of a local council; Saqba did it only a month before.

And so, we were discussing what our next step should be. How to work with the council to increase the participation rate in the next elections, particularly that of women. We decided that the ‘Center for Social Engagement”–which was established a few months prior and had taken part in overseeing the elections in Harasta producing a detailed report–should focus on encouraging higher electoral turnout.

We did not know at the time those would be the last elections in Harasta…

Harasta today, as those who remain there tell us, is almost completely destroyed. Part of its people has been made, under fire, to leave and go north. They wanted to still be able to smell free air, even if away from home. Another part decided to stay back, even deprived of their basic freedoms.

A few days ago, several hundred people in Kafr Batna were filmed demonstrating, chanting “We do not want Freedom anymore!” They, thus, agreed to the trade the regime had asked of them: Their Liberty for their Life.

And so, as some Harastans choose to let go of their freedom, while others choose to let go of their homes, remember that none of this was actually their choice. They made their decision at gunpoint.

Today, as we turn the page on the five-year story of Free Harasta, I only hope for the safety and well-being of its people, wherever they are, and wherever they are made to be. We bow our heads to you in humility and we raise them with pride.