‘Our Anger is Boundless’: Syrian Artists and Intellectuals Condemn Imperialism

demonstration
‘Demonstration’ by Tammam Azzam

150 of Syria’s brightest thinkers (names listed at the end) condemn the “nihilistic murderers and terrorists” behind the counter-revolutionary Russian-American ‘war on terror’ in their country. They lament the “decisions that violate our right to self-determination, as individuals and groups but also as a nation.” English version originally published at the Nation.

We the undersigned are democratic and secular Syrian writers, artists, and journalists who have opposed the tyrannical Assad regime for years, even decades. We are participants in the struggle for democracy and justice in our country, our region and in the world. We unreservedly, and in the strongest language, condemn the Russian and US approach of intervening in our internal Syrian affairs. At least since 2013, these two powers have been working to co-opt the Syrian liberation struggle under the rubric of the “war against terror.” This is a war that has failed to score a single success since its outset, and has led instead to the destruction of a number of countries.

Three years ago the two imperialist nations signed a reprehensible deal on chemical weapons that resolved a problem for the United States, Israel, and Russia, and even for the Assad regime, which had just murdered 1,466 of its subjects. The deal however did not resolve any of the problems facing the Syrian people. Rather it gave free rein to an extremely criminal regime that kills Syrians, destroys their villages and communities, and drives them into exile. The deal has also proved to be a priceless gift to Islamist nihilistic groups like Daesh and Jabhat an-Nusra. Three years into this contemptible deal—with the death count now at around half a million Syrians—Russians and Americans have agreed to freeze the current situation so that the two military powers can carry on their endless war against terror. The agreement remains silent on the untold number of detainees held in brutal conditions, and includes no call for lifting the blockade on besieged areas, or the withdrawal of Iran, the Hezbollah militia, or any other sectarian militia. It is also devoid of any reference to the concept of a new and democratic Syria. Nor are the warplanes of Bashar al-Assad restrained from bombing areas that will ultimately be the subject of a later agreement between Russia and the United States. Not only does this show complete lack of a moral sense of justice on the part of the Russian and American negotiating teams, it also exposes the degradation of politics and the lowly level of officials in the two most powerful nations in the world today.

Our feelings of anger over these agreements and their authors know no bounds. And we reject them absolutely. We are also disappointed in the United Nations, angered that, as was recently revealed, it has been financing the criminal oligarchy of Assad and his cronies throughout their war against the Syrians.

As Syrian writers, artists, and journalists, we see the world today heading toward an unprecedented numbing of ethics. Levels of fear and hatred escalate in parallel with the increasing visibility of politicians who invest in the same feelings of fear, hatred, and isolationism. We see democracy in retreat around the world, while surveillance, control, and fear are rife and advancing. We do not believe that our fate is defined by these conditions, but rather that these are a result of dangerous choices taken by dangerous political elites, and that we must work together to voice our opposition to them, right now and wherever we may be.

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FSA Statement on the US-Russia Syria Deal

freesyriaThis is reposted from the excellent “The Eternal Spring”. (See also this post on Free Army fighters removing US troops from northern Syria).

Syrian Arab Republic
The Free Syrian Army

Statement regarding the proposed truce as part of the US-Russian agreement

The false proponents of justice and freedom and the ‘guardians’ of human rights and democracy continue to insist on trading with the tragedy of the Syrian people and their corpses, taking from the Nakba [catastrophe] and ordeal of this poor population an arena for their competition and struggles for influence and interests, and a tinged road on whose sides drip the blood of the innocents in order to achieve some gains and ambitions, laying beneath their feet all of the meanings of justice and humanity and leaving behind their backs the demands for dignity and freedom.

Subsequently, a few days ago we received details of the /US-Russian/ agreement concerning a ceasefire to hostilities and a general truce in Syria accompanied by the entering of humanitarian assistance into the besieged neighbourhoods of the city of Aleppo, and after a careful study of those clauses and an in-depth reading of the whole of the internal and external challenges and the humanitarian and military realities on the ground and the complex political scene, the factions of the Syrian revolution view it as necessary upon itself to clarify to its people before anyone else the host of reservations it has with regards to this dry and unjust agreement:

– Firstly: The incredible humanitarian tragedy that our people and families are subjected to have always placed at the head of our priorities the necessity to improve the humanitarian situation of the rebelling Syrian people and especially in the liberated areas, and proceeding from this feeling of responsibility we have always taken care to evaluate international initiatives and truce proposals that are presented to us so long as they do not compromise any of the revolution’s fundamentals and its higher interests.

– Secondly: With our assiduous commitment to alleviate the burdens off our families we are nonetheless also assiduous in avoiding quick and temporary gains which are faced with certain dangers which will have a negative effect in the long run, such as some of the truces that may stop the bombardment and barrel bombs for a few days or allow the entry of limited quantities of food and medicine in exchange for hazarding the future of the revolution and losing strategic points and locations to the regime of criminality and its allies.

– Thirdly: The international unwillingness and indeed impotence to take any effective measures that can stop this massacre or ease the weight of the bombardment and siege of our people is no longer a secret, meaning that the only option remaining to us is to rely on our lord first and then on our self-capacities and the justice of our cause second, and to proceed in our battle against the regime and its allies until the last bullet in our rifles and the last fighter from our heroes.

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The Prison

blinding-absence-of-lightThis article about Arab prison writing was published at the National.

From ‘Prisoner Cell Block H’ to ‘Orange is the New Black’, prison dramas fill the Anglo-Saxon screen. In the Arab world, you’re more likely to see them on the news. In recent months, for example, detainees of the Syrian regime have staged an uprising in Hama prison and been assaulted in Suwayda prison.

No surprise then that contemporary Arab writing features prisons so prominently, sometimes as setting, more often as powerful metaphor.

“About My Mother”, the latest novel by esteemed Moroccan writer Taher Ben Jelloun (who writes in French), is an affectionate but unromantic portrait of his parent trapped by incoherence. The old lady suffers dementia, mistaking times, places and people, but there is a freedom in her long monologues, the flow of memory and shifting scenes, torrents of speech which eventually infect the narration.

The novel is family memoir and social history as well as an experiment with form. Jelloun’s mother was married thrice, and widowed first at sixteen. At the first wedding, the attendants presenting the bride chorus: “See the hostage. See the hostage.”

Fettered by tradition and domestic labour, now by illness and age, she responds with superstition, fatalism and resignation. Her own confinement is echoed by memories of national oppression, first by the French, then by homegrown authorities. She learns to mistrust the police even before her son Taher’s student years are interrupted by eighteen months in army disciplinary camp, punishment for his low-level political activism. “That’s what a police state is,” the adult writes, “arbitrary punishment, cruelty and barbarity.”

Yet the ultimate prison here is death, frailly resisted by language and dreams.

Jelloun has also written about prison as a lived experience. His 2001 ‘non-fiction novel’ “This Blinding Absence of Light” is loosely based on the actual testimony of Aziz Binebine, refigured here as ‘Salim’. Salim “became ageless on the night of July 10th 1971”. In this historical respect his story is somewhat representative of the many who disappeared from sight as the Arab security states consolidated themselves in the early 70s.

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National Liberation War

sadiran
Mourning in Iran for a general killed in Syria

An edited version of this article was first published at the New Arab.

Because the Iran Iraq war was followed by an endless succession of conflicts, we forget its foundational horror. Killing at least a million, burning entire cities, and propelling identity politics towards its current fascistic heights, it was the region’s equivalent of World War One.

Iraq started the war. Exploiting Iran’s mid-revolution weakness, Iraqi forces invaded, seeking to annex Khuzestan province. Had Saddam Hussein been a leader interested in safeguarding civil and national rights, Iranian oppression of Khuzestan’s Ahwazi Arabs might have provided justication. But Saddam was a tyrant who oppressed Iraq’s Arabs just as much, and his prime concern was the province’s oil wealth. His brutal aggression included raining poisonous gas on Iranian cities.

No-one can fault the Iranians for the passion of their response. Gulf, Western and Soviet support for Iraq’s war understandably exacerbated the Iranian sense of victimhood which persists, and clouds so many minds, until today. After a certain point, however, the Iranian war lost its defensive character. Khomeini rejected a 1982 truce offer from a chastened Saddam, determined to fight on until Iran occupied the Shia holy cities of southern Iraq. This never happened, but war conditions helped Khomeini neutralise Iran’s revolutionary energies and firmly establish his own rule. The war dragged on for another six years.

Trench warfare followed the same grim routine as it had at Flanders and the Somme. Every day hundreds of boys surged from their defenses and were cut down by enemy fire. Some accuse the Iranian regime of distributing plastic ‘keys to paradise’ for the conscripts to wear around their necks. It seems more likely that a prayer book entitled “Keys to Paradise” was handed out. Whatever the truth, the Iranian leadership’s attitude to these men’s lives was as callous as that of the aristocratic British officers who sent wave after wave of working class men ‘over the top’ to their deaths.

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Why Assad Can’t Win

putinassad

This is fascinating. Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and other commentators dressed up as reporters tell us the only coherent force in Syria is the Syrian ‘government’ and its army, and that the Free Army doesn’t exist. Here a Russian imperialist officer, addressing his own, explains that the Syrian army is only good for extortion, that it can’t recruit any more fighters, and that the Free Army and Islamist resistance far outweighs it in morale and combat ability. He concludes that a victory for Assad is impossible, and that Russia should therefore pull out. Original text here.

The following is a translation of a scathing article on the state of the Syrian Arab Army that appeared in an online outlet Gazeta.ru, which is Kremlin-controlled but sometimes critical of the Russian authorities online. The author is a retired Russian officer with 8 years of experience working in the General Staff and 5 years as an editor of an established military magazine. The article, originally titled “It would be easier to disband the Syrian army and recruit a new one”, mirrors the emerging Syria fatigue sentiments in the Russian military circles and reportedly was confirmed by a serving Russian colonel, who added “Everything is like it’s written but worse”. The expert notably omits mentioning regime war crimes even when describing the use of barrel bombs. Throughout the text, he calls Syrian rebels “militants” and “illegal armed groups” — terms widely used by Russian military and media to describe Chechen fighters during the wars. This anti-rebel stance perhaps lends even more credibility to the author’s assessment of their capabilities versus those of the SAA.

While militias, Iranian volunteers, Hezbollah and PMCs fight in lieu of the Syrian army, Bashar Assad’s soldier busy themselves with collecting bribes at checkpoints. This view becomes more and more widespread among military experts aware of the actual situation in Syria. The country’s air force is worn down and uses home-made bombs, the soldiers dig moats to protect from terrorists’ tunnels, while the militants enjoy tactical and moral superiority, says Mikhail Khodarenok, Gazeta.ru’s military observer.

The pro-government forces are likely to capture the city of Aleppo soon. However, it remains doubtful if this will bring the end of the Syrian war closer. In Middle Eastern wars, there is no single building to plant a flag on that would make the enemy surrender unconditionally.

Indeed, it is quite hard to say which side is currently winning the military conflict. Bashar al-Assad, the president of the Syrian Arab Republic, still does not control about half the country’s territory and a majority of towns and villages.

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Syrian Dust: An Overview of Books

syriaThis review of books on Syria, mainly of Francesca Borri’s ‘Syrian Dust’, was published at the National.

…if you only talk about those who are fighting, any revolution becomes a war.” – Francesca Borri

For a long time very little was published on Syria in English. Patrick Seale’s useful but hagiographic “Assad: the Struggle for Syria” was the best known. Hanna Batatu’s classic “Syria’s Peasantry and their Politics” and Raymond Hinnebusch’s “Revolution from Above” were valuable academic studies of the Hafez-era state.

Over the last five years of revolution and war, several shelf loads of books have appeared. Many are sensationalist, cashing in on the latest terrorism scare. But several are of very high standard. Bente Scheller’s “The Wisdom of Syria’s Waiting Game”, for instance, is an excellent analysis of Assadist pre-revolution foreign policy. Thomas Pierret’s “Religion and State in Syria” is an indispensable resource on the social roles of the Islamic scholars in the same period.

Novelist Samar Yazbek’s “Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution” is the best account of the revolution’s early months, though “Revolt in Syria” by Stephen Starr, an Irish journalist then resident in Damascus, comes close. Jonathan Littell, author of the remarkable WW2 novel “The Kindly Ones” wrote “Syrian Notebooks” after spending two weeks of 2012 in besieged Homs. Marwa al-Sabouni’s well-received “The Battle for Home” gives a Syrian architect’s perspective on the destruction (and potential rebuilding) of the city.

Charles Lister’s masterful “The Syrian Jihad” is not only the best guide to the various Islamist groups operating in Syria, it also explains and contextualises their rise. Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan’s “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror” is an accessible summary of the organisation’s history and modus operandi. “Jihad Academy” is French journalist Nicolas Henin’s thoughtful account of ISIS captivity.

And three recent books, beneficial in very different ways, provide insider views from outsider women.

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Committees, Councils and Cultural Production

Omar Aziz
Omar Aziz

In this presentation on Syria – in green Seattle’s public library  – Leila al-Shami talks about Razan Zeitouneh, founder of the Local Coordination Committees, and Omar Aziz, the anarchist who first thought of building local councils. And I talk about the revolution’s cultural and media achievements. Interesting questions from the audience afterwards.