The Syrian Revolution and the Project of Autonomy

What follows is a series of variations on Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s observation that “Syria is a metaphor for a global crisis of representation.” It describes aspects of the present situation of the Syrian revolution, a process of tremendous strength and courage that has been rendered almost illegible in the West. It also looks from the present to possible futures, which are necessarily speculative, in order to pose three questions for discussion.

By Stephen Hastings-King

Note: This is a revised version of a presentation I made at Hamisch, the Syrian Cultural House in Istanbul, on October 16, 2015. I would like to thank the comrades of Hamisch for their hospitality and for the chance to make something new. Then as now, my hope is to contribute to a widening of conversations about the Syrian revolution and the ways in which the struggles of the Syrian people are interconnected with global struggles for basic human dignity.

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Where I am from there is no political future. There is only repetition of the same. The present is a ubiquitous horizon. Only the details will vary.

Where I am from the future has been privatized. People worry about their children.

We need to make new significations, ways of thinking beyond the horizon of the present.

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What follows is a series of variations on Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s observation that “Syria is a metaphor for a global crisis of representation.” It describes aspects of the present situation of the Syrian revolution, a process of tremendous strength and courage that has been rendered almost illegible in the West. It also looks from the present to possible futures, which are necessarily speculative, in order to pose three questions for discussion. Continue reading “The Syrian Revolution and the Project of Autonomy”

Syria Speaks on Tour

left to right: Khalil, me and Khaled. photo by Khalil.
left to right: Khalil, me and Khaled. photo by Khalil.

This was published at the National

For a week in June, Syrian writers and artists toured England, giving readings and workshops to promote “Syria Speaks: Art and Culture From the Frontline”, a book reflecting the country’s new revolutionary culture. British-Syrian novelist Robin Yassin-Kassab describes the experience.

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In Bradford we met a woman who had tried as hard as she could to forget she was Syrian. We didn’t discover her original trauma, but we heard its symptoms over a British-Pakistani curry. She hadn’t spoken Arabic for years, and never told anyone where she was from. Once a policeman detained her for an hour because she refused to tell him her origin.

In Bristol, on the other hand, we met a little old woman who, with her red hair and flowery dress, we might have mistaken for English. But she was a Damascene, and she wept when I read a description of her city. Afterwards she came to introduce herself. “I’ve lived in England for thirty years, and I didn’t realise until the revolution that I had a fear barrier inside. Then I noticed I’d never talked about Syria. I’d tried not to even think about it. But those brave youths gave me courage; they gave me back my identity and my freedom.”

So the Syrian revolution is alive and well in Bristol if not in Bradford, for this is where the revolution happens first, before the guns and the political calculations, before even the demonstrations – in individual hearts, in the form of new thoughts and newly unfettered words. Syria was once known as a ‘kingdom of silence’ in which public discourse was irretrievably devalued by enforced lip-service to the regime and its propaganda pieties. As a result, many Syrians describe their first protest as an ecstatic event, a kind of rebirth. In “Syria Speaks”, Ossama Mohammed’s story “The Thieves’s Market” concerns a woman who attends the state’s official demonstrations, until her friend is murdered for participating in an oppositional one. “I grew up,” she says, “came of age, abandoned someone and was abandoned, on a march that finished yesterday.” When that coerced march ended and a thousand new ones began, Syrians found unprecedented liberation simply by expressing honest opinions in the presence of their neighbours, by breaking the barriers of fear.

Continue reading “Syria Speaks on Tour”

Free Kashmiri Political Prisoners, End the Occupation of Kashmir

We send you this request in hopes of garnering your crucial and valuable support for the letter attached below. This letter is a response to the dire conditions of thousands of Kashmiri political prisoners, both adults and minors, under the Indian Occupation. Your support will help bring global attention to this critical and urgent issue.

Indian Occupation Forces and their 'Fearsome' Targets: Young Kashmiri Boys
Indian Occupation Forces and their ‘Fearsome’ Targets: Young Kashmiri Boys

Greetings,

We send you this request in hopes of garnering your crucial and valuable support for the letter attached below. This letter is a response to the dire conditions of thousands of Kashmiri political prisoners, both adults and minors, under the Indian Occupation.  Your support will help bring global attention to this critical and urgent issue.

On the ground, in Kashmir and elsewhere, we have a concurrent month-long campaign, the “Fast for Freedom,” first initiated via Facebook, which involves optional fasting, sit-ins, protests, lectures, and film-screenings.  This will culminate in civil protests, fasts and sit-ins by various organizations – including the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons(APDP) – and campus events in Srinagar, Delhi, and Berkeley et al, from 9th to 11th February 2014.  It is an opportunity not just for Kashmiris but for all people of conscience to show solidarity with an oppressed people, to protest an illegal military occupation, the illegal detention and torture of thousands of Kashmiri political prisoners, and incessant human rights abuse, including mass graves, fake encounters, forced disappearances, mass and gang-rapes, and daily humiliation under the ongoing military occupation.  (Please see the linked report Alleged Perpetrators for more details.)

Your endorsement of the attached letter will help bring urgently needed political attention to this long-festering issue, as well as help to generate intellectual energy to begin necessary conversations on military occupations with regard to power and privilege, coloniality and postcolonialism, sexual assault as a weapon of war, imperial and decolonial feminisms, the colonial politics of prisons and capital punishment, post/colonial tourism, the construction of the “terrorist,” Islamophobia and other forms of racialization in the context of Kashmir.   Continue reading “Free Kashmiri Political Prisoners, End the Occupation of Kashmir”

The Eerie NGO Phenomenon in Kashmir

“Conflicts have always allowed very suitable ecosystems for Non Governmental Organisations or NGOs to flourish in. Embroiled with armed insurgency for about two decades now, Kashmir has attracted a plethora of organizations. But going by the numbers, the region seems to have become a heaven for NGO activity.”

By Parvaiz Bukhari

(This article was first published by The Honour Magazine, April 2010, (pg. 16-20).)

Kashmir as an Integral Part of India.  Cartoon by Mir Suhail Qadiri
Kashmir as an Integral Part of India. Cartoon by Mir Suhail Qadiri

Conflicts have always allowed very suitable ecosystems for Non Governmental Organisations or NGOs to flourish in. Embroiled with armed insurgency for about two decades now, Kashmir has attracted a plethora of organizations. But going by the numbers, the region seems to have become a heaven for NGO activity.

There is no central register for the NGOs operating here, no guidelines or any overt accountability. Various estimates put the figure of existing NGOs up to 16,000. Apart from the office of the Registrar of Societies, NGOs are registered for various non-profit activities as trusts and voluntary groups in the district courts. Besides, many NGOs from across the country operating in Kashmir are not registered here.

All you need is five persons and a draft of bylaws along with a declaration of supposed objectives that is then registered in any district court where no count is maintained.

Just what is this huge mass of NGOs doing and who are the people who run them? What is the real intent and incentive for this NGO boom in a region that is still considered business ‘unfriendly’? Where is the funding coming from? A superficial enquiry reveals a dizzying range of unclear activity bordering on subterfuge.

Government employees, close relatives of bureaucrats, politicians, well-off families and people who have been a part of counter insurgency think tanks, run a number of NGOs in the Valley. Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Developmental Studies (KFPDS) run by a former militant commander, Firdous Sayeed Baba alias Babar Badr, has been on the scene for many years now. Babar and four other former militant commanders were the first to enter into dialogue with New Delhi in 1995. He is also known to be very close to the former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief A S Dullat, who for many years earlier and during NDA regime served as New Delhi’s point man on Kashmir affairs. Continue reading “The Eerie NGO Phenomenon in Kashmir”

More on “Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir”: India and Zubin Mehta’s Psyop Concert in Indian Occupied Kashmir

We appeal all sections of Kashmiri society to join the Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir event to express their solidarity with the resilience and suffering of people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Live Aid, Live Ammo: India and Zubin Mehta's Psyop Concert in Kashmir
Live Aid, Live Ammo: India and Zubin Mehta’s Psyop Concert in Indian Occupied Kashmir

Organizing Committee, Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir

Press release, 5 September 2013

On 22 August 2013, the German Embassy, New Delhi, issued a press release that Zubin Mehta would be conducting an orchestra on 7 September 2013, at the Mughal Garden, Shalimar Bagh, in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. On 26 August 2013, civil society members of Jammu and Kashmir – from lawyers and businessmen to poets and scholars – registered a strong protest against the proposed concert and concerns were communicated to the German Embassy and the people of Germany – from political representatives to artists and activists.

The people of Jammu and Kashmir take immense pride in our rich history of resisting oppression. We also have historically cultivated a sublime tradition in, and love for, music. Music – which appeals to the higher values of love, justice, dignity, and peace; which genuinely acknowledges the long-suffering, yet bravely resisting, Kashmiris; and which is performed for the actual public – is wholeheartedly welcome.

However, legitimizing an occupation via a musical concert is completely unacceptable. Art as propaganda, as abundantly documented in history, is put to horrific use across the world. Art as propaganda in Jammu and Kashmir is unacceptable. The Zubin Mehta concert is organized and controlled by Government of India and the German Embassy, with extensive corporate sponsorship. It serves to build on the State narrative that seeks to dilute the reality of Jammu and Kashmir and peoples’ aspirations. It seeks to promote an image of a “peaceful” and “normal” Jammu and Kashmir. The pain, suffering, courage and bravery of the resistance will find no place in this concert. Indian State operations that seek to support the occupation must be resisted. To build this Statist narrative of Jammu and Kashmir, an estimated Rs.100 crores [INR 10 billion or USD 16 million] is reported to being spent, and invitations have been sent to corporate India (Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis, Bajajs, CII, FICCI..), the film world (Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth, Katrina Kaif…) and sportsmen (Sachin Tendulkar, Boris Becker…). It is most condemnable that the Government of Germany has chosen to be party to the Indian States’ continued political machinations in Jammu and Kashmir. So far Indian army and various Indian institutions have been organizing psychological operations which are termed by Indian military as Sadbhavana Operation. We protest German government’s joining the efforts of Indian army. It appears an attempt by the Indian State to outsource its military psychological operations to the international community. Continue reading “More on “Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir”: India and Zubin Mehta’s Psyop Concert in Indian Occupied Kashmir”

Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir [The Reality of Kashmir]: A Journey of Counter-Memory

On Sept 7, we invite EVERYONE to come join us at noon, at the Municipal Park (near GPO), Srinagar, as we mark the “dark times” of the military occupation, and commemorate the luminosity of AZADI: the light of faith, of freedom, of our blood-soaked struggle for justice, dignity, and true peace. Luminosity that cuts through the deep darkness of the “dark times” and reflects the resilience of human spirit in all its grace.

Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir: The Reality of Kashmir
Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir: The Reality of Kashmir

A Cultural Aesthetic Tribute to the Resilience and Struggle of the People of Jammu & Kashmir

“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”
~ Bertolt Brecht

On Sept 7, we invite EVERYONE — and not just a handpicked 1500 — to come join us at noon, at the Municipal Park (near GPO), Srinagar, as we mark the “dark times” of the military occupation, and commemorate the luminosity of AZADI: the light of faith, of freedom, of our blood-soaked struggle for justice, dignity, and true peace. Luminosity that cuts through the deep darkness of the “dark times” and reflects the resilience of human spirit in all its grace.

We invite EVERYONE to send in cultural aesthetic texts: poetry, paintings, photographs, multimedia, performance art, songs, et cetera on the ABOVE THEME to haqeeqatekashmir@gmail.com

Continue reading “Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir [The Reality of Kashmir]: A Journey of Counter-Memory”