Will Syria experience a civil war? There’s already a civil war of narratives, pitching the regime’s version against everyone else’s, and a social civil war, in which Syrians find themselves shocked by the responses of their friends and relatives, and find new friends and unexpected allies, realigning their perspectives and values as they do so. Many Syrians are still so scared of the unknown, and so deep in the slave mentality, that they wish to believe what the old authority tells them.
But decreasingly so. Most people have a time limit on their gullibility, or their self-deception. The lies of state TV and the ridiculous ad-Dunya channel, though they come as thick as summer flies, cannot cover the dazzlingly obvious – that the regime is torturing children to death, shooting women and old men, and randomly arresting, beating and humiliating the innocent. That Syria’s tanks and helicopter gunships should be liberating the Golan, not slaughtering Syrians. That the protestors are patriots seeking their basic rights. (I gave up having the argument about Salafis and foreign infiltrators weeks ago on the basis that anyone who wants to believe the regime version will believe it regardless of facts and logic.)
There are still diehards who point to Syria’s social and cultural ills as a reason for sticking with the regime. Give it a chance, they say. Let it reform, as it will undoubtedly do. The alternative is sectarian civil war.
The asinine commentary issuing from some leftist quarters, the wild-conspiratorial ramblings, the incapacity to handle dilemmas — all of this would be amusing if it weren’t for the slanders and falsehoods which have so quickly ossified into conventional wisdom. Over half a century after Richard Hofstadter wrote his famous essay it appears the paranoid style still thrives in the politics of both the left and right. The western leftists’ answer to liberation struggles elsewhere is to project their own impotence and assume that there must be a grand conspiracy at play. How else could ordinary people take charge of their own lives and refuse to be silenced and repressed? No, they must be Al Qaeda, or CIA agents, or both — as figures such as Alexander Cockburn, Edward Herman and John Pilger have imperiously declared (relying on a report by West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center no less–never mind that it is a dubious outfit run by neoconservative terrorologists). What better way to divest yourself of moral dilemmas? Blame the victims!
There is a good reason why radicals of the left often find it so easy to turn into radicals of the right. Both are possessed of a Manichean worldview governed by absolutes, free of moral dilemmas, disdainful of ambiguity. This kind of simple-mindedness is the prerogative of those who are either completely powerless and thus free of responsibility, since their actions are of no consequence, or of the absolutely powerful, whose actions are beyond accountability. The rest of us, alas, are doomed to a world where the choices are rarely as simple as between ‘good’ and ‘bad.’
Jeffrey Blankfort has some apt comments:
Also, check out Stephen Shalom’s commentary on Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s speech on Libya.
A sigh of relief blew across Syria when the Bush administration was retired. Bush had backed Israel’s reoccupation of West Bank cities, described Ariel ‘the Bulldozer’ Sharon as “a man of peace”, given Syria two million Iraqi refugees and an inflation crisis, and blamed Syria for the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Veiled American threats of “regime change” scared the Syrian people – who observed the blood rushing from neighbouring Iraq – almost as much as they scared the regime itself.
Obama’s re-engagement signalled an end to the days of considering Syria – in the predatorial neo-con phrase – “low-hanging fruit”, but American overtures have remained cautious, the new administration’s policy severely limited by its commitments to Israel and the domestic Israel lobby. Obama nominated Robert Ford as the first American ambassador to Damascus in five years, but the appointment has since been blocked by the Senate. In May, Obama renewed Bush-era sanctions, citing Syria’s “continuing support for terrorist organizations and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile programs,” which, “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
So not much has changed. The neoconservative language is still in place, the same elision of distance between American and Israeli interests, and between anti-occupation militias and al-Qa’ida-style terrorists, plus a flat refusal to understand that the countries really under unusual and extraordinary threat of attack are Syria, Lebanon, and – Netanyahu’s “new Amalek” – Iran.
It’s important to remember that Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches consist of more than mere rhetoric. One of the reasons for Nasrallah’s enormous popularity in the Arab and Muslim worlds is that, unlike other Arab leaders, he says what he means and means what he says. Hizbullah is the only force to have defeated Israel – once in 2000, when the brutal occupation of south Lebanon was brought to an end, and once in 2006, when Israeli troops attempted to reinvade in order to dismantle the resistance, but bled on the border for five weeks instead. During the 2006 war Israel bombed every TV mast it could find, but failed to put Hizbullah’s al-Manar off the air. Nasrallah spoke on al-Manar of “the Israeli warship that attacked our infrastructure, people’s homes and civilians. Look at it burn!” As Nasrallah uttered these words, a Hizbullah missile did indeed disable an Israeli warship, forcing Israel to move its fleet away from the Lebanese coast.
In mid-February 2010, Shaikh Nasrallah made a speech which may well mark a fundamental change in the Middle Eastern balance of power. The speech, quoted below, should not be read as a string of empty threats, but a signal of new weaponry and fighting capabilities.