Friday, September 06, 2013

More Thoughts on Syria

My blog about why I’m conflicted on Syria has elicited thought-provoking comments.  Those comments, plus others gleaned from cyber-sources (news media and personal opinions and analyses) from people who know more about the region and the culture, inspire this update.

I’m a liberal, white, reasonably well-educated American woman sitting safely in California while the carnage in Syria (and elsewhere) continues to take lives and limbs. And while the debates in Congress and among media pundits continues unabated, unresolved, and, in my opinion, unresolvable.  My news sources are manifold: network television, cable television, the Internet, print publications with deeper, more nuanced analyses (Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, Utne Reader, local newspapers, et al. – I’m a bit of a news junky).  However, none of these sources is other than reportage by professional journalists.

I’m now of the opinion that the dictatorship of the al-Assad family[1] may not necessarily be the worst government Syria might have.  Yes, it is a dictatorship, and that’s not a ‘good thing.’  But this family has been educated in the west and seems to have a less theocratic and more secular approach to governing.  Don’t get me wrong: I think they should be deposed.  I’m also convinced that when, not if, that happens, genocide will be perpetrated on the Alawite minority.

I quote from a post by Eli Ghith,[2] a Syrian living in the United States who has family in Syria:

I felt the need today to address many of your questions with ground facts and accounts from my family…. There is a grand untold story about the Syrian catastrophe that our news outlets, politicians, and virtually anyone with a microphone, either has no insight or no integrity to tell it to you straight. They keep describing the atrocities of the regime against its own people and the exploding humanitarian crisis.

That much is true but so much is missing.

First, a short history: Since gaining independence following WWII, Syria (with its religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity) was plagued by instability and political strife; the country witnessed one coup d’état after the other until the Baath Party took over in 1963. A power struggle at the top of the Baath Party resulted in Hafez al-Assad’s era from 1970 until his death in 2000, when the presidency was conveniently transferred to his son Bashar. The young London-educated optometrist was no politician and dreamed of gradual democratization of Syria but the Old Guards fiercely protected the status quo, thus the so-called “lost decade.”

Enter the so-called Arab Spring. The Syrian government responded to people’s demands the only way it knew how, through violent oppression. In a matter of a few months, the movement was crushed and the Syrian people went back to living under the half-century-old Baath dictatorship. However, gradually and consistently, foreign fighters kept pouring into the country, armed and ready to die in the fight against the Assad regime.  Who are they and how did they get here, you ask. The simplified answers is, they are from over thirty different nationalities, such as Bosnia, Chechnya, Yemen, Sudan, Mongolia, Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, you name it. They were sent there with the support and [very very abundant] funding of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. My family in Syria described how overwhelming number of foreign fighters have overtaken the “free” area of the country, including Yabroud, my family’s ancestral and current hometown, 45 miles North of Damascus.

Those rebels terrorize the populace and extort their resources through kidnapping, rape, and public executions. Foreign fighters and fundamentalist groups have hijacked the Syrian people’s initial revolt and turned it into this endlessly tragic war. Those rebels force their way into civilian areas and use the locals as human shields. Even if the Syrian Army forces were to aim surgically at rebels’ posts, heavy civilian casualties will ensue. Both sides have reached a point of indifference about civilians’ death; they call it collateral damage. The recent chemical attack by the Syrian Army against the Syrian people is another horrific piece of evidence.

Let my family’s situation give you a sample. Foreign fighters took over their town shortly after the Syrian Army withdrew to focus on hotter spots. The Free Syrian Army, the supposed leading force of the revolution, could neither contain nor even reason with those foreign fighters. The Free Syrian Army cannot stop those rebels from pillaging, raping, and kidnapping for ransom. As I call my family daily, I hear more such stories about people I once knew. My 70-year-old mother told me about a baker who was kidnapped for ransom. Upon his release, he took his family out of town to stay at his brother’s in a Damascus suburb called Jaramana. A week later, his wife and toddler son were killed, along with tens more, in a massive car explosion in Jaramana. The reality is that civilians are dying left and right and the world looks too busy treating Syria like a political argument instead of a humanity crisis.

At this time, Syria’s political structure has been fractured to a point of no recognition; virtually, there is a different warlord everywhere you go. … The Syrian people is [sic] stuck between the government (with its professional army and never-back-down policy) and the rebels (with their limitless support and brutality). Both sides are defending bigger interests of bigger players. For the sake of focus, I am only discussing the situation domestically; the international chess game of Syria is a giant can I do not want to open here.

So, in a country of 22,000,000, we already have a death tally exceeding 100,000 and over 2,000,000 refugees. … forced into desert refugee camps in four neighboring countries. While we hear war drums beating, we need to be aware what a military intervention could really do. If the Assad regime survives the looming strikes, it will react like a beehive after you hit it with a baseball bat. If the Assad regime falls, expect Rwanda-like news, where people are massacred on an unimaginable scale; minorities will be prime targets. The ensuing lawlessness and chaos will make Somalia look like a safe place for your summer vacation.

So what is the solution, you ask. I do not know, I answer. The area has had a very long, complicated history of bad blood. … Growing up in Lebanon and Syria, we knew that the best we could hope for was a relatively peaceful co-existence, until the next conflict arose, and it always did. I cannot claim to have the solution and you should not believe anyone who dares making that claim. The best we can do is pushing for a stop of the violence while aiding to the refugees, any amount we can afford can help. Prayers help too. It is not a matter of who’s right anymore. It is a matter of slowing down the killing machine and letting fewer people die today.

[Emphases added.]

Reading this heartbreaking account makes my earlier analysis less convincing.  Yes, someone is using WMD on innocent civilians, and as I’ve said, I don’t really care who’s doing it to whom; I just want it never to be done again by anyone to anyone.

I still see a clear parallel between domestic abuse within a nuclear family and domestic abuse within the borders of a state.  The big difference is that within a family one has shared genes and shared heritage, while within Syria there are many competing factions that make the situation much more complex.

Mr. Ghith asks that we fortify any help we can offer with prayers.  I join him.  Neither Mr. Ghith nor I cares where you direct your prayers, only that they work to help protect the Syrian people and to reinforce their righteous efforts to achieve, in peaceful collaboration with all factions, a government that meets the needs of all Syrian residents and oppresses none.

Atargatis, arise!

[Pitch, please contact me off-blog by email or phone.]

[1]   I note that while the al-Assad family is Shiite, Bassar al-Assad’s wife Asma is Sunni.
[2]   The piece from which I quote ends: “Thanks for reading, feel free to pass it on.”


Anonymous said...

prayers are what got Syria to the place it is now. i don't think prayer will have a good effect on anyone here... or there. only a clear vision would help. obviously a sea change in the way people percieve is the only way to effect meaningful change in Syria. and if it is true about foreign fighters then not just Syria. Syria is like a focal point for all the evil of Islam at the moment. if one remembers that evil is a shadow; the lack of light, no vision... then the answer is bring light! but this is a human problem on an earthly scale. not just islam.

it would seem there is no solution and an endless conflict. but light is pervasive. i look at this conflict as already out of control to the worst nightmares of russia coming true. but light is much stronger than shadow. somewhere there will be a light. it will not come as a tyrant or foreign intervention. that is not possible. but it will come. whether we send aid or not is meaningless. except the people of Syria will leave their country. aid to the camps surrounding Syria would make much more sense. bombing Syria is meaningless under the described scenario. they have been bombed enough already. but just helping refugees is not enough for the press or the president. so i see fruitless bombing and much postering. maybe if we bombed both sides it might have some effect. just putting the resistence in power is not gonna be helpful. get as many people out of there as possible. let the foreigners and assad destroy each other.

Baruch said...

Macha thank you for your thoughtful writing and bringing the words of Eli Ghith to me. I wouldn't have seen them otherwise.

It seems to me that the premise upon which we in "the west" are basing all our discussions about Syria, stem from the colonialism that is the foundation of all "our" policies regarding that part of the world.

War is an obscenity. Murder is an obscenity, no matter who is committing it.

Bell Hooks describes love as taking actions that support the spiritual growth of the other person. I extend that and say that to love our sisters and brothers in Syria we must act in ways that support their spiritual growth (not any particular religion, mind you) and that means supporting people to abstain from the obscenity of murder.

For the government of the US, which we know is a privately controlled cabal of murderers, to seek to commit more murders in Syria, is no surprise. It is what I have come to expect from the likes of Barack Obama, John Kerry, et al. If we the people of the United States can stop this cabal from committing more murders, good. It will take great resolve and, frankly, some folks are going to have to lose their jobs. I have no illusions that this is imminent.