Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Playing the Sectarian Card in Syria

One of the most corrosive and disingenuous claims of the Syrian regime is that the protesters are crypto-salafists bent on instigating sectarian strife; this coming from a regime that is established and maintained on narrow sectarian loyalties.  Of course the implicit message to the Syrian people, as well as to Westerners (see the recent Vogue interview of the Assads), is that peaceful coexistence among the sects in Syria is made possible only by the grace of the Assads and was it not for them, Syria would be deep into a sectarian civil war. Interestingly, the argument the regime makes is identical to what Westerner commentators glibly make when talking about our region: loyalties sectarian and tribal and they only get along when coexistence is enforced.

Sectarian chauvinism certainly exists and is present in all sects and is not limited to wild-eyed salafists.  However,  relations among the sects in Syria have been generally good, a situation that antedates the Assads.  Moreover, I strongly believe that the primacy of sectarian loyalties is diminishing with time.  At independence, it was difficult for people brought together within boundaries drawn by colonial powers to feel like citizens of a nation.  Loyalties were first and foremost regional, religious or tribal.  However, after sixty years of common history and common shared memory, even the citizens of the most artificially drawn up nation develop a sense of a shared identity. That is why the current generation of young Arabs identify themselves first as citizens of their respective countries. We saw that feeling clearly manifested in the demonstrations in Egypt and we see it now among the young Syrian protesters. Even in the country where sectarianism is institutionalized, Lebanon, young protesters have been out in the streets demanding an end to the sectarian sate.

The Syrian regime is currently pandering to the fears of minority communities.  They in turn, are understandably nervous.  However, the best way to insure the rights of minorities is to have those rights protected by a representative and responsive government and not dependent on the benevolence of an authoritarian ruler.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Youtube Video Worth a Million Words

It starts predictably with protesters marching and chanting. Soon, shots are heard, protesters scatter, the image turns sideways and upside down, too shaky for a clear image only to settle to a static street level view. The road is deserted, a young man lies prone in a pool of blood, a few feet away. He is staring straight at the camera with vacant, near lifeless eyes, slight movements of his head the only palpable sign of life . When the shooting stops, hoarse cries arise, in a mix or horror, fear and disbelief they shout repeatedly: "Allahu Akbar" and "Ambulance, we need an ambulance". The frenetic images return; as the camera pans back and forth over the chaotic scene, you see protesters scrambling to help the injured, several are carried hastily away from the open road, some with horrific wounds. We also get a quick final glimpse of the young man, still lying in the street, now face down, lifeless. Fear and horror turn to seething anger with shouts of "Bashar, you son of a bitch, this was peaceful!"

I must have watched dozens of these shaky pixilated Youtube protest videos taken by Syrian citizens. It is not that I have macabre voyeuristic urges, I just need to see, sitting in safety thousands of miles away, what the people of Syria are enduring. Many of these video clips were too difficult to watch but none have affected me as much as that of the recent demonstration in Izraa described above. I am not sure why, was it the haunting look of the dying young man who could have been my son's age or the sheer horror I heard in the voices of the survivors? No one, and I mean no one, protesting peacefully deserves such a fate. If for most readers, this last statement is self-evident, it is not apparently for some defenders of the regime who will come up with any number of reasons as to why these people deserve such treatment.

Of course, as the various news websites stipulate, the authenticity of these videos clips cannot be verified. However, it is the sheer number of these videos, their rawness, their redundancy and their consistency in telling the same horrific story across every demonstration in multiple towns that make them totally believable. What you clearly see is that the protesters consist of mostly young to middle-aged men, unarmed, representing a cross section of Syrian society, demonstrating peacefully. Has there been vandalism and some violence on the part of the protesters? Of course there has been. But again, to the regime apologists I say that neither tearing up posters of the president nor toppling statues constitute capital offenses in any self-respecting country. What is astounding, is that after enduring over five weeks of unprovoked mayhem at the hands of security forces, that the protesters have not resorted to an open, violent insurrection.

If an image is worth a thousand words, videos clips are worth a million and this massive archive of moving images, as imperfect as it is, is a damning indictment of the Syrian regime.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Malek Jandali: Watani Ana مالك جندلي، وطني أنا


Watani Ana (I am my Homeland) Composed & Arranged by Malek Jandali - Piano - Vocals: Salma Habib & Ali Waad Cello: Martin Gueorguiev Directed by: Jibril Haynes

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Syria: I Hoped for an Evolution but Got a Revolution

Like many Syrians I had hoped for a transformation in Syria over the last decade with the ascendancy of Bashar to the presidency.  There was not much logic behind my hope except for a Syrian's natural tendency to want to avoid conflict and wish the best for his beloved country.  This wishful thinking eroded gradually over the years, as other than applying a shiny veneer of wealth to the privileged -well connected- few in Damascus, the president achieved no real reform. However, as late as a couple of weeks ago, even after the outrage in Daraa, I was still, against all odds,  willing to give Bashar the chance to do the right thing.  He failed miserably.

The harsh reality, as clearly demonstrated in the last month, is that the Syrian regime of 2011 is no different than the Syrian Regime of 1990 or 1980.  Worse than the brute force with which the protests were put down, is the way some in the security forces (or is it the Shabiha) sadistically handle anyone taken into custody.  The most recent appalling example can be seen on Youtube video of armed security officers in the village of Baida, brutalizing the men they had taken into custody.  The behavior is meant to sow fear, dehumanize and debase the citizens.  It is as if the regime is in an abusive relationship with its own people. And as in abusive relationships, the abuser will intermittently feign concern and sympathy between bouts of abuse; hence the meeting of the president with delegates from Banyas to try "reduce tension".

The regime's clumsy propaganda has worked on no one but their most die hard supporters and many disillusioned apologists have given up on them all together.  If the regime of 2011 is no different than that of 1980, the Syrian citizens of 2011 are. The people have lost their fear of the regime and brute force will not work, as it did in the past, to quash the legitimate aspirations of the people.  The sooner the regime realizes that the better it is for Syria. Unfortunately, a system based on fear and intimidation is not equipped with the flexibility to adapt to new realities.

I fear that we are looking at many more months of strife and bloodshed.