SYRIA: Nothing nuanced in Assad’s bloody survival strategy
November 28, 2012
During Israel’s assault on Gaza last week and the continuing Assad regime assault on Syria, media biases that have been developing for months have crystallised. While the Palestinian tragedy exposed the historical mainstream media bias towards Israel, the Syrian tragedy exposed another kind of bias against Syrian people’s aspirations for freedom.
Some activists, intellectuals and human-rights advocates who are defined as leftist, anti-imperialist and fiercely pro-resistance have struggled with the Syrian revolution since its inception in March 2011. After all, Bashar Al Assad inherited his father’s role as the champion of Arab “resistance”, even while he slaughtered his own people.
This group of journalists, bloggers and social media activists have mocked the revolution while warning against the “reactionary” tendency to frame Syria as a humanitarian crisis instead of a geopolitical catastrophe. Though they are committed to drawing attention to the unrest in Bahrain, cheering any whisper of trouble in Saudi Arabia, welcoming the unfolding protests in Jordan and expressing outrage over every Palestinian death in Gaza, they continue to watch with “critical” eyes as dozens are killed in Syria every single day.
They claim that the “real” story is more nuanced than a narrative of a people simply demanding the toppling of an oppressive regime. They frame the Syrian political opposition as a western conspiracy against a sovereign nation, but fail to acknowledge the almost impossible task of forging a unified political body out of the power vacuum left by a 42-year-old regime that rules with an iron fist against dissent.
They warn of the sectarian tendencies of the Syrian armed resistance while ignoring the right to self-defence. But as revealed in the past weeks, it is these sophisticated mouthpieces who are in need of nuance, as they are incapable of denouncing violence unless the violence is committed by Israel or a western-backed Arab country.
It is considered insensitive and ignorant to compare a people’s suffering to the Second World War Holocaust, just as it is insensitive and ignorant to compare the suffering of Palestinians over the last 64 years to the suffering of any other people in the Middle East. But what the staunch defenders of resistance have forgotten is that the suffering of Syrians has been historically linked to the suffering of Palestinians, for much of what the Syrian people endured under the Assad dynasty – oppression, repression, terror – was committed in the name of fighting for Palestine.
The Assad regime’s military might – now targeting only the Syrian people – was developed under the guise of fighting the common Arab enemy: Israel. The regime taught generations of Syrians that we were in a state of perpetual war with Israel to free the occupied Golan Heights. Our brains were pounded with empty slogans of Arab nationalism and lofty goals of unity, freedom and socialism, and visions of defeating Zionism and imperialism.
Every detail in our “official” lives was informed by the military: our drab khaki school uniforms, with our shoulder markers changing like military ranks as we passed from one grade to the next; our mandatory military training; and the Baath student organisations we were urged to join. Favoured junior Baathists were awarded bonus grades and given special opportunities. Of course, many were mukhabarat in the making.
Those of us lucky enough to avoid these traps only knew half the evil we faced everyday. We knew our government would never fight Israel and free the Golan. We knew this was Syria’s role in a game of Middle East geopolitical chess: the resistors. Crocodile tears were routinely shed by the regime for Palestine while no one did anything for Palestinians, and while Palestinian refugees in Syria were treated as second-class citizens. But we did not imagine the sinister role the army would finally play.
When the time came, our tanks turned away from Israel and faced Deraa instead. Tanks – which had done nothing but protect the Israeli border for 42 years – along with a brainwashed army and an entire air force would finally fire their ammunition, as had always been intended, towards the real enemy of state: the Syrian people chanting for freedom.
As if ambivalent silence were not enough, abuse of the Syrian revolution reached a new low in the past weeks. Syrian photographs and videos have been mistakenly portrayed on blogs, social media, and television channels as photographs from Gaza. Sometimes the same people who claimed that images of Syrian atrocities were fabricated propaganda now pass these images off as Palestinian.
The irony that Syrian images are now used as false propaganda, after having previously been labelled as false propaganda, is stunning. Why the ambiguity, the betrayal? Why the hypocrisy?
The fact that images of Syria’s dead are so easily confused with images from Gaza is evidence that not only are our people and our landscapes interchangeable, the violence is interchangeable as well. Our buildings collapse the same way from bombs falling from the sky, our dead children’s bodies hang limply the same way in their weeping fathers’ arms, and our mothers wail the same way as they bury yet another son. Syrians know this. As do Palestinians.
Last Friday, tens of thousands of Syrians stood in their smouldering, ruined cities and towns, risking their lives as bullets rained down, to chant for freedom and chant for Gaza. Unlike the tyrant and his treacherous army, the Syrian people expressed true resistance, which does not come from a nationalism textbook or an empty slogan. They didn’t need a nuanced argument to chant: Syria and Gaza are one.
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