The idea of a revolution happening in Syria predates the events of March 2011. I always held a dual approach to a Syrian uprising in those pre-ME Uprising days. It was something that I always wanted to happen; I would often fantasise and dream about its advent, transferring all that inspired me about the Free Palestine movement onto Syrian society in my idealistic little heart, knowing full well what I knew about Assad’s legacy but was too afraid to speak of. However, as a realist, I honestly did not believe it would happen in my lifetime. I would be lying if I said I saw it coming! In February 2011, I remember meeting with visiting relatives in South Kensington, weeks after Mubarak fell and as Ghaddafi was desperately trying to hold onto power: the freeloading Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi was wheeled out to do the media rounds on Channel 4 news, squirming like a gnat trying to defend his dad; the late Anthony Shadid appeared on Russia Today, schooling Max Keiser on his insipid suggestion that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were the result of a ‘radical new platform’ graciously bestowed on naïve young Arabs in the form of social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, instead emphasising that the revolts were the result of decades-old grievances and social injustice that gave rise to largely impoverished societies. Shadid’s appearance alone lead to reams of late night discussions in the heart of London, a city I’ve seemingly always lived near, but in which I’ve rarely slept the night. We were discussing the shocking waves of change gripping the region. It was an inspiring and heady time, but even then, I did not think Syria was next on the agenda.
We’re living in strange times; in 2016, a year that has come upon us too soon and a global economy collapsing under the weight of its own anachronism (ever late as I am in catching up to the terminology, ‘millenials’ in the West will now never be able to afford their own home — if even privileged Middle-Class Caucasian children cannot buy their own houses unsupported, we’re dealing with some powerful harbingers of a failed economic model!) In the Middle-East, half a decade has passed since a profound zeitgeist shift that had been bubbling under the surface for generations culminated in demands and aspirations for a unique strain of home-grown Middle-Eastern ‘democracy’ and an upholding of equal rights.
I can’t believe that five years have passed since the atomic voice of the ordinary Syrian exploded in a cataclysmic Big Bang of expression, dignity, assertion, and sheer unmitigated bravery. There are many reasons for this incredulity, but perhaps the chiefest among them is just how rapidly developments have unraveled in Syria compared to other countries in the Middle-East. As the official narrative would have it, we’ve gone from a ‘pure’ pacifist revolution timorously demanding reforms, to raucously working towards the downfall of the regime, to armed revolt, to geopolitical meddling, to a “hijacking” of the revolutionary opposition by a not-incomprehensible mix of reactionary doctrinal ‘religious’ fundamentalists, a globalist, trans-national proxy war, government-imposed sieges / detention / disappearance / bombing / and massacres, to forced mass expulsion of large sections of the Syrian population, all the way through to peaceful revolution again in early 2016.
But that description is actually a lie. Yes, all of these things did happen, but that they took place because the initial revolutionary expression was overridden by these other ‘complicated’ factors is a mere falsehood that only gained currency because they were written and disseminated in the same language as this blog post. Remember when I put ‘pure’ in quotes there before the words ‘pacifist revolution’? The revolution continued in spite of all these factors, essentially running as a constant if tumultuous stream in parallel, co-existing as fleeting elements hovering over what is, at heart, a very simple premise.
A revolution is, by definition, multifaceted and implicated in the diverse demands from a human group who, though absolutely united in spirit, goal and intent, also wanted different things depending on the personal experience they landed on Planet Earth to have.
And so, in the spirit of the times we’re living in, here are Five Proposed Solutions for how we talk about, discuss, and participate in the Syrian Revolution. This is a memo to myself before it is to others, but make no mistake: this is something that I also hope will be addressed in the wider community of young Syrians and anyone else with an emotional investment in what’s happening over there. Clearly, this post is aimed at English speakers (I’m always surprised by how much smack people like me talk about Syria in English – a language people in that country don’t even speak!), but I think the ideas here transcend language, too.
1) Don’t Fetishise Anger. Please Don’t Make Anger A “Thing”. It Is But One Voice; Optimism Is the End Game. Bear This In Mind When You’re Straight-Talking About Horrible Shit.
Anger is a perfectly logical response in reaction to reports that a village is being bombed by Assad-backed Russian warplanes, or that X European country is refusing to accept refugees while perpetuating the same geopolitical policies that play a role in keeping “Syrian President” Bashar Al-Assad in power, thereby indirectly contributing to the creation of refugees in the first place. Indignation is natural, it’s to be expected, and its expression, like all emotional states, is a human right. But there is a wider issue at work here, and it does not matter what your political or humanitarian stance is. While it is not completely irrelevant, what has an even greater impact is whether or not your words are coming from a place of Love, or from a place of Fear. It is whether or not you act to realise your ideal vision of what you would like your world to be. This is a very serious matter. Assad’s War Machine, backed by 40+ years of established state and military power, is undoubtedly rooted in a narrative of fear. So too, unfortunately, are a large amount of the ‘opposition’ and ‘resistance’ to his rule, at least on the internet, because, though the ‘resistance’ may retweet some 2 minute videos of amazingly creative and musical demonstrations from time to time, it’s more comfortable immersed in a miasma of hatred than it is generating constructive and heart-warming contributions. The ‘opposition’ has an entire vision that consists merely of “srsly, fuck Hezbollah / Iraqi militias / the Syrian coalition / Russia / faux-Stalinist leftists / Assad’. If that becomes the platform, the end point, we are left powerless to act because ‘anger’ defines us, and we end up unconsciously fitting into the very stereotype of social activism championed by the bourgeois classes. The biggest problem is that we are ourselves completely consumed by the black matter of critique. There is no love, no song, and no magic in our words. No vision can manifest from political or academia-rooted opposition. You’ve got to strip the -isms away and be unashamedly raw whenever you talk about Syria; it has to be in glaring, kaleidoscopic words. Skip your lectures, get off the internet, make eye contact when you listen and when you talk, have blueberries for breakfast instead of Turkish coffee (anyone who drinks that stuff is seriously insane – what is wrong with you people), and go out and play. Listen better. You’ve got to be creative. That divine circulation is everything.
This segues into the next point.
2) The Revolution Is An Internal Process before It’s External: Choose Your Words Wisely!
The biggest problem a lot of activists in general have, but it’s particularly true with Syrian revolutionaries, is that they’ve basically externalised all of their power. What do I mean by this? It means they’ve pinned their entire hopes and dreams for success, not on a vision, dream, or love for the rights of communities, but based on their treatment by oppressors, based on the actions of a sectarian militia, state, or a political or ideological party. Again, this is completely understandable when coming from Syrians on the ground — we’re dealing with extreme cases like Syria here, after all — where this is literally true – bombs from the sky / inhumane conditions of detention – but it’s precisely because the levels of oppression in Syria are so extreme we have an even greater responsibility to process our own demons first and learn healthier ways of manifesting our anger, so that we can approach helping those who need it – the millions of refugees and those suffering the scars of war – from a place of healing, love, creative encouragement, and communal empowerment. Anything less than this is completely unacceptable.
If I may straight talk a bit, I think I will use this platform afforded to me. I will get onto the solutions little later. I am privileged beyond belief to be living outside, in an incredibly safe and ‘developed’ country, blessed with good access to education, employment opportunities, and a culturally rich upbringing in general, and with a phenomenal family and support network to boot. However, I am still a Syrian deeply affected by events in my homeland, so I’ll address this one to all my friends and comrades:
You have no right to glamorise your anger, or to get into niceties over ideological agreements & disagreements when the lives and well-being of so many people are implicated in your words. You have no right to compose and publish blog-posts with fatalistic, apocalyptic prognostications on Syria and prosaic eulogies of an entire group of people, even if you have family in Syria. You may think that you’re doing good, blanking out your friend after splitting hairs over the Marxist credentials of pre-Assad Baath in some Facebook comments thread or where-ever else, but you’re not. You’re being a shit. Please, for the love of the last 3.33 remaining merry-go-round carousels in Bloodan and Zabadani, don’t be a shit. Your time is a more valuable asset than anything material you could possibly possess. For every minute you spend doing that, you miss out on the chance to focus your energies in a meaningful way to promote and highlight what infinitesimal movements in Syria actually exist to help alleviate suffering and make a positive change in the lives of young Syrians. Even if what is good about the status-quo in Syria is 5%, and the inferno is 95%, you have a duty to focus your attention on the 5%. The world is not served by the detail-oriented mind of he/she who is so consumed by their ego. Don’t get me wrong, we do need our egos, because they help us choose courses of action to take and focus on our passions, but when we allow an extreme loyalty to opinions to take over us, we become consume by the ego, rather than accepting it is as just one of our many voices. We have had enough of the ego over the course of history, or at least, enough of augmenting its significance and allowing it to identify us. Now is the time to achieve balance by placing more attention on the creative, spontaneous, and intuitive (wasn’t it based on these principles in the first place that the revolution in Syria even started?)
3) Interact Meaningfully With Fellow Syrians Who May Have A Completely Different Consciousness From You. Exploit Every Opportunity To Forge Organic Alliances.
Building bridges is important, and even more so is taking a solution-oriented approach to everything you mention about the situation in Syria, whether it’s the popular revolution, refugee crisis, or a barbaric massacre by a crazed government. Through doing that, people are motivated to share ideas and always angling for posited frameworks in which our diverse solutions and visions can co-exist, rather than rejecting each other out of hand when the immaculately projected ideal of our ‘comrade’ deviates in practise when they say something that triggers unresolved issues in us. Yes, we all hold different opinions and visions of what we’d like to see in a future Syria, but one reason we’ve failed to topple Bashar Al-Assad after half a decade is because we’re so used to interacting with each other & building a following over things that we hate in common. Then, when we discover hey, we think differently about this one thing, suddenly our egos get the better of us, and we buy into the grandest illusion of all – that of separation. I can’t imagine anything more counter-revolutionary than that. But it is no surprise really, because if we spend too much energy just lambasting the dictator, we’re coming from a place of fear that can’t help but spill over and become directed at our friends.
4) Create, Write, Express Yourself Artistically. Fuse Your Skills With Your Humanitarian Imperative.
This is everything. I will let you in on a little secret: Bashar Al-Assad and his military machine has succeeded this far because he (or at least his father) has wasted little time in critiquing or lashing out at things they hated about the world. Hafez Al-Assad, like so many megalomaniacs before him, had a vision, however elitist, fear-based, and destructive it was, he had the chutzpah to step into the radical action and manifest it. He intuitively understood how human beings gain a mass following in this world; battening down the hatches and just doing it. Rupert Murdoch does the same thing with his media empire. It’s all based on fear, but his form of radical action isn’t in creating these nebulous spaces of “debate” where academic liberals try to one-up each other with whatever theoretical horse-manure they’re regurgitating in University, it’s in actually creating a world defined by newspapers, a party line, a TV station, and political movements like the Tea Party. This applies to evil as well as it does to good: radical action and immersion into the present moment, through defining a world-building vision of how you want your world to look like. It’s an elementary principle that so many of the great masters and teachings have attempted to convey to us through folklore, symbolism, allegories, world events, literature, sayings, and public appearances.
We have to keep creating alternative forms of governance, like they’ve done in Manbij and Kafranbel, opening a Syrian Revolutionary museum like they did in Aleppo, creating art, literature, poetry, talking gushingly about all the exciting and inspiring things Syrians are doing to heal, rejuvenate, and inspire.
5) Take Responsibility For What You Express. Let Love Be Your Compass. Love Is The Only Answer.
When 3.7 million Syrian children are born into violent conditions and know nothing but war – kids who, when they see you point a camera at them, reflexively stick up their arms because they think you’re going to fire on them — you get a sense of the magnitude of the situation that you’re now involved in discussing. It is more important than ever to take responsibility for what you write and share online; yes, it is important to be realistic about the challenges that Syria faces in order to overcome them, but again, to dwell on them as your end point is unacceptable. People living in these conditions – particularly the vulnerable – are counting on us with a platform, agency, funding, and skills to contribute to alleviating their suffering meaningfully. We have the means at our disposal. This can only be done in practise by letting love guide you at every turn. This is not a fucking game. Do you understand the words that I’m trying to convey to you?
The solution has been staring at us right under our noses the whole time. The truth is so obvious when you live from the heart-side out. Find the one thing that you most love to do in this world, the one activity that genuinely brings you joy and passion, that fans the flames of your soul and keeps you up all night in pursuit of bettering yourself within its cosmic framework. I love to write stories that are colourful and stylised. Every day, I am tying my prerogatives as a Syrian to my life’s passion. But it does not have to be solely relegated to the arts: if you love law, utilising your services as a lawyer might be a positive step!
When you talk about Syria, you have to be flamboyant. You have to smile and laugh and dilate your eyes; you have to be talking about projects and activities Syrians are involved in that truly amaze you. This revolution is not one of despair, critique, and defeat. I am asking you to forgo the harsh realities for once and realise this. Look at these pictures of protests that occurred in Syria today, 18th March 2016 alone. Five years after 100,000s have been killed: five years millions have been displaced. After entire cities have been besieged or razed to the ground by missiles.
We need to do away with old terms like “resistance” and “opposition”, because “resistance” implies that the roots of our movement are based solely on the way others have treated us, rather than using this sense of injustice to actively manifest a love-propelled vision of a radical new world. Resistance makes the enemy stronger, because now we’ve defined ourselves by what they do to us. The same applies to the term ‘opposition’, which, in an almost farcical turn of irony, has already been sullied anyway in the way we’ve come to expect from awkward bourgeois expat Syrians fumbling away abroad in meetings with funds from Royal Gulf donors.
We’re playing by their rulebook. We criticise the rules of the Chess They’ve Made, while still moving our pawns on their table, thinking that somehow, someway, we can beat them at their own game. We beat them by creating our own game. This revolution is everything we could have wanted, and more. The fleeting fantasy is over. Our thoughts became things.