Despite the continuing crackdown, the siege, the detentions, the kidnappings, the rape and the killings, Syria’s protesters demonstrated once again that their desire for freedom is stronger than any fear, and any act of repression. We will not bow to the dictators. We will overcome.
The nonviolent character of this revolution is the thing that poses the biggest threat to the Assad regime. That’s why from the very outset, starting with Bashar Al-Assad himself down to the smallest minion in the state propaganda system, we’ve been told about infiltrators, armed gangs, Salafist emirates and Jihadist elements. In order to justify their overwhelming use of force, the Assads needed, to begin with, to paint the revolutionaries as violent extremists, then, they needed to actually transform them into violent extremists. Playing the sectarian card was the only weapon in their arsenal that could succeed in this regard. By scaring and enraging their own supporters through blatant lies that cater to their prejudices, and by having loyalist militias use sectarian language against the protesters, employing rape as an instrument of collective punishment in some instances, and by targeting Sunni religious symbols, the Assads were hoping to incur the same reaction from the protesters. Their efforts were a colossal failure.
While most protesters may not yet appreciate the deeper significance of nonviolence and its philosophical underpinning, they have long become aware of the futility of violence, especially when confronting amoral sociopaths like the Assads. That’s why, and despite occasional saber rattling and occasional recourse to sectarian rhetoric by some elements in their midst, whenever push came to shove, the advocates of nonviolence in the protest movement have been able to win the day.
This inborn aversion to violence on part of the Syrian people, an aversion borne out of the bitter experiences of the 1970s and 80s, seems to be also helping defeat the Assads current plan for introducing Jihadists into the fray to give credence to their allegations of armed gangs. But Jihadists require an environment that is sympathetic to their message in order to be able to operate efficiently. No such sympathy exists in protest communities. Hence, jihadists remain extremely marginal to the current going-ons in the country, but don’t expect the Assads to give up on this card anytime soon. But do expect protest leaders to remain smart and vigilant.