A heavy dose of pragmatism not a holier-than-thou attitude is what the Syrian opposition needs to lead the transitional period.
What’s morality? Well, within the context of the ongoing revolution in Syria, a revolution that has long declared freedom as its goal, many are equating it with nonviolence. That’s why they reject the recent trend of militarization, and dismiss all calls for international protection that goes beyond the symbolic gesture of sending in international monitors. Despite the fact that pro-Assad troops are busy taking back Syria one rebellious community at time, battling defectors and suppressing protests through targeted and mass detentions and killings, advocates of nonviolence seem to labor under the believe that an Assad victory over the defectors and those civilians who joined them, and they are legion, will pave the way for a return to nonviolent struggle. What they fail to see is that a defeat will more likely crush the spirit of the re-conquered communities, and could empower the Assads to snuff out the spirit of rebellion.
So many observers and opposition figures have been saying that Syria cannot go back to the way things were, but they are wrong. As things stand at this stage, this is the most likely outcome.
What further complicates the situation is that the “moral” stands of nonviolence activists have now been hijacked by currents within the Syrian opposition motivated more by their anti-Western ideologies than any real belief in nonviolence, as evident by the fact that they have long supported Hamas and Hezbollah without ever criticizing their violent tactics or admonish them to adopt nonviolence as their basic operational philosophy.
One might note here that the two situations are different and that the political advocates of nonviolence in this case are concerned about preventing civil war. In other words, it’s OK to risk starting a new war with Israel, but not a civil war in Syria. Perhaps they are right. But are these “moral” calculations? Or are they tactical and strategic in nature, betraying certain ideological predilections and a certain worldview not shared by all Syrians? The behavior and discourse of the protagonists of these approaches reveal that they perceive and frame the issue in moral terms, a position that allows them the luxury to condemn the other sides of the argument as treasonous and unpatriotic, thus, justifying their exclusion from the national debate, and their eventual suppression.
So, what we have here are two perceptions of morality as nonviolence: the first is a truly philosophical perception that focuses on maintaining purity of the revolution and its moral superiority, while the other perception, an ideologically-inspired one, focuses on protecting the revolution and homeland from its external enemies. But, both strangely enough, seem to encourage the adoption of stances that could allow for the isolation and eventual suppression of the revolution, while keeping the homeland safely in the keep of its biggest enemies: the Assads.
So, what’s morality again?
I truly believe that the moral choice is the tortuous one, the one that shakes you to your very core before you are able to make it, the one that makes you strain to find the back-and-white in a thousand shadows of grey.
In practical terms, what we have unfolding in Syria now is a two-tiered revolution: an armed insurrection and nonviolent protest movement, and the champions of both are morally justified in their position, and they need our support. That support does call at this stage for asking for some kind of external military intervention tailored to fit the specifics of our situation: a no-fly-zone, a safe-haven, logistical and material support to the defectors, etc. We have our work cut out for us in this regard, because the world is not ready to accommodate any of these demands at this stage. But we owe it to our people to try to get it there. Yes, we should fear civil war, we should fear the bloodshed resulting from militaristic adventurism, but we should fear a return to the status quo ante even more, as it is a real possibility.
As for those who disagree with me, I say, denounce me all you want, as a naïve analyst, a traitor and an agent of the West, whatever you want, just provide with your denunciations an alternative that can be sold to the Syrian people.
In his recent interview with Russia Today, the titular leader of the SNC rejected foreign military intervention, defections and the militarization of the revolution, but he failed to provide any vision for how the revolution can be won at this stage through nonviolent means. As the person who was quick to point out that he is the sole candidate for the position of president of the SNC, he had not so far bothered to address the Syrian people directly, to introduce himself and explain his vision, and that of his colleagues at the SNC.
Of course, Ghalioun is not the only one missing the point of leadership at this critical phase, almost everybody else is. Take for instance Sadreddine Al-Bayanouni, former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who still commands the loyalty of the Aleppo branch within the movement, the branch who played a key role in the formation of the SNC, in both its iterations. In his most recent interview with Al-Arabiyah, the man made the same mistakes of denouncing defections and scenarios of foreign intervention, all while calling for the protection of civilians. He then went on to assert the Arab and Islamic character of Syria and advocated using Shariah as the source of legislation in future Syria. In one stroke, he alienated the Kurds, the Turkmens, the Alawites, the Druzes, the Christians, the Ismailis and the secular Arabs, be they leftist or liberals. At a time when protesters have been doing their best to celebrate national unity and ensure their commitment to it as well as the civic nature of their movement, this is not exactly the kind of leadership that inspires trust.
But, then, in the absence of an agreed guiding vision, anybody can claim anything and the people are left to believe whom they want. This is a great in a functioning democracy, but not in the middle of a revolutionary transitional period. This phase calls for consensus building, and that requires debating specific ideas and strategies and dealing with the realities that exist in order to get to the realities that we want to exist. Instead, we wasted months and we cannot even agree on names.