Every passing day brings us a lot closer to it – the regional war that no one wanted but everyone somehow took part in contributing to its making. This is the natural outcome of a collective failure in leadership, and a testament to the utter irrelevance of the existing international order.
Imam Johari Abdul Malik, outreach director at Dar Al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va., and a contributor to The Washington Post’s local faith leader network, argues that “Islamic history provides clues on how nonviolent means can end conflict.” No, it does not. Not because Islamic teachings are ill-suited to the challenge, but because the circumstances we are dealing with are simply too unique. A warrior prophet like Muhammad would have understood that.
Assad’s willingness to deploy tanks against unarmed protesters in a consistent manner and his ability to wield the sectarian card so effectively transforming so many of his co-religionists into willing enthusiastic murderers targeting children as part of a methodological approach while raising the slogan of “Assad, or we burn the country,” have long defeated the very ethos of nonviolence. When faced with the triple hit of sociopathic use of violence, irrational fears and international indifference, nonviolence became irrelevant.
In the early phases of the revolution, the nonviolent approach encouraged more defections than observers were willing to concede, and enticed towns and villages all over the country to join the revolution, but sectarian loyalties proved the trump card and allowed the regime to recruit militias from among the larger Alawite community. In certain regions, Sunni tribes and clans who long became clients of the regime and whose livelihood depended on regime’s contributions played an important role as well. So did the regime’s ability to deploy criminal elements released from its jails, hire mercenaries, and receive recruits and financial and logistical support from Hezbollah, Iran and Iraq.
The regime approached the crisis from the beginning as a civil-war-in-the-making, doing all it can to pit communities against each other, playing on irrational fears, persecution complexes and imagined histories. The regime knew very well it seems what so many nonviolence experts are loath to admit, that in civil wars nonviolence does not work. In the context of civil wars, “otherness” is a sufficient reason for use of violence, and violence will continue to be used until the “other” has been subjugated, or all sides are so exhausted that mediation, often external, can take place. Defeating such a strategy required having an opposition united around a vision and “armed” with a good set of technocrats capable of putting an outreach strategy both to the rebels and the international community. This is what we did not have, and what we are still so far unable to produce.
This was my greatest fear coming into this revolution. For many years I have not only called for nonviolent revolutions in the region, I specifically used the term Jasmine Revolution in the Syrian context and outlined the challenges that the opposition should prepare itself to face when it comes to managing the transition period ahead. My call received scant attention and was eventually ignored. But is still pushed in this direction while simultaneously trying, through the activities of the Tharwa Foundation and its network of young activists scattered throughout the country (and the region, Tharwa was active in Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, Iraq and Palestine as well), to create popular awareness in this regard. How much we contributed what eventually took place is open to question. But I am not trying to toot my own horn here, my point is this: even though for years I have been saying and doing things to facilitate the coming of a jasmine revolution in the country, when the moment finally came, my first impulse was to say that we are not ready.
I argued that the nature of the regime, the diversity in the country, the complex geopolitical realities surrounding us and our lack of political and institutional experiences require that we give more time to prepare ourselves for the challenge ahead:
“…we need to work on charting a clearer vision for the future of our country and adopt effective communications strategies with our people that can enable us to bust the various myths that the regime has spread over the years.
So long as minority communities in the country still believe that the Assads are their protectors, rather than the pariahs who amplify and prey on their fears, and so long as many of our young still believe that the Assads are true believers in resistance ideology rather than manipulators of it, we will have minimal chance to incite our people to rise up.”
As we can all remember, the question of the silent majority dogged us for months after the beginning of the Revolution, and the regime ability to manipulate the fears and suspicions of minority groups continue to be prodigious. A vision for the future continues to elude us.
Reactions to my article in opposition circles were pretty dismissive. A colleague in the opposition who worked for Al-Jazeerah online translated only the first part of the article to make me look anti-revolutionary. But enough people knew better than to dismiss my warnings so callously. I continued to be involved in discussions with in-country activists preparing for the revolution, and I took part in making arrangements for the Antalya Conference that was held on June 1-2. By mid-March, we had our spark, and the Revolution was on. “Syrians have broken the barrier of fear,” I said as I tried to remain optimistic. But the power struggle that took place between different opposition groups in the aftermath of the Antalya Conference, pitting personalities and ideologies and communities against each other, made it clear that my fears were amply justified.
But while my disappointment with the opposition was great, it was not surprising. After all, I have been involved in the opposition for years, I knew what to expect. But nothing in my experience prepared me for the dithering that took place on part of the United States and Europe on the issue of intervention. Dithering by Arabs was expected and Turkish fears of going it alone were not surprising and remain amply justified. But after 18 months of bloodshed on part of Assad, and so many warnings and warning signs along the way that worse things could still happen if western leaders failed to adopt a firm position on the use of violence by Assad, I am hard pressed to find an explanation other than falling back on one of the proliferating conspiracy theories out there. Does the U.S. want a failed state in Syria? Does Europe? Can’t anyone see how easily this situation can spiral out of control and usher a regional war?
To me, the situation remains unfathomable.
Rather than arguing about what went wrong, let’s leave that to history for a while and do what’s right: we cannot leave the fate of Syria be determined by anti-democratic forces, the ongoing tragedy required a pro-active handling requiring diplomatic as well as military involvement.
Daraya, Damascus Province, locals find 25 burnt out bodies in the nearby fields http://youtu.be/2ffMJHl6IQo , http://youtu.be/O5xwazETfVg The burial http://youtu.be/PBg2hK-ha4k