By Alisar Iram
Mars the bringer of war
A great deal of what is being written about the Syrian Revolution at this stage is descriptive and diagnostic. In fact the patient is on the verge of extinction because of too much meticulous attention to the sickness and the disease with few attempts at witting prescriptions and recommending treatments to start controlling the illness or healing the ailments. It is not going to work. The politicians in their different factions of the Opposition are trying to formulate road maps, programs or even some few guidelines to help them push their way with those who follow them through the jungle of confusion and the loss of solidified pioneering objectives. The Intellectuals and writers, in the majority of them, are caught in the vortex of ineffectiveness and the inability to connect with the suffering dispersed civilians or the fighters on the ground who, in the absence of a vision of the Syria to be, are creating their own nightmares and helping to destroy that part of Syria which Assad has not destroyed yet. Most deplorably is that the civic activists who at the beginning of the Revolution were its beating heart, its very arteries, they who have provided the middle link between the cultural, the educational, the intellectual and the military aspects of the Revolution, are now either in their graves, assassinated or killed, or incarcerated under torture, not to mention kidnapped, or forced to flee into exile.
Lastly, the huge bulk of the fighters now, operating either in the name of the Revolution with the primary aim of defeating Assad, or in the name of an anarchy released and unbound are:
(1) Fighters who essentially owe their allegiance to their country Syria, but who are creating their own scriptures for the Revolution by appropriating, willingly or unwillingly, most of that which is fanatical and fractured in politicized Islam and international Jihadism, while helping themselves to the banal and hackneyed in religious thought. I might be very harsh in such a judgement, but the brigades they belong to are quasi directionless, if not militarily then ideologically. They constitute the Syrian version of the Islamists. Some people put al-Nusra Front amongst them as an example of the more disciplined, more indoctrinated and more purposeful, but those judgements remain controversial. The fighters of this category include what used to be called Takfiris, Salfis in their ranks, yet they also congregate some well meaning, illiterate or semi-literate men who do not have the background or the education to differentiate between the genuine and the contrived, and who are in dire need of leadership. Mostly simple folk, their faith is a simple faith in God which is bound to be left open to indoctrination, exploitation and, probably, corruption.
(2) Fighters who are mostly foreigners, predominantly al-Qaeda affiliates, who have come mainly to dictate their future to the Syrians by implementing their own highly suspect political agendas that have failed elsewhere. They have undisguised, blatant territorial ambitions.
(3) Fighters (represented on the whole by the FSA) who are still mostly defectors from the Syrian army, or armed civilians driven to carry arms because they were forced to do so in order to preserve their lives and those of their relatives, and who are presently being attacked and battered by the regime and al-Qaeda alike for the lack of effective unified leadership or military equipment. Many of the soldiers of the FSA are poor, unlike the armed men of al-Qaeda affiliates, especially ISIS, who are well funded, in addition to having perfected the methods of extortion, embezzlement and unlawful confiscation of Syrian public funds and resources, like the oil fields and their revenue in northern eastern Syria. The FSA, whose soldiers are loyal to Syria and their local communities, the army which might have defended the territorial integrity of Syria better, is not largely favoured by the West and the US for reasons that might seem short-sighted, displaying poor judgement and deplorably lacking in sound strategy.
To tell my honest opinion, the situation on the ground, as it stands now, is a mess.
What worry me most are the black holes that have opened around the Revolution everywhere, threatening to swallow it up. The absence of a unifying dream, a formulated concept of a collective goal on the one hand and the medley of uncouth notions or half notions on the other hand are threatening to unravel the Revolution. The fermenting chaos of unfinished awkward plans and suggestions, in addition to a confusion of opinions and ideas, in many cases naive folkloric or esoteric religious elaborations on glaringly violent and conceptually deficient interpretation of Islam, all these combined have managed to nearly erase from the consciousness of the people the memory of freedom, democracy and the reinstatement of human rights. What all this has resulted in, among a considerable number of the armed fighters, is visions of things to come, like that of al-Qaeda affiliates, wallowing in disruption, ruthlessness and hunger for tyranny and bloodshed, rivaled and matched only by that of Assad.
The violence that unhinges
The terrible violence unleashed by the regime and the policy of the annihilation of cities, habitats and ways of life, together with the means of life, thus emptying Syria of the trappings of civilization, except in the areas controlled by the regime, in addition to the ruthless destruction of the state, in the larger sense, as well as its infrastructure, have all returned Syria in parts to the age of the hunter: marauding males representing the criminal ruthless dreaded killing machines of the regime, the shabiha affiliates, and marauding males bonding together and living by the law of the jungle under a thin veneer of a primitive reductive, patriarchal Islam, stripped of its cultural and historical perspective and disengaged from its rich heritage. Cultural civilization always recedes in times of tyranny and oppression, as has happened in Syria during the rule of the regime over the last 40 years, and it further recedes when untold and systematic methodical violence breaks the body, the spirit and the mind.
One look at the images of the 11 thousand detainees who died under torture in the regime’s prisons, in one area alone, reveals to us how deep the roots of violence that were planted in Syrian society over decades. It does this by holding a mirror to an elaborate doctrine of barbarous cruelty that gave the Syrian security forces the raison d’être, the rationale, for the destruction of life, not mercifully by a bullet but slowly, harrowingly slowly, so that what is left of able healthy bodies are but pitiful, emaciated skeletal apparitions with gaping mouths and staring eyes, stretched on the torture boards with every inch of the dehydrated starved flesh reduced to something akin to ancient mummification.
There is now a severance between culture, history, civilization and the fighting machines operating in Syria, predominantly exemplified by the regime and to a lesser extent by ISIS, al-Nusra and their Syrian counterparts, like –yet to a lesser extent– Ahrar al-Sham and factions of the Islamic Front. This severance is destroying the foundations of national unity and is wiping out all that is inductive to channelling real knowledge and cognition from the past in order to instill coherence and solidity in the Syrian experience.
Since the birth of the Revolution, we have never stopped celebrating it, but we have been more vehement in criticizing it and pointing out its shortcomings and the deplorable shortcomings and sinister intentions of those who have come from the darkness of the mind and the jungles of history to operate in its name. I have been, like many others, a staunch critic of all the official and unofficial murderers of the regime, the army, the security forces and the shabiha, but we have also been vehemently critical of those who have come from abroad to kill, pillage and destroy, pretending to support the Revolution. Never the less, my own discourse has always sprung from a cultural, humanistic and cognitive point of view. The terrible violence enacted against the people these last three years by the regime of Assad, with little resistance from the world at large, and the annihilation of the very fabric of 10,000 of civilization opened up wells of pain and anger in me that are hard to measure or define. If there is something as a cultural wrath at the destruction of culture, combined with what I would like to call humanistic wrath at the senseless destruction of all that lives, that would sum me up.
It is the regression, the stepping back into the primordial and the primitive, into the prehistoric because of the breaking of all taboos, all laws, all ethical prohibitions and imperatives that sickens my soul and the souls of millions of Syrians beyond redemption or salvation. While the land of the birth of civilization is undergoing a terrible horrific process of decivilization, the rest of the world is racing towards the new frontiers of space. The arch criminal who summoned all the forces of evil to lay waste Syria remains the one who has ushered in untold suffering into his country so that he might remain the king. All other evils sprang out of that original sin, the sin of violating the prime law, the sacredness of life and the law attendant on it: the right of life to freedom. A nation, abandoned by the world, yet full of potential, promise, vigour and latent energy, a nation wherein children make the half is made to step outside the march of civilization, to sink into annihilation, and where it survives to step into the futility, the senselessness of obsolete, anachronistic controversies.
This brings me back to the rogue Islamists, as I prefer to call them, and theircity states. For what are they but severed parts of Syria stolen from the main in order to establish pirated centres of power wherein science fictionprincedoms, if not caliphates, are subjecting the Syrian civilians to fanatical forms of the Sharia application, smacking of bigoted interpretations and glaring manipulations. What is happening in Syria is stranger than fiction, an epic genocidal violence released by the regime which has severed the life forces of the nation, arresting its heart or leaving it in a comatose state, which gave the lurking monsters of barbarism the chance to unveil themselves and claim God and religion among their first victims. This is not restricted to the barbarians of Sunnism, wearing the mantle of al-Qaeda, but also to the barbarians of Shiism, wearing the mantles of Hizbullah and the shabiha of Assad and Iran. History is being appropriated, changed, manipulated or reinterpreted for political, regional, religious or territorial gains and ambitions.
There is another kind of occupation or colonialism not usually listed or singled out. I would like to call it religious colonization. For what are ISIS and, to a certain extent, al-Nusra Front doing in bringing foreigners to fight in Syria in the name of international Jihadism? The new settlers seem very anxious to start families by acquiring wives and raising children! In addition, in order to give them religious legitimacy, they are calling them muhajiroun (emigrants), a name given to those who chose to go into exile with the Prophet when he was banished from Mecca, while those among the Syrians who support them are given the name of Ansar (helpers), after the people of Medina who gave refuge to the Prophet. It defies logic and comprehension. It is all this jargon, all this ideological violence emanating from the dogma of reduction and the attempts at diminishing cultural and religious thought and heritage that infuriate and cause indignation, for the violence that imprisons the mind, inspiring people to commit atrocities is also lethal, whether practised by Assad’s supporters of al-Qaeda devotees.
The world is marching towards unravelling the mysteries of the universe, while al-Qaeda and affiliates are marching light years backward in the direction of the void in an attempt to cancel civilization, history, cognition and cultural heritage. If they think that we are going to allow them to destroy our civilization and the priceless treasures of Islamic thought and knowledge, its legacy of philosophy and cognition, we would like to warn them that sooner or later we shall throw them into the dustbin of history where they belong. They are but false prophets.
In Syria Islam is and has been all that is opposite to what ISIS and al-Nusra Front are preaching, not forgetting their quasi imitators in the Islamic Front. What is preposterous, presumptuous and absurd is that you come to a country where Islam has ruled as a civilization, manifesting itself in social norms and behaviour, in learning, in architecture, in art and all the other attributes of civilization, like tolerance and neighbourly co-existence, and decide to rule it by the sword, by ignorance, by death, by oppression and by barbarous methods of punishment. Others tried it before, like the Mongols and the Assadis, and failed and are failing.
The State of the Revolution now
As I am writing now, my overwhelming feeling is that the Revolution is in serious danger, which is enhanced by the grave perils Syria’s territorial integrity is subjected to by the presence of proxies, clients and foreign fighters in huge numbers on Syrian land. Syria is overrun by a killing regime and a medley of Iranians, Hezbollah soldiers, Russian mercenaries and thousands of al-Qaeda fighters, among them the armed men of ISIS and others from all over the world. It is falling now to the FSA and their supporters to fight al-Qaeda affiliates, while simultaneously having to fight Assad. You might ask:, has the regime ever seriously tried to prevent the infiltration of al-Qaeda affiliates and the foreign fighters into Syria; has the regime ever fought purposely against ISIS instead of levelling the Syrian towns and villages to the ground and annihilating the civilians with barrel bombs and Scud missiles? It would not be farfetched to say that the Syrian government is not fighting against the terrorists; it is fighting its erring citizens and the rebels fighting for freedom and liberation.
The revolution now is like a rudderless ship in the eye of the storm, threatened with extinction from the regime and most radical Islamists. This has resulted in the Revolution losing its best civil activists, its brightest young men, lawyers, human rights campaigners, citizen journalists, protest organizers and civic action planners; in short the potential leaders who might have been able to direct the revolution from within, being flesh of its flesh. Extinguished are the best: kidnapped, incarcerated, tortured to death in the most horrific forms, or just assassinated or murdered in cold blood. In addition there was a huge persecution and constant harassment of the intellectuals and writers who sided with the Revolution, forcing them to flee Syria and go into exile. With their disappearance from the arena, dead, captured or alive, they took with them the very enlightened consciousness and throbbing awareness of the Revolution. The Revolution therefore is rudderless and under attack, but what is more dangerous than the annihilation of so many is the annihilation of the mind and the spirit in consequence of the holocaust visited upon the peaceful Syrian civilians. Do you blame them if they turn to the devil or if the devil turns up to claim dominion over them, over the pitiful traumatized uprooted and brutalized remnants of the Syrian people?
Who is to assume the responsibility now? We are.
Conclusion and the Legacy of the Revolution
Revolutions are great mass movements carrying within themselves the promise to stop time for a while, then perform a jump either into the future or bend upon themselves to leap backwards and revert to a point in time where dichotomies are revealed in all their glaring disruptiveness in order to unravel them. There is no revolution that does not shake and rock the old frames of references, the systems of thought and the sensibilities that prevailed before. Revolutions generate a tornado of dynamism that will inevitably spend itself in rebirth or destruction, but where the revolution moves what it leaves in its wake is a changed landscape, altered beyond recognition. Yet in this altered landscape I would like to see, as an artist and a writer, the intellect and consciousness assert themselves. In order to protect the Revolution we have to ensure the survival of its legacy by means of the creative word and thought. What is the enduring legacy of the French Revolution but the writings of the Enlightenment? A revolution needs to keep its conscience alive for ages to come. A revolution needs to crystallize its struggle in art and literature. Even if the Syrian Revolution fails, what will keep it forever a source of courage, hope and faith for mankind is the body of thought, the legacy of consciousness, awareness and sensibility that is has engendered and will generate. The undying, noble word will be its bequest. Therefore write you who can write eloquently, who can turn insight, vision, dreams and truths into that which will remain alive in the very core of human thinking and sensibility.
The politicians have failed the Syrian Revolution because they are individuals without vision and do not possess the kind of all embracing humanistic compassionate imagination to bond with the simple, downtrodden, and trampled on common people and victims. The gap is immense between the suffering millions and those who are assuming the positions of leadership, while lacking the very attribute of leadership. The Syrian people have lost their direction and their way because they were bombed, burnt, tortured, decimated, plucked out of their land, and because their houses were smashed, their trees torched, their earth looted and their history pillaged, therefore I beseech the persons of vision and intuition, the enlightened of mind and sensibility, the gifted and creative, writers, artists and intellectuals and those who know God in love to stand by the Syrians and return their souls to them before these souls are being captured by the powers of darkness, religious despotism, and the tyranny of ideologies and sectarianism. O for the dreamers, the visionaries, for those who dwell in the kingdom of the conscience and ethics, love and hope, awareness and cognition, O for them to lead the Syrian people and return back their lost souls from where they have migrated into the limbo of horror.
The French Revolution was defeated and its dreams did not come into fruition until about one hundred years later. But it has since then stayed in the collective consciousness and heritage of mankind, in view of the Age of Reason and Enlightenment, which predicted and accompanied its birth. Our Revolution might fail and the world might forget about our tragedies, suffering and deaths after a while, but if we strive to immortalize our dreams and crystallize the legacy of this revolution in literature, art and thought and create for it a body of enlightened cultural bequest to be handed down to future generations, it will live in the consciousness of the world and its heritage of conscience. In a few words, the Revolution is in need of a culture of enlightenment which will whet and fuse us all, carrying us over the abyss and closing up the black holes of our minds and souls.